Change and Loss

One of my pieces in Serving Up Memory is entitled “Hats and Cornbread,” and it begins by telling of the Thanksgiving after my mother’s passing. My father had predeceased her by two years, and so we were, her children and grandchildren, trying our darnedest to make this holiday festive. By golly, we were not going to let the grim reaper steal our joy.

A number of us, including two of my siblings and I, gathered on Chesnut Street with a  “take-in” meal. I don’t recall the victuals, but I do remember that we ate in the kitchen and not the dining room and that we felt strange and happy at the same time—strange because our parents weren’t there in their own home and happy that we were together. At some point, we rummaged through our parents’ (and grandparents’) hats, and we each selected the one we wanted to wear. My nieces picked up pocketbooks of my mother’s, remembering that she always made sure her purse matched her shoes.

When I submitted that story to the group for critiquing, I wasn’t expecting the feedback that I received. I expected every person to make recommendations for improvement, and I even wondered if a couple of writers might think the story too sappy. Boy was I surprised!

Sure, there were some recommendations, but the consensus was that the events of that Thanksgiving afternoon had universal meaning. Although it was a personal story, “Hats and Cornbread” has implications for every family who has suffered loss or change, whether by death, divorce, remarriage, relocation, or any other reason. People leave us, and we are left to rebuild the structure of not just holidays, but of everyday life.

Back to that Thanksgiving afternoon, here’s the passage about it from Serving Up Memory:

We wore our hats hoping to keep that holiday spirit alive. Did it work? Not really. The picture snapped by my son-in-law late that afternoon looks like everyone is having a good old time, but looks can be deceiving. Despite our fake smiles, we were all still heartbroken, our psyches raw with fresh grief.

It probably hit me for the first time that evening: My family holidays with kith and kin in the manner I had known all of my life were over. Sure, I’d share turkey and dressing, red velvet cake, and other seasonal fare with various relatives each year, but my mother’s passing on October 20, 2000, marked the end of gatherings in the family home. Marjorie Ann was the heart of it all. It was never the same after her passing.

As the season creeps nearer each day, thoughts of earlier gatherings and traditions fill my mind. John and Margie’s children have all moved on, yet we hold those memories of love and good cheer in our hearts. I have other families on my mind today, and I hope that they’ll all find their way into and through the holidays without stumbling or experiencing crippling heartache.

The death of a loved one, regardless of age or status, changes everything. You can’t ignore the loss, the empty place at the dining room table. And yet you must not succumb to grief. As I write this, I’m thinking of dozens of people whose holiday season has been unalterably changed, some just within the last few days. I’m hoping they’ll all find a way to feel peace.

31 Things

I started out with a lot of big talk at the beginning of this month. Following the prior examples set by Lisa Radvansky and Anita Erwin, I was going to post at least one thing I was thankful for each day in November. That plan somehow went awry early on, not because I couldn’t think of anything but because I was, well, you know, busy. That’s no excuse, of course. What happened is that I missed a day or two, and before I knew it, mid-month was here, and I didn’t want to play catch-up.

My son recently shared some information he had learned from an article stating that if people could think of at least three things per day that they were thankful for, it would help affect their happiness. From experience and observation, I know that such a practice can also improve health, decrease stress, and increase longevity. For some reason I’ve always been able to recognize and appreciate all of the good things I have going on in my life even in times of deep sadness, loss, or stress. Seeing the good while acknowledging the bad has kept me sane.

Throughout November, I’ve been uplifted and gladdened by the facebook thankfulness posts that I’ve read. While I slacked off in adding my own daily posts, I’ve continued to keep a gratitude journal, something that’s been my practice for about 15 years. I daily record at least five things for which I’m thankful. The only difference between now and then is that now my journals are all over the place. I use whatever is at hand, and the “journal” might be a notebook, a pretty journal, my laptop, my Kindle, or one of several tiny pads that I have scattered about. While this isn’t the most efficient method, it works for me.

This morning as I sat down to jot down a few items, I got carried away with events and experiences and sights and sounds of the past several days. So instead of writing something pithy or detailed, I’m just going to share 30 (one for each day in November) of those, mainly to demonstrate that you don’t have to get all formal and worry about sentence structure and correct phrasing when you’re just making a list. You just list things like:

