Stories and thoughts about family and life

Sint Maarten/St. Martin

I promised the lady hosting our tour I wouldn’t share any of the pictures from this beautiful island, and I won’t, but I still think what we saw is worth talking about.  we were blessed to visit this amazing little island on our recent cruise.  It’s half Dutch, half French, following years of fighting back and forth and a final resolution which means the island is now shared.  Shared, but with two distinctive personalities.  The Dutch side is pretty much on its own.  With its industry based primarily in tourism, you find casinos, the cruise port, and a variety of tourism-supported activities to bring in money.

As we made our way on our tour of the island, the guide explained the history which led to the development of the island:  large salt lagoons on the cruise port side known as Great Bay, and former plantation land we passed.  We were only about a mile away from the port when we began to see the real devastation.

I admit, geography isn’t really my thing and unless I’ve visited somewhere I don’t always have a good perspective of where it is.  I had no idea of the devastation the island had undergone, and as we started driving through the areas and saw buildings completely obliterated, or walls standing with make-shift roofs, cars demolished in fields, and countless other signs of significant damage.

I didn’t realize (and I’m ashamed to say) that this poor island was nearly demolished by Hurrican Irma.  Within just a few weeks, Jose and Maria unleashed their fury on the already weakened island.    Just as in Puerto Rico, the official death toll was figured in a way that did not accurately reflect what really happened.  The number of ships in the lagoon alone was staggering, and recovery/cleanup efforts are still underway.   Many places of business were simply wiped off the map, lives lost, and the landscape of the island changed.

Now, I tell you that to tell you this:  we had a lovely time on this island.  It was beautiful, and the people were incredible.  Living where we do in Arkansas, we see devastation each and every year somewhere thanks to tornadoes.  We are always proud of how our state pulls together to help one another and recover and rebuild.  We had remarked that we were seeing the same going on in Puerto Rico, and that it was so energizing to see that people were digging in and making the best of things.  In this small island, I saw that same attitude of renewal and appreciation for life on such a larger scale.  Lucas and I wandered through some shopping booths on part of our tour and the first man we met had the biggest smile on his face and the most amazing attitude.  One of the ladies with us remarked that he surely seemed happy and he said that he had been through so much, that he had learned to appreciate each day as its own special gift.

I’ve always tried to be a positive person and to generally look on the bright side, but this young man’s perseverance and his perspective on rebuilding his life was nothing short of motivational and uplifting.  He had NOTHING negative to say, despite the fact that I know the island government hasn’t been especially helpful through their rebuilding efforts.  Most people lost, quite literally, everything.  They came together in groups and tried to help one another stand up and rebuild, one at a time.  Our tour guide probably summed that up best–the people who stayed wanted to build a better life and they understood that they could wallow, or they could get busy doing something about it.

I hope you get the opportunity one day to visit this island, or at least some of the islands in the Caribbean.  It’s truly remarkable to meet these people personally and see how much they get out of life.  It reminds me that we can surely get carried away with ourselves sometimes.  It also makes me appreciate that my “catastrophes” or generally just minor bumps in the road compared to what some of these people have gone through.  Please travel and see some of these spectacular places.


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Mother ‘s Day and the cell phone

It started with a lost cell phone.  And that started with a misbehaving attitude and a cell phone “time out” coupled with the fact that I’ve apparently completely lost my mind in the past year.

Brennan got into some trouble a few months ago and we took his phone away.  He lost it a couple of weeks, earned it back, had it a couple of weeks and lost it again.  Louis and I have changed the hiding place in the house a couple of times, knowing that the kid was onto us.  Well, we’ve apparently done a great job hiding it this time, because we can’t find it.

Nothing makes you realize how much crap you’ve accumulated over your nearly 27 years of marriage like looking for a lost item the size of a cell phone.  Couple that with the amount of things I’ve integrated into my life from my parents and I think I’ll be better off just buying the kid a replacement (or upgrading mine and giving him that one).  At any rate, I’ve been on quite the walk down memory lane today, which I suppose is appropriate, since it’s Mother’s Day weekend.

I found a variety of Father’s Day and Mother’s Day cards we’ve kept over the years.  I found the first tooth for one of the boys, and the little necklace the school sent home with the tooth enclosed in a neat little case.  I found all of the Boy Scout Merit badges Louis had earned, and his Arrow of Light sash.  I found a package of napkins from our wedding which read “This day I will marry my Friend, the one I laugh with, live for, dream with, Love” and our names and date: August 31, 1991.  I found one of Gomez’s (our first dog) leashes.  I found my mom’s reading glasses and her watch, which no longer works, but I can’t make myself get rid of it.

