Changes

Back in June, when I last wrote a post for Wild Trumpet Vine, I anticipated a summer full of major changes.  Those expectations were fulfilled.     

A bare-bones summary of key events in the life of my family since then:

Our daughter graduated from high school.  We shopped for college gear.  We enjoyed our annual Cape Cod vacation.  The sale of my childhood home in Atlanta was completed.  We moved our daughter into her first-year residence hall at the University of Virginia.  (She had made her college decision, at long last, at the end of April.)  I flew to Atlanta to deal with the final culling and packing of forty-nine years worth of accumulation, and to prepare the house for the new owners.   A dear friend drove my mother to Virginia to spare her from witnessing those last frenetic stages of the move.  At the end of that week, I walked through bare, empty rooms, turned the keys over to a new family, and flew back to Virginia. 

Three days later, the huge Atlas moving van arrived at my mother’s new house, conveniently located next door to ours.  Unpacking has been a slow process, hampered and overshadowed by the cloud of my mother’s ongoing back pain and the rounds of doctor visits it requires.  She’d been in worsening pain in the weeks leading up to her departure from Atlanta.  Now we know the cause, but treatment is challenging.  Mama, who has been for most of her life a whirling dervish of industrious creativity, is now largely confined to sofa-sitting.   

If this account sounds dry and devoid of emotion, it’s because I’ve had little time for reflection.  I’ve been packing my thoughts away, much as I packed up the Atlanta house.   Like the boxes still stored in my mother’s basement and garage, I’ll get to them one day before long and sort them out.  Until then, I’ll ease back into Wild Trumpet Vine.  I’m not yet up to the task of writing about the big things, so I’ll focus on little ones.  I foresee quietly scintillating commentaries on the colors of the season, the many charms of my silent, sleeping dog, that sort of thing.  Whether they’re read by others or not, I will write for my own mental health.  I hope a few of you will stick with me as WTV awakens from dormancy. 

 

 

Father’s Day Thoughts, 2017

Daddy’s final church directory photo

My father never made a big deal about days like today.  He wholeheartedly appreciated any modest gifts I might give him–a tie, cufflinks, a gift card to Long Horn Steakhouse–but he didn’t expect them, and he never considered them to be his due.  What he loved best were probably the photos I sent, especially the photo books I made for him.  He wasn’t enamored of stuff.  Daddy was, or at least seemed to be, to an almost extraordinary degree, perfectly content with his life in terms of the material and the intangible.

While Daddy wasn’t one for long telephone conversations, he valued a quick call on Father’s Day or his birthday.  I’d say I loved him, he’d say he loved me.  These weren’t just words, although we said them often.  In recent years, upon hearing my voice on the line, he usually said, “You sound like my little girl.”  Those words were a comfort.  I could hear the laughter in his voice, see the smile in his eyes.  They affirmed that I would always be his little girl.  And I could always be certain of my father’s love. 

My ears won’t hear Daddy say those familiar words today.  But they echo in my mind, and I will treasure them in my heart, forever.  How blessed I am to be my father’s girl. 

Daddy & me, in the back yard of what was then our new home in Atlanta, 1968.

For other posts on my father, who died on July 22, 2016, see here, here, here, and here.

Final Last Day of School

This year, my daughter’s last day of school took me somewhat by surprise.  She’s been finished with all work and even finals for a while now.  On days of exams from which she was exempt, she didn’t need to show up on school grounds.  Or did she?  Would her absence be excused?  Did I need to call the school or send a note, and what should I say?  Would she be penalized if I told the truth?  Would that even matter?  We’ve debated these questions for four years, and the answers remain up in the air.  My daughter has grown from young teen to young adult in this span, but some things we never managed to learn.  Only this much was certain:  if she showed up to class, there would be no assignments to complete.  She had finished them all, and successfully, more than satisfactorily.  But there would be parties and goodbye opportunities not to be missed. 

Tradition is important to my daughter.  On Monday she wore her “Lazt Day of School” earrings.  She made these in sixth grade, and she has worn them every last day since.  She used the alphabet beads she got for Christmas when she was three.  No more s’s remained in the set; hence the z in “last.”  Monday was apparently  the official last day of classes for seniors.  But many special activities continued this week: Convocation, Senior Picnic, Senior Breakfast, graduation rehearsal, the Senior trip to Kings’ Dominion.  Today there is yet another graduation rehearsal.  