  1. Paul and Amanda’s new car.
  2. Facebook picture of Olivia and Ethan staring at the Christmas tree lights.
  3. Elizabeth and Emma lying on a bed sharing stories and giggles.
  4. Last night’s full moon illuminating our neighborhood.
  5. Baby Seth kissing his father’s face and head.
  6. Look and feel of Elizabeth’s house at Thanksgiving.
  7. So much good food, especially the ham, the cornbread dressing (my mother’s recipe), and the apple pie.
  8. Rich, my son-in-law, Skyping with his family in California and listening to his twin sisters laugh (their laughter was contagious).
  9. Target trip with my daughters and two of my granddaughters.
  10. Seeing Wreck-It Ralph with the grandchildren and stuffing ourselves with popcorn.
  11. Listening to talks and music from the Mormon Channel on my iPhone.
  12. Seeing bits and pieces of the Macy’s parade, something I remember doing with my father.
  13. Rich and my children’s father putting Elizabeth’s together a bed frame for her
  14. Baby Seth walking around all over the house eating pumpkin cranberry scones ( a no-no unless you’re an adorable baby).
  15. Brooke and Emma’s pretty polished nails (courtesy of Aunt Elizabeth). They chose alternating colors of Penthouse Blue and Purple Passion.
  16. Skyping with Paul’s family in Atlanta.
  17. Braden seeming so tall and grown up. When did that happen???
  18. Hearing my children and grandchildren state the things they are thankful for.
  19. Rich and Brooke playing “Heart and Soul” on his iPad. I loved this so much that I downloaded two versions of this song to my Kindle Fire.
  20. Missing Otis during the holiday but remembering that couples can (and probably should) have spaces in their togetherness.
  21. Waking up rested on Saturday and recognizing the restorative power of sleep.
  22. Christmas music.
  23. Spending an inordinate time in the kitchen but then quickly remembering how awesome it is to have food, dishes, and hot soapy water to wash dishes with.
  24. Thinking of my parents and their November 1947 wedding. Missing them but feeling their presence.
  25. Emma and Brooke dancing and singing.
  26. Colton waking me early (before six) each day asking for my iPhone so that he could play with Talking Ben.
  27. Beach experience with Carrie and being so glad that we decided to go despite a limited time frame. The kids LOVED the birds and were awed by the fishermen. We even saw horses strolling along the strand.
  28. Seeing  Lincoln with Otis, Judy, and Carl on the night before leaving for the beach.
  29. Hearing and humming “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.”
  30. Uploading eBook on student success. Rich buying a copy and reading it on his iPad. Talking about Chapter One the next morning.
  31. I know November doesn’t have 31 days, but I just have to add one more thing: America!

That list took minutes to put together. The trick is to be attentive to what’s going on around you and make a mental note of it before you forget. Try it and let me know how it works out for you.

 

Laughter, Stars, and Other Specifics

What makes Thanksgiving different from any other holiday if you don’t take a few moments to reflect upon and share some of the things you’re thankful for?

 

The moment had arrived for the Thanksgiving feast.  Everyone stood around waiting, knowing that I’d be making a little speech. It was undoubtedly the least profound of my life. I think it went something like, “Well, welcome to Thanksgiving 2010.  We sure hope everyone has a great time, and now I think Otis wants to say something.” He looked surprised and said, “Amen to that” before asking Paul to say a blessing on the food.  

I wish I’d said more. I wish I’d said something deep and moving, something memorable that my children and grandchildren could ponder later. I wish I’d said something like, “As we celebrate this special season of the year, let us be ever mindful of our multitudinous blessings, things like our health, these beautiful children, our great country, our ancestry, our family, laughter, music, the gospel of Jesus Christ, love, stars, the sacrifices of our forefathers and mothers, the power of prayer,….” By that time, one of my children would have probably said, “Mom, we know. We know what you’re saying.”

As it was, I finished my pitiful speech, and we proceeded to heap turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and other delectable goodies on our plates. Using the alphabet as a guide, we sat around our bounteous table and took turns stating things we were grateful for. It’s a corny tradition, but one I still insist upon.  One year Paul tried to take a shortcut by saying, “Everything,” and Thursday I gently chided him about it and told him he’d have to do a little better than that. “What’s better than the truth?” he asked.

What’s better than the truth is specific truth. Specifically speaking, I’m grateful for Braden’s more grown up demeanor. He’s a second grader now and has become quieter and more cooperative. He told me that he wasn’t too good at math, but I’m sure he’ll improve. I probably had a challenge with subtraction too! I’m grateful for Brooke’s sweet little spirit and her motherly attitude with the little ones like Colton and Olivia. And Emma, crazy Emma. I love everything about that little blond tyke, and I enjoyed painting her fingernails and toenails a sparkly pink color.  I painted Brooke’s nails too, but Paul said NO to my offer to paint Olivia’s tiny nails. I’m grateful for Colton’s energy and determination. And Olivia…I’m thankful for her beautiful blue eyes and her serene essence.

I’m grateful that these five children are surrounded by love and that they receive guidance and encouragement every day of their young lives. When we went around the Thanksgiving table recounting our blessings, Rich said darling daughters when he was hit with D and kids when he ended up with K on his next turn. His children know how much their father loves them.  I overheard Paul say, “You’re awesome” to his six-month-old daughter, and she grabbed his face with both of her chubby dimpled hands and squeezed his cheeks.