Louis’ mother had a cedar chest.  She actually had a couple of them, and I was blessed that his sister took one and made sure we took one.  Louis isn’t sentimental like I am, so he wasn’t really interested, but Kathy has always made sure to include me as her sister, and knew I would make use of the chest and then pass it on to one of the boys.  It’s been in our garage the past couple of years, waiting on me to purge and rearrange enough to make room for it.  It’s now stored safely in the bottom of Luke’s closet, and today I’ve been gathering little treasures to put in it:  sweaters my mom knitted both the boys when they were toddlers, Daddy’s leather gloves, my old Billy Joel concert t-shirts which have LONG since been too small, some cloth napkins Helen loved.  This old cedar chest has seen better days, with its deep scratches on the top from the years it spent in Helen’s closet, but it’s finding its purpose again:  protecting all those precious memories.

We lost Louis’ mom almost two years ago.  I lost my own mom almost 11 months ago, and Daddy a mere four months later and a few days.  I was telling my sister one day that I couldn’t quite articulate how I lost I felt and she said it quite succinctly:  we’re orphans.    I was so blessed to become a Mom myself 17 years ago, and again 15 years ago.  It’s crazy how the time has passed, and yet, how many years of those memories I have stored and touch from time to time.  I still have a ton of artwork from both of them, and outfits family members had given them, and a million things I hope they’ll treasure (or at least, their wives will) some day when they have their own kids.

Some of these years have been long, and I thought they’d never be over (I wondered for a while if Brennan would EVER sleep through the night, for example), and some of them have gone by in the blink of an eye.  Louis and I tell them stories about when they and their cousins were little, and all the sayings we’ve gotten from one or the other of them.  We reminisce with them about funny things they’ve done and I hope they truly know on some small scale how much they’ve enriched my life.   It’s weird to be at this place in my life, with my parents both gone, and my kids on the college doorstep, and realizing that I’m seriously entering a new phase, like it or not.  I’m so thankful for all the trips we’ve taken and the time we’ve spent together and the effort we’ve put into all of those things, and going through these memories this afternoon reminds me how blessed I am to be a mother, to have experienced the things my mom likely experienced with me, and to appreciate my relationship with her on another level.  I never really “got” why she freaked out when I joined the Army at 17, but believe me, I completely get it now.   You go through so much only wanting the best for your kids, and trying to let them lead their lives but trying to guide them so they don’t get hurt (physically or emotionally).

My kids laugh every year when I tell them it’s Mother’s Day and all I want it a nice meal at home and my house to be cleaned from top to bottom.  Well, they laugh after they roll their eyes, anyway.  But it’s seriously true.  I remember a couple of years ago my dad had a test in Ft. Smith and I had driven up with my younger sister and picked he and Mom up.  My older sister met us there.  We waited forever for the test, and we spent the whole time cracking each other up in the waiting room.  Us three girls throwing comments at each other and picking at Daddy, who kept nodding off.  Mom kept shushing us, but she secretly loved it.  At lunch, and on the way home, she talked and talked about how great it was to have her three girls together and see our family the way it used to be:  us all sitting around and teasing each other, and laughing.   I can’t even remember what we talked about, but she sure was happy watching all of us.

So, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you.  If you are a mom, I hope you are surrounded by love and happiness.  If you’ve lost your mom, I feel your pain and I hope you have wonderful memories to comfort you.   And no, I still haven’t found the cell phone.  Maybe I’ll get a new phone for Mother’s Day.  🙂


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The Tuxedo

Louis and I had tried a few times to convince Lucas to go to his junior prom.  It’s one of those moments in time we wanted him to be able to look back on years from now.  I went to all of mine–Louis to none.  We still had the same outlook on the event.  Lucas didn’t really want to go and we decided to drop it, until last week, when he decided to go after some serious thought.  So, last night we went into Men’s Wearhouse (one of the places he had researched and liked) to see about a tux.

I almost had to laugh as, in typical Lucas fashion, he wouldn’t say much and the poor salesman was really earning his living trying to figure out what this kid wanted.  As the interaction wore on, though, Lucas gave little hints about what he liked and the salesman went to work.  I was so focused on making sure he didn’t forget anything and helping him pick out a tie, that I hadn’t considered what was about to happen.

