Category Archives: Family

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 Look Back on Five Years of Wild Trumpet Vine

 

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Five years have passed since I began writing Wild Trumpet Vine.  In the space of that half decade, there have been many changes, naturally.  We passed some major milestones, we faced some challenges, and of course we grew older.  Looking back on the last five years, it gives me comfort to see that our family coped.  Maybe we even grew a little wiser.  I hope so.  We’ll need wisdom.  More daunting challenges lie ahead. 

In the fall of 2011, our daughter was starting middle school.  Seven years of elementary school were behind her, and soon she would be a teenager.  Since then, she made the leap into high school.  She became a licensed driver.  Now, our daughter is a senior, and on the verge of an even bigger leap.   We’ve done our family college visits.  The ongoing process is in her hands now.  Our daughter’s future stretches before her. 

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As for H and me, we’re all too conscious of seeming more elderly with every successive stage in our daughter’s life.  We could consider ourselves young when she was small and looked like a child.  Now that she will soon be out of high school, now that she looks like a young woman, our own youth, we realize, is largely an illusion. 

But we needn’t act old.  About a year ago, H began playing ice hockey once or twice a week, something he’s been wanting to do since he captained a rag-tag grad school intramural team at Princeton.  When windsurfing was his only hobby, his free time was spent mostly feeling sad because there was no wind.  Few opportunities for windsurfing arise in northern Virginia; it’s a sport that requires long stretches of time in an appropriately windy locale, such as Cape Cod or Aruba.  Hockey rinks are more conveniently located.  He’s a happier guy these days. 

And I’m happier, too.   I see good friends on a more regular basis now, and that can’t help but brighten the days.  Five years ago, Kiko and I usually began our early morning walks alone.  We typically chatted with many acquaintances along the way; sometimes we met neighbors and walked a while together.   About two years ago we began walking most weekdays with another neighbor and her dog.  Before long, another friend had joined us with her dog.  We were having fun, and evidently it showed.  A third friend soon joined in.  Now there are at least five of us plus our dogs.  Because we often run into other neighbors, the dog parade may swell to eight or so.  It’s become our morning social hour, one we all hate to miss. 

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Five years ago, Kiko was four, probably in his prime.  Although no doubt it was already far too late, our family continued to argue about training approaches.  Overcoming his headstrong nature was still put forth as a real possibility by my husband and daughter.  His stubbornness was an ongoing source of family friction. (See An Evening of Discontent and The Joys and Travails of Walking our Strange Little Dog).   

In the language of dog food commercials, Kiko is now a senior dog.  He’s as determined as always in his absolute, driving need to go this way or that.  He has no idea that he’s by far the smallest member of our dog walking pack (which includes a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a Doberman, a Labradoodle and a Golden Doodle).   But Kiko is the unquestioned leader; he chooses the path according to the smells that beckon most keenly.  Yielding to his iron will is more pleasant that battling it.  He’s still fast, although his bursts of speed are shorter-lived. He continues to enjoy wowing the lady dogs with his fleetness of foot and incredible turning radius.  But now he’s very likely to plop down immediately afterwards, preferably for a lengthy rest, in the middle of the street, if possible.  He’s trim and svelte.  His appearance has changed very little.  Except for one detail:  on top of his head, above the center patch of dark sesame coloring, he has a blurred triangle of lighter fur, as though someone had smudged him with bleach. 

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Five years ago, my parents were still frequently driving back and forth from Atlanta to our home in Virginia.  They were here watching D and her friends head out trick-or-treating, and to open gifts with us on Christmas morning, to celebrate Easter.  In attitude, demeanor and appearance, they seemed far younger than their actual age. 

Time started to catch up with my father about two years ago.  He had two major surgeries in as many years.  He’d always been fit and active.  He woke up feeling good; he rarely had an ache or pain.  But his last surgery left him weakened, almost frail.  He was becoming more and more sedentary.  When he stood up, he was dangerously wobbly.  And it was becoming clear that he was suffering from some form of dementia.  We tried to see it as no big deal.  It was his short-term memory that was primarily affected.  Did it really matter that he complimented me on my sweater every five minutes?  Or offered to get me a glass of orange juice even more repeatedly than usual?  The disease compounded Daddy’s graciousness.  He’d always made kind, sweet comments.  We simply heard the same ones more often.  But in recent months, the changes were increasingly profound.  During one visit he remarked that he couldn’t remember my birthday.  Another time he asked if I had any sisters.  And was I dating anyone interesting?  I told H it was time he got to Atlanta, before Daddy started actively matchmaking.  He had never been an overly protective father; he’d always wanted me to go out and have fun.  Throughout it all, he kept his sense of humor.  