As I enjoyed the days with my children and grandchildren, I couldn’t help but think of my parents and grandparents and days of yesteryear. My paternal grandfather worked for the railroad, and as luck (?) would have it, there was a train track on a hillside near the villa where we stayed in Asheville. It was the first thing I noticed as I looked out the window Wednesday afternoon, and as we listened to the trains ride by during our stay, I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather. Who knows? Perhaps he rode those very tracks where decades later his granddaughter and her family spent Thanksgiving, 2010.

Thanksgiving in Myrtle Beach

Thanksgiving at K & W

Yesterday was one of the most different and yet wonderful Thanksgivings I’ve had. For the first time, my sweet husband and I spent the day apart, not because of rancor or ill will but because of prior commitments and, well, the longing to be with different family members. We’re with his family quite often, but I seldom get to spend time with mine, especially my children. That said, he spent Thanksgiving with his parents and beaucoup other family members, and I spent it in Myrtle Beach with one of my brothers and his family and my daughter Elizabeth. My brother Mike just successfully won a battle with the BIG C, and I felt like celebrating with him and his family.

Here’s what we did. Mrs. Mitchell, Lisa’s mother, and I watched part of the Macy’s parade on television, something I recall doing with my father and siblings when we were kids. My mother was undoubtedly slaving away in the kitchen, but we didn’t know that; we just knew that it was BIG fun to watch all the inflated characters, the dancers, and the floats. Last year I was excited to go to Herald Square and see the exact spot in front of Macy’s where parade performances are filmed.

Lib arrived, and the six of us went to K & W with hundreds of other Thanksgiving diners. Despite the fact that (or maybe because) the line snaked around several times before we even got to the serving line, it was actually quite a memorable and upbeat experience to  stand in line in the crowded lobby with our fellow Americans. Seated, we held hands and said a prayer of Thanksgiving for our many blessings and the scrumptious food before us. Lisa, Mrs. Mitchell, and I all agreed that it was the most stress-free Thanksgiving meal that we could remember in a long, long time…probably since we were children.

Appetites sated, we went to Mrs. Mitchell’s beach house to make our traditional Thanksgiving craft. This year, it was a Christmas wreath whose directions I had seen in a a book (where else?). As an aside, I think I left that book in a buggy in the Michael’s parking lot on Two Notch Road.  Back to this fascinating narrative, we even glued some shells from the Outer Banks on the wreaths to make them especially special. Not as into the craft thing as the older ladies, Elizabeth and Sarah Beth made a quick run to Old Navy before fashioning their wreaths.

The younger set went their separate way(s), and the rest of us went to see The Blind Side with a couple hundred other people. Hands down, it was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and was especially appropriate for a holiday like Thanksgiving. The only downer was that the ticket person gave me a Senior discount without me even asking for it! Oh well, it saved me fifty cents. Afterwards, we strolled around Market Commons and then went back to Mrs. Mitchell’s for turkey sandwiches and soup, both of which we enjoyed while watching Chevy Chase and a hilarious cast of characters in Christmas Vacation.

Tired but happy, I went back to my little bungalow to find Elizabeth and her friend Carla hanging out and planning their strategy for a 3:00 a.m. shopping trip. We talked and laughed a while before I bid them adieu and settled down “for a long winter’s nap” of seven hours.

It’s Friday morning now, and I’m enjoying the promise of possibilities for a day at the beach. Maybe a little shopping and then a little shell collecting? Hmmm. I think I might read some too. Oh, and I’m way overdue on some notes that I need to write. Will I do school work? Probably. It goes with the territory when you teach online courses. Still, a good time was had by all. Although I missed DH, we talked by phone every couple of hours, and I know he had a fun time too. And to top it off, today he gets to go back to the woods the woods the woods the woods.

On a final note, my sister and I often talk about how there’s good and bad going on in everyone’s life all the time, and I was reminded of that yesterday. On the plus side, Mrs. Mitchell asked me to call her Doris, a compliment and a milestone. On the negative side, Paul said he and Amanda couldn’t meet me in Augusta on Saturday. On the plus side, Lib and Carla had a great time during the wee hours of the morning and are now sacked out in the living room. On the negative side, my sister Ann won’t be coming today after all. On the plus side, she and her husband have tickets for the Clemson/Carolina game tomorrow. On the negative side, there’s loss, heartache, illness, despair, and evil on Planet Earth. On the plus side, God’s in His heaven, and we have all been recipients of His beneficence.

Have a great Thanksgiving weekend, Everyone! Be safe…and find some bargains too.