I mentioned to my sister the other day that Lucas will start his senior year in the fall, and while I’ve really tried not to give in to it, I’m finding myself already with a consistent lump in my throat and tears near the surface.  Some days I can’t wait to have these kids raised and see what their lives hold for them, but most days I simply cannot imagine this empty nest we’re about to have.  We’ll still have Brennan, but that two years he has left seem to already almost be gone as well–I guess the first one really makes you aware of how preciously short that time really is.

The salesman sent Lucas into the dressing room with some approximate sizes of what he thought we would need so he could see how he would look.  When Lucas emerged, for that first few seconds I literally could not breathe.  This amazing handsome, tall, young man stood before me and I could see important events in his life yet to come:  college graduation, first job (well, the first one in his degree path anyway), his wedding.

I remembered for a moment those events in my own life and how those 30 years have flown by so much faster than I could even imagine at 17.  At 17 you think people are crazy when they tell you how fast it goes.  The same as a new parent holding your baby and people telling you that child will be 18 in the blink of an eye, but it is SO true.  Even the days you thought would never end are quite distant memories now as you stand before your nearly six foot tall son.  I couldn’t event imagine this moment in 2001, when I first held him in my arms.

I’ve enjoyed watching all my friends’ pictures of their kids at prom and I’m sure we’re all feeling the same things.  As I watch my friends whose kids have already left the house and are at college or in the military, I realize this is just another one of those stepping stones we’ll endure, but it sure seems like the step for this one is much higher than the previous ones.  I’m sure it’s going to pass just like all the others, but in the meantime I should perhaps stock up on Kleenex.

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Being Willing to Ask For Help

You’d think, at almost 47 years, I’d have figured this one out by now.  It’s not that think people are incapable or anything—it’s just that I think of certain things as my jobs and I don’t want to burden anyone else with them.  Sometimes, though, it can’t be helped, and those situations sometimes slap me upside the head in funny ways.

Take for example this week.  I was supposed to be in Hot Springs three days this week manning a table for a conference.  A week or so before that was supposed to happen, I was invited to a meeting I couldn’t miss for work.  I approached my husband, who also works with me, about maybe filling in for me for just a couple of hours while I was in my meeting.  He, of course, obliged with no complaint.

The night before he was to leave and set up for this event, we visited about what he was going to do, how to approach questions he might receive, etc.  He had never set up a presentation table before, and he has never set up for an event like this before.  Nevertheless, he got up, put on a shirt and tie, and proceeded to drive to Hot Springs.  I called and checked on him several times before my meeting.  He texted me pictures and the table looked fantastic.    He did inform me, though, that he was the ONLY vendor rep with a shirt and tie on, instead of a polo shirt.  As the audience was a progressional one, I overshot the mark, I guess.

When I arrived that afternoon, I was taken aback watching him handle himself at the table.  He had quite quickly settled into a comfortable routine, and was engaging quite skillfully with passers-by.  I helped him the rest of the afternoon, but to tell the truth, no one was able to tell he wasn’t usually the person doing this.  He certainly didn’t need me to help him.

We ate dinner and he walked me to my room and went home.  I was sad to see him go, but with two boys to get to school in the morning and a business to run, one of us needed to be in the office.

As I started the next morning, I was amused at the number of people who came by the table, remarked that they wondered where the nice guy they met the previous day had gone, and commented that he was very nice and extremely knowledgeable.

My husband and I have been married 27 years this year.  I can’t even begin to list out all the things that we’ve been through.  But thick or thin, easy or hard, short or long, he’s always happy to sign on and do what he needs to do.  I’m blessed with a really great team at the office.  I’m blessed with an even greater team at home.


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The nightgown

I’ve never been much of a “nightgown” kind of girl.  I’m more the “husband’s old t-shirt” kind, and the older and softer, the better I like it.  But now, there’s this nightgown.

When my mother passed away last June, my sisters and I agreed that we didn’t want to go through her things immediately.  It took us until November to come together and start really looking through photos, cleaning out closets, and addressing her personal items.

Not long before she died, my older sister and I had been shopping somewhere and had picked up a nice blouse, and extra pair of pants, and a nightgown for her to keep in a bag in the truck.  It had happened a couple of times when they would suddenly have to make a run to the doctor, and we didn’t want her to have to worry about not having anything if she had to stay the night anywhere.  Mina bought her a nice bag, set it up with essentials, and these few clothing items.  We put it in the back of Daddy’s truck so they would always have it, and frankly we forgot about it.