The actual graduation ceremony is tomorrow.  In the wake of so many to-dos surrounding the close of senior year, the reality of my daughter’s  graduation has escaped me.  I started to write “endless to-dos” above.  But they’re not endless.  In fact, they are ending.  Really and truly.  They end today.  The thought lands with a thud.  I haven’t had a chance to consider the true finality of it all.  The finality that this “commencement” entails. 

I’ve been a bit cavalier about these end times.  Our daughter is rarely at home; she merely stops by briefly.  When she leaves for college, it won’t be that different, will it?  For now, I’m going to keep telling myself that’s the case.  

I have the summer to come to terms with her departure.  To face the new beginning that follows this ending. 

 

On This Mother’s Day 2017

If Mother’s Day is here, then Father’s Day can’t be far behind.  On both days, Daddy’s absence will be keenly felt, more so than usual.  If you lost a parent in the last few years, you know the feeling. 

I give thanks that I was born to my warm, loving, smart and funny mother, who is still very much with us.  Before long, she will be closer still, when she relocates from Atlanta to Virginia.  And I’m thankful that we had Daddy with us for so many years.  I’m immensely grateful for the happy, comfortable life my parents worked so hard to build together, primarily for my benefit. 

And on this first Mother’s Day without Daddy, I say a prayer for my mother, and for all the mothers, young and old, who are facing yet another day without their partner. 

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1965

On the steps of my parents’ married housing apartment at UNC

Paris, 2002

For so long, it was the three of us.  Now we’re two, but our hearts are fuller because we carry Daddy with us always. 

A Different Kind of Easter, 2017

The first year following the death of a loved one, every day brings a loss that must be faced anew.  Holidays, especially, those days of expected celebration, are tough going.  Absence becomes a heavy, all-suffusing presence, a thick cloud of anxious dismay. 

This would be the first Easter without my father.  

And it wouldn’t be only my father’s absence that would make this Easter different.  My daughter was, at long last, in the final stages of college choice.  She was in the process of comparing the  schools to which she’d been accepted.  Over spring break, she’d come with me to Atlanta and we’d tour Georgia Tech. On Good Friday, she’d fly to Rochester to meet my husband.  They’d spend Easter with his side of the family.  She’d take last looks at the University of Rochester and Union College in Schenectady, NY.  I’d stay in Atlanta.  It would be the first time I’d ever spend an Easter away from my husband and daughter.  But it was being present with my mother, in the face of Daddy’s glaring absence, that took priority. 

I didn’t like to think about what the day would bring.  The words of that hymn, God of Grace, and God of Glory, kept echoing in my head:  Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour.  On Easter morning, around 10:25, Daddy wouldn’t be standing by the back door, jingling his keys, looking spiffy in his navy suit and perfectly knotted tie.  He wouldn’t be close beside me as we sang the beautiful resurrection hymns in church.  Mama and I would certainly need wisdom and courage to face that hour. 

We’d need our faith.  And with it, we’d find comfort in Charles Wesley’s words in that perhaps most frequently sung of all the classic resurrection hymns, Christ the Lord is Risen Today:

Where, O death, is now thy sting? 

Once he died, our souls to save,

Where’s thy victory, boasting grave?  . . .

Made like him, like him we rise,

Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. 

We’d envision my father, free from the chains of illness that had gripped him at the last.  His unique spirit more beautiful than his earthly presence in the prime of his life, he soars now where Christ has led.  The message of Easter would see us through.  It would give us strength for the living of these days. 

What, I wonder, would we do without our faith? 

Easters Past

When I envision the perfect Easter day, I think of one spent in Atlanta with my parents, my husband and daughter.  Most Easters during my daughter’s childhood found us in that well-loved and familiar place. 

My daughter’s first egg hunt was at my home church in Atlanta.  She was not quite three, and her public persona was quiet and timid.  I feared that in the wake of louder, bolder children, her basket might well remain bare.  She was neither quiet nor shy with family, however.  Should the hunt not go well, my husband and I would experience the full force of her fury afterwards.  So we coached her.  We practiced in my parents’ yard:  When you see an egg, pick it up and put it in your basket.  Don’t take an egg that someone else is about to pick up, but don’t wait too long, either.