For most of his life, my father had taken care of my mother, and the shift was very difficult for her.  He had done the driving, the grocery shopping, the bill paying, the handling of most paperwork, all the car stuff.  He had been there with his reassuring presence.  Suddenly Daddy depended on Mama to take care of him.  But he forgot that he needed her help, and that made it even more difficult.  It continually slipped his mind that there were many things he could no longer do.  Understandably, he didn’t want to remember.  He’d been used to doing so much.  Mama worried that he’d go outside without her knowing, that he’d fall on the steps or the steep front bank.  When she told him he couldn’t go outside on his own, he pleaded earnestly and poignantly, like a little boy: Why? Why can’t I go outside?  The thought of that exchange still brings tears to her eyes.  During our final visit in July, H, D and I were doing yard work.  Daddy appeared, as if from nowhere; he could still move surprisingly fast when no one was looking.  He was poised to climb the ladder, an old, rickety thing propped against the house.  We got to him just in time. 

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It took Mama a while to adjust to shouldering the burden of being in charge.  I think she was only just coming to terms with it when Daddy died.  My parents would have been married sixty-one years this month.  For her, his absence is a deep and yawning void.   

So, what will the next five years bring?  I don’t like to speculate on the future.  Even when I was young, I hated that question: Where do you see yourself in five years?  In ten?  But looking back on the last five gives me strength to know that we’ll continue to deal with life’s changes as they come.  Like the wild trumpet vine inching along the fencerows, we’ll persevere, through grief, through joy.  My hope is that we will find the assurance that my father experienced.  We’ll see his smile and hear him say: Hey, no need to worry.  It’s all going to be OK. 

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Final First Day of School

It’s here.  My daughter’s last-ever first day of school.  That thirteenth, and final first day.  Her senior year has begun.  She looks the part.  She appears confident, fit, athletic, in control.  A beautiful young woman. 

It was twelve years ago that my husband and I worried over our little girl (and she was so little) as she boarded the bus (and the bus was so big) for Kindergarten.  Thank goodness our area didn’t have all-day Kindergarten then.  I wouldn’t have been ready.  (See Moving up to Middle School, October 18, 2011.)  Eleven more first days followed, and eleven more years.  We checked off the major  first-year milestones:  elementary school, middle school, high school.  But I don’t remember growing older. 

My husband has been whistling “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof even more frequently than usual these days.  I understand, and those unsettling lyrics rattle around in my head: 

Sunrise sunset, sunrise, sunset!
Swiftly fly the years,
One season following another,
Laden with happiness and tears…

No school bus for our daughter, not since sophomore year.  This tall young woman got in the car, waved happily, and drove away. 

Is this the little girl I carried?

Wasn’t it yesterday when she was small? 

Wonder where she’ll be this time next year? 

A Tribute to my Father at his Memorial Service

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Over the last six weeks, I’ve given a lot of thought to what made my father so special.  Unique.  Speaking with friends and family who knew him well, I think I’m getting closer to defining it. 

It’s something like this:  he was self-assured in a way that made those around him feel better.  He had a quiet confidence that was the furthest thing from arrogance.  Daddy never bragged.  He tended not to speak at length about anything, least of all himself, and he had little patience with those who do.  One friend expressed it this way:  he said my father had a sort of grace.  And that’s it.  Daddy had an unassuming, infectious charisma.  An easygoing demeanor that told you, maybe even without a word: Hey, everything’s cool.  No need to worry.  His assurance reassured you, built you up and improved your outlook.  Even during that final week, after his stroke, while he was leaving this life little by little, Daddy’s presence was uplifting and reassuring. 

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Daddy with his mother and younger brother on vacation in Florida, 1953.

My father looked on the sunny side, and when you were with him, you basked in the sun, as well.  That, plus his incredible good looks, must have been what drew Mama toward him over sixty years ago.  My mother tends to see the shadows.  She’s a worrier.   She’s acquainted with melancholy.  Daddy was, in so many ways, her sunshine. 

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Daddy with his sister and younger brother, again in Florida, 1953.

One of my more vivid childhood memories is being at the Garden Hills pool with Daddy when I was little.  We’d go swimming sometimes on summer Saturdays, just he and I.  I hated getting into cold water.  Still do.  My daughter makes fun of me every year at Cape Cod as I stand wincing, dipping one toe into the bay.  As a little girl, I’d wrap myself around Daddy like a monkey, and he’d get in at the shallow end and gradually wade deeper and deeper.  At first I’d be shivering like crazy.  But his warmth and sense of calm would soon spread to me.  I’d take a deep breath and relax.  The shivers would disappear.  Daddy’s sunny grace would shine on me, and I could play in the water all day.