It wasn’t until Daddy died early in November and we were cleaning out the house and the truck, that we ran across the bag.  Mina and I went through it, and when we pulled out the blouse and the nightgown Mina suggested I take them.    I really thought the nightgown would be something that I would just hang onto.  I didn’t imagine that I would wear it, but during that next month as we were cleaning out the house and preparing to sell the farm, I guess I was looking for anything that made me feel closer to them.  I spent many a weekend wearing Daddy’s old flannel shirt and one of his t-shirts.  I spent most nights wearing Mom’s nightgown.

I hadn’t really thought too much about how much I’d been wearing it until we were finishing laundry the other night and Louis made sure I knew my nightgown was clean and dry and ready to be worn again.  It made me realize how even my family had realized that it had become my new favorite sleeping attire.  I had to kind of chuckle at how the previous night I had slept in one of Louis’ old shirts and hadn’t slept so well, but that night I wore the nightgown again and slept beautifully, despite having had a challenging day at work (which would normally have me processing all night and tossing and turning).  Yes, I know it’s a mind thing.  Yes, I know that it didn’t ACTUALLY enhance my sleep.  Except, maybe it did.

It occurs to me how many of those things we do are actually little mind games we play with ourselves.  I’m dramatically impacted by some things I encounter–songs on the radio, the right movie and, apparently, a flannel shirt or a nightgown.   There are days when something incredible happens and I want so badly to call them.  Daddy and I had talked almost daily after Mom died, so that’s been an especially difficult transition.  Sometimes I actually dial the phone and as I prepare to hit “send” the reality washes over me and I’m sadder than ever.

I was always closer to my dad.  Even when I was very little I remember always being at his side.  He used to get me to say to mom “shut up ol’ woman, I’m Daddy’s punkin.”  She loved to tell about how I finally reached an age where I realized I maybe shouldn’t be saying that.  I was a tomboy growing up, and she was grateful when I could assume some of the tasks she had been doing on the farm.  Daddy and I were pretty much joined at the hip, and my mom and I just didn’t seem to “get” each other most of the time.   Maybe that’s part of why having this nightgown and getting to wear it almost every night has become so important to me.  It’s a way I can feel connected to her and keep her close to me.  It’s a way I can feel her love and not have to see her pain and suffering she endured at the end.  It’s a way for us to get along and “get” each other and not struggle.

I know, it sounds silly.  It’s just a nightgown.  If there’s one thing this last year has taught me, however, it’s that you just don’t know what will touch you when they’re gone and you can’t pick up the phone anymore.  You can’t go have dinner anymore.  You can’t go spend a holiday with them anymore.  You can’t go on vacation together anymore.  You miss and treasure sometimes the strangest things.    Like a nightgown.

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Junior Night

My mind hesitated as my eyes danced over the words.  “Junior Night” at the high school, Tuesday night at 6, in the cafeteria.  Learn what your junior needs to know about college, scholarships, and what to expect during the senior year.

Oh, my.  Lucas turned 17 in January.  I think I still haven’t quite come to grips with it.  I think his birthdays hit me harder than my own do.  I think I’m not ready to be thinking about being “empty nesters.”  My dear, sweet, tall, quiet, handsome boy who challenges me mentally (and sometimes physically and emotionally) has taken the ACT test twice in less than three weeks and we talk about college only, well, all the time.   Why can’t I wrap my mind around it?

As we sat and listened the counselor go through her presentation and discuss the August 1 start date for applying for scholarships and the October 1 date to apply for FAFSA, I actually started to feel a little light-headed.  It was yesterday, wasn’t it?  Yesterday when we graduated from daycare to kindergarten.  Yesterday when we changed schools and started 4th grade in earnest across the river.  Yesterday when he moved up from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.  Yesterday when he was interviewing and finishing Eagle.  And now it’s today and we’re looking the last year we have this kid home straight in the face.

At the end of the school year last year he got his class ring.  I remember the day he brought it home, and it sat firmly on his right hand.  We took them out to dinner that night and all I could do was stare at his now gigantic hands and think about how many times I had held that little hand.  How many times we had crossed the street or gone up or down stairs together.  How many times those little hands brought me some little treasure or a juice box to open.  Now I can’t keep him in jeans or shoes.  He towers over me, and when he hugs me his long arms swallow my whole torso.