 

Mama cared little about the Easter egg hunt; she preferred to stay home, cook the ham and devil eggs.  But Daddy loved being with his granddaughter for the hunt.  He gloried in walking along beside her, cheering her every find.  He didn’t have to muster fake enthusiasm, as many grandparents diligently try to do.  He simply had it, and it bubbled up and out.  When it came to his granddaughter, his cup runneth over.  Until it suddenly ran out, and by then, both he and my daughter were grumpy and ready to go home.  They’d snip and snipe at one another like siblings.  My daughter rather appreciated that aspect of Papa’s personality; he became the brother she would never have. 

 

We needn’t have coached our toddler on egg-hunting strategy.  Every church bunny in our experience has been exceptionally generous and not particularly inclined to hide eggs, preferring instead to scatter them abundantly in plain view.  Every child left with an overflowing basket.  Our daughter and her surrogate brother were pleased.  My husband and I were happy and relieved:  another milestone community event successfully completed.    

 

On Easter morning, our daughter would find her basket on the dining room table, filled with goodies.  There would be a reply from the Bunny to the note our daughter always left him. 

After church on Sunday, we typically took the annual photo of our daughter on the steps of the rock garden by the azaleas.  These pictures document her growth from baby to teen. 

The perfect Easter day that I see in my mind–that’s no longer a possibility. 

Things change.  This Easter would be different.

 

Looking into the Ashes

On Ash Wednesday, Christians are encouraged to look into the darkness and face the grimness of what could have been.   With each passing year, the weight of that darkness becomes more palpable to me.  This year especially, as I think of my father’s death, as I consider the yawning void of his absence that greets my mother every morning in the house they shared for forty-nine years, the ashes of Ash Wednesday seem very real indeed. 

Fortunately, thanks to God’s saving grace, we are not left in the ashes.   We are invited out of the gloom and into the light.

Nearly every year I write about Ash Wednesday.  At this point, I’ve said about all I can without redundancy.  Last year’s post, Saved from the Ashes, covers the ground.

I can only add this bit of advice:  confront the darkness of the day.  Maybe, for the first time, attend a church service and get that smudge on your forehead.  If you prefer, you may not even need to get out of your car; many churches are providing drive-by ashes these days.  But think about what the smudge means.  Only by looking into the ashes can we fully appreciate the opportunity to be lifted from the dust into new life.    

And look around you.  Chances are, the promise of spring is already at hand. 

Extreme Gift Wrapping 2016

We’re more than two weeks into January, so it must be about time for my final Christmas post.  Soon, it will even be time to begin taking down the holiday decorations.  I tend to postpone this process further each year.  It’s my way of pretending that time isn’t flying by quite as fast at it really is. 

Christmas was almost upon us, and my husband had mentioned no grand plan for what has become his annual inventive presentation of our daughter’s gifts.  Had his years of Extreme Gift Wrapping come to an end?   They began in earnest in 2011, and every year since, he’s been under pressure to come up with a new scheme.  This becomes ever more difficult, but still, I doubted he’d simply give up.  (For his earlier efforts, see here, here, here, and  here.)   

He hadn’t.  On the morning of Christmas Eve, a small blue gift box appeared to be floating just in front of the tree.  Close inspection revealed that it was attached to the ceiling with fishing line. 

Upon returning that evening after our church’s live nativity and Christmas Eve service, D and I found that seven other boxes, of various sizes and colors, had been added.  They all appeared to hover in mid-air.      

The effect was charming, almost magical.  Hats off to my husband.  He’d found a fresh new approach.  No construction was involved this year.  And not even any actual wrapping.  It was a sophisticated presentation, suitable for a young woman who would soon be heading off to college. 

What will he do next Christmas, I wonder?  I bet he’s already got some ideas.  Our daughter should be home from somewhere, we still know not where, for her first college winter break.  My best guess is this: the tradition of Extreme Gift Wrapping will continue. 

Kiko, of course, couldn’t care less about floating gifts or elaborate packaging.  But he quickly found his stocking filled with favorite treats and a corduroy rabbit equipped with several squeakers. 

A blog about motherhood, marriage and life: the joys and frustrations, beauty and absurdity, blessings and pain. It's about looking back, looking ahead, and walking the dog.