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Daddy, 1951.

I never had any doubt that with Daddy, the cold water would turn into something wonderful and fun.  And I’ve never had any doubt about Daddy’s love for me.  His most significant gift has been, and will always be, the absolute, unwavering certainty of his love.  No matter what, he was my champion, my loyal defender.  He was partial, of course.  But he was also generous with his love, not just to me but to all his family and friends.  If he loved you, he was in your corner.  Resolutely.  Enthusiastically.  And you knew it.  Never questioned it. 

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Daddy and me on my first birthday, 1962.

What a gift.  It’s a gift I’ll carry my whole life long, and, I expect, into eternity.  Thank you, Daddy. 

My Father, His Life Well Lived

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My wonderful father left this life in the early hours of July 22. It was a peaceful transition, with Mama and me by his side.  He lingered a while, for nearly nine days, as if to break it to us gently.
Those final days were oddly beautiful.  Daddy was kind, sweet and gracious to the end.

While we will miss him everyday, we’re confident that his loving spirit has found its true and joyful eternal home.  And we will carry his love for us always in our hearts. 

Dear Daddy, I will be forever blessed to be your girl!  

The Hydrangea: Summer’s Essence in a Flower

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No flower captures my idea of the essence of carefree summer quite like the hydrangea.  Once the hydrangeas are flourishing, the school year and its unforgiving routine have ended.  There is time once again for the leisurely enjoyment of a sunny morning. 

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The big, bobbing heads of hydrangeas feature prominently in childhood memories of my grandparents’ Kentucky farm, especially of July 4th family gatherings at the old house on the banks of the river.  And some of the most magnificent hydrangeas anywhere adorn the little cottage complex that becomes our home for a while every August in Cape Cod.  Hydrangeas mean summer, past and present.   

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Hydrangeas were among the first flowers we planted when we moved into our house eighteen years ago.  We added more when we undertook our backyard renovation.  The hydrangeas around our house remind me of the days when my daughter’s idea of a grand adventure was splashing in her little inflatable pool on the lawn.  Hydrangeas mean warm sunshine and happy, uncomplicated times. 

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I didn’t have much hope for our hydrangeas this year.  After the heavy snows of our frigid winter melted at last, much of the early foliage was black and shrunken.  The buds appeared stunted.  But as the weather warmed, the flowers rallied.  Right now, on this July 2, they are more beautiful, and more widely varied in color and depth of hue than I can remember. 

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Hydrangeas are likely to wilt soon after they’re cut unless given special treatment.  To prolong their freshness considerably, follow this method:

Immerse the stems in water immediately after cutting.  Heat a cup of water to boiling.  As you arrange the flowers, and just after you recut each stem to the chosen length, hold it in the hot water for thirty seconds.  Add the stem to your arrangement in a container filled with room temperature water.  The flowers should look beautiful for several days and perhaps up to a week.  

Another Last Day (of School)

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The official last day of school is finally here.  And it’s about time, since only one little week of June remains. 

My daughter’s dreaded junior year is behind her now.  As she used to say as a baby after finishing a meal in her high chair, “All done, Mama.  All done.”  Our  family breathes a collective sigh of relief. 

She’d expected the year to be tough, and in this respect it did not disappoint. It included challenging AP courses such as Chemistry and BC Calculus.  It required discerning ever so subtle differences in rhetorical devices in AP Lang.  There were decisions to be faced:  which comprehensive exams, SAT or ACT?  And if SAT, which version:  old or new?  And which subject tests?  Then there was the actual taking of the tests, one of which had to be rescheduled because it occurred during our winter blizzard.  On the lighter, but still stressful side, there were drama performances, including One Acts, Putnam the main stage musical, and various class productions. 

There were college visits to be worried over, planned and accomplished and then worried over some more.  We devoted spring break to touring the icy gray campuses of various northeastern schools from Rhode Island to Vermont.  From this trip we drew one conclusion: we were very cold. 

There was fun to be had, as well, with good friends, many of whom our daughter has known since elementary school and before.  Another Homecoming, another Sadie Hawkins Dance, another Prom, with all the prefatory to-do those events entail.  Those of you who are parents of high schoolers know that the actual dance takes a back seat to the lead-up of pictures, dinner and more pictures, and the follow-up of the after party.  There was our daughter’s greater freedom resulting from a driver’s license and an available vehicle.  (She has a car to drive, but, as my husband emphasizes, it is  NOT her car.) 

And now the summer is upon us, as is the pressure to enjoy it fully, yet use it wisely.  That’s a tall order. 

What will we do today?  We’re not sure.  The day is half over. 

Looks like we’re already behind in the game.