Some days I’m ready for it to be over.  I’m ready to stop discussing grades or arguing about some silly something, or demanding to have chores done.  But most days seem to go too fast and roll right into the next day which only rolls faster into the next.  Our weekends are gone in the blink of an eye, and when he works with us at the office, I’m amazed at the maturity he’s shown between last summer and now.  He sounds so professional when he’s making phone calls and carefully following his script.  He can build computers and set up network drops and replace equipment and has really taken a burden off his dad at the office.  There was a day that little face would look up and smile at me when he’d get in from school and ask if he could have a snack.  Now he’s ready to whip out his own debit card and will happily offer to buy you a snack instead.

We’ve listened to our friends talk for years about their kids leaving home and how surreal and painfully quiet their whole lives would become.  Oh, they adjust and it ends up being fine, of course, but I think there is always a part of me that thought they were exaggerating.  The same way I always thought those older (now wiser) parents would say to me “enjoy them while you can–they’re grown and gone before you know what happened!”  It’s so true.  We’ve always been blessed to do a lot of things with our kids.  They’re great little travelers, and they are always happy to be on a trip somewhere.  I’m so glad we’ve had those times with them.

Louis and I were talking the other day about how we could cruise any time of year after they’re both grown–we wouldn’t be limited by the school calendar and when we could all go.  For about 2.3 seconds that sounded amazing.  Then we both just looked at each other and sighed.

We waited a while to have our kids.  We were married 10 years before Lucas was born.  Brennan came along 23 months later.   We’ve only left our kids three or four times, with the exception of their yearly trek to stay on the farm with my parents over spring break.  I think they’ll adjust fine.  Their parents might have a little more trouble.    I remember when I was 18 and went into the Army and left for Basic training, my mom told me that it took my dad a couple of months to adjust to my being gone.  I was with him all the time and we did almost everything together.  I didn’t really “get” that at the time.  I’m starting to get just a little taste of it now.  I hope I handle it all as gracefully as he did.

Oh, just wait until we have to order that cap and gown. . .

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End of an Era

Tomorrow marks two months since Daddy passed.  I’m utterly amazed that it’s been two months.   On one hand, it seems like it was just last week.  On the other, it seems like months have elapsed.  Eight weeks of whirlwind activity to clean things out of the house, decide what would to take home with one of us and what to toss.

Last Wednesday we girls all met in Booneville with my kind brother-in-law who has handled all of the legality of things for us and helped make sense of all the things you have to process when someone dies.  We converged at the bank and signed away the farm my parents bought approximately 47 years ago.   It was actually a much happier day than I anticipated, and we were able to meet the new owners, who hugged us and gave us their condolences.  A neighbor told me recently that she knew these peoples’ hearts, and she knew they would love the farm the way we always did.  That meant the world to me.  Farming is a hard life—anyone who has done it can tell you that.  You have to be willing to give it your all and then find some more to give.  You are battered and beaten by weather, finances of the country, sickness in your crops or your livestock, and so much more.  You have to figure out how to fix things with maybe nothing more than baling wire and duct tape.  You learn shortcuts for some of the most amazing things.  It’s hard, and it teaches you a lot about resilience.

But it’s also exceptionally rewarding.  To see the baby calf you bottle-fed bouncing his way through the field.  To see the rain move in across the valley and bless you with the rain you’ve needed so badly.  To walk out and pick your own dinner salad out of the garden.  To know that you have steak on the table, along with corn, peas, and okra you helped grow yourself.  To have a warm fireplace on a cold winter night and feel your feet warmed by wood you helped cut and haul.  You learn work ethic.  You learn struggle, you sometimes face defeat, but you learn ambition and most importantly, you keep moving.

Wednesday was a happy, and a tearful day.  It was the end of one era, and the beginning of another.  It was such a high and low simultaneously.  My dad had already selected the seller, and was preparing to close when he passed away.  I know we were carrying out his wishes, but I know, too, that he always had planned on me coming home and running that farm.  That’s a hard thing to face.  He respected my decision to move, and I know he was proud of what I’ve built in my own business, but there was also a sadness that we were so far away and I wasn’t carrying on his dream.

My dad had a hard childhood.  You had to really know him to know that, and even those of us closest to him didn’t know all of it.  He didn’t believe in making that anyone else’s burden.  He did believe in sharing what he knew, and in loving and providing for his family.   I’m so grateful we’ve been able to provide for our kids, but I’m sad they didn’t get to spend as much time on that old mountain as I did.

Mina and I spent some time a few weekends ago driving around and walking along the bluffs.  We had so much fun, laughing and talking as we went, and for a moment we were teenagers again (although that barbed wire fence wasn’t quite as forgiving as I had remembered in my youth).  We talked about how one of us helped build that fence or the other of us helped build that loading chute.  We drove around the farm and laughed about the year that she drove us down to the school bus on the tractor (it totally wasn’t funny then, though, I assure you!), and how we learned to drive on an old blue Ford Dexta tractor.  Country kids get to do things city kids only dream of. Things my kids cannot even comprehend.

And so, the farm on Jennings Mountain is no longer Gill land.  That makes me so sad I cry every time I think about it.  But, it’s the beginning of a new era—a new life and a new spirit.  That old house thankfully didn’t have to see a Christmas with no one filling its walls.  It will feel life for years to come, and all the happy memories which combine in those rooms will help it feel warm and happy.  At least, that’s my hope for her new family.

I hope those people will have their own crazy winter stories to tell.  They’ll have their own garden to grow, cows and chickens to feed, and will get to enjoy the fig, pear, and peach trees around the place, not to mention all the catfish in the ponds.

I’ve tried not to look at this as losing my home (although it’s hard to see it that way).  I mean, I’ve lived in my house in Little Rock for nearly 27 years now, which is technically longer than I ever lived on the mountain, but I think when you’re lucky enough to still have the house where you were raised and you’re an adult, that place is always going to be “home.”

Here’s to my home having a new life about it, and a new family to love.  Farewell, Jennings Mountain.

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Christmas Morning

It’s Christmas morning and my heart is so full.  I have had days in the past couple of months where I didn’t think I could feel this way again, and it’s magnificent.  Oh, my logical mind always intervened and told me the things it was supposed to:  it will get better, you’re just sad, you’ve got so much for which to be thankful and to appreciate.  But the truth of the matter is that it’s been a very depressing year overall.

As I sit here in the quiet of the condo this Christmas morning, listening to my husband softly snore beside me, I find myself in the same position I’m in on most Christmas mornings—I’m awake with anticipation of the day and the kids getting up and the wonderful sharing of ourselves we always do in extra supply on Christmas.  I’ve always been up before the kids—I guess it just reminds me that I’m just a big kid at heart and I get so excited to see their excitement.  It’s not so much the tree and the gifts anymore, although there are usually those things, but the appreciation of having my family together.

We had planned a trip to Disney World with some friends a couple of months before Mom died.  We debated several times cancelling it—it’s been a busy year at work and we’re tired.  When Daddy died, we decided that the year simply couldn’t end that way and we needed something as a family to lift our spririts and end the year on a happier note, hopefully sending us into a happier 2018.

I don’t think I’ve ever needed a vacation so badly in my life.  The first couple of days were traveling, and that first weekend we spent with dear friends of ours who live a couple of hours out of Orlando.  We always enjoy our time with them, and they understand that we enjoy hiking and seeing things and trying out new restaurants, but we are also quite content to just sit around their kitchen table and visit.  We did both in ample supply, and I had probably the most restful weekend I’ve had all year.

We were in Orlando by ourselves the first couple of days, and visited Universal Studios.  My children were quite patient as I worked off and on while we enjoyed our day (when you own the business, you’re never really NOT working at least a little bit).  We rode everything in the park (some things twice) over two days, and had an absolute ball.  Brennan and I drank enough icees in our refillable cup that I’d like to think we put a hurt on them, and we loved every minute of it.

Our third day was a scheduled work day, as we visited with a local vendor we had arranged a couple of months ago.  I had a conference call late in the day, so in between we took the boys to the pool at the condo.  I found a hammock under a palm tree and relaxed for an hour or so watching the palm tree sway in the breeze, and drinking my pina colada Louis bought for me.  Maybe I’m just simple, but watching that tree sway back and forth, I thought about how straight and tall those beautiful trees grow, but how they have to be flexible enough to stand up to something like a hurricane, and how that’s sort of symbolic of my life lately.  Even the trees which don’t look so good come back to life with a little pruning and removal of their damaged leaves.

Our other friends arrived late that night, and we’ve visited one park or another every day since.  Today will be Epcot, and we’re so excited to get to be in a place so beautiful and so much fun on Christmas, but I’m the most excited to be surrounded by people I love and who love me so much.

I’ve been struck by how mature my babies are, and how they’ve looked after the younger child in our group.  Brennan loves to ride the same kinds of rides she does, and is usually working to ensure she’s smiling.  Lucas has grown up so much over the past several months, and that has been so evident this trip, as I’ve heard so many sweet things he has said to someone else.  Our friends asked him what he wanted for Christmas this year and he told them he had already gotten everything he wanted—he didn’t need anything else.

We question sometimes whether we’ve done the right things or taught them well enough, or parented them correctly; but when your child does or says something like that, you are reminded that you’re on the right track.  It also reminds me that our time with them is coming closer to an end.  Oh, there will hopefully still be plenty of Christmas mornings to share, but Lucas will be graduating next year, and Brennan just two years later.  They’re not babies anymore, and letting them go on on their own some at the parks this year has been both liberating and a little sad.  They don’t need to hold my hand anymore, but thankfully they still ask for permission for most things.  They’re good boys, and I’m so very proud of them.  I know my parents are too, as we spend this first Christmas without them both.  It feels weird not getting up this morning and calling them.  I hope they can look down on us today and smile at our wonderful Christmas vacation.

And I hope you are able to find some of those same reflections of family and togetherness today.  Merry Christmas.

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The Voicemails

On Thanksgiving afternoon, as we were preparing to leave Fayetteville, Brennan mentioned to his uncle that he had something of Mom’s.  When we got into the truck and headed toward Ft. Smith, I asked Brennan what he was talking about, and he mentioned that he had a recording done about three years ago with my mom.  She was living in Europe during WWII, and he was apparently doing a class project and decided that a recorded interview would be helpful.  He had held onto that recording, and he sent it to me.

While we were driving to the cemetery to place some flowers for my parents Thanksgiving night, I listened to the recording.  There was Brennan’s sweet voice, asking my mom questions about the war, and my mom, recalling the details and working to answer each of his questions.  It was a precious gift for me, and started me wishing I had something like that of Daddy’s.  I can still hear his voice in my head, but I dread the day that will fade away.

I was close to both my parents, but especially close to Daddy.  I’m very much like him–same temperament, same features, same mannerisms, and I was a tomboy who very much enjoyed my days on the farm with Daddy.  It didn’t matter if I was driving the tractor, repairing a water line, or working with livestock, I was perfectly at home and he and I had some very interesting days today.  I miss my mom, but the loss of my dad has hit me especially hard.  I don’t know if it’s the realization that they’re both gone, and the place I was raised is about to be gone too, or if it’s the difference in my relationship with him (or a little of all of it), but I’m struggling a lot right now with the whole thing.

As I was sitting in carpool line the other day, I was cleaning out a couple of voice mails, and scrolled down my voicemail list to see if there were any I hadn’t handled.  I spotted one that said “Daddy.”  I tentatively pushed the play button, and tears flooded my face as I heard his voice once again “This is Daddy.  Call me when you take a notion.”  I generally talked to my parents once or twice a week, but after Mom passed I started calling Daddy every couple of days.  After a month or so of that, he began to reciprocate, and I always felt badly when I was in the middle of something and couldn’t get to him immediately.  Now I realize that I’ve been graced with the same gift from Daddy, and I have him recorded.

As I thought about what to do with this recording to ensure I wouldn’t lose it, I realized that I likely had more in my deleted items folder.  I delete my voicemails, but I’m not always great about cleaning out the deleted folder.  I generally am irritated with myself, as this takes up a lot of space on my phone.  This day, however, I was so grateful.  I had voicemails dating back nearly a year, and a couple from my mom as well.  Happy messages, “we’re home” messages, silly messages (my Dad was famous for that), and sad messages.  The night we lost my mom he called me to tell me he was in trouble and to ask me to come home.  I didn’t catch the call when he originally made it, and the voicemail was gut wrenching as I could hear the tears in voice as he told me there was trouble and said he needed me home.

Lots of the voice mails are things about him driving to Little Rock, letting me know he’s leaving, or telling me he was headed to breakfast.  He doesn’t always say that in the message, but I know by the time he called or the way he sounded what was going on.   Breakfast was always my special time with Daddy.  Whenever we would travel together, or they were in Little Rock, it was understood he and I were going to breakfast.  That would be time for the two of us to catch up, and I loved the stories he would tell.  I’m going to miss that time a lot.

All told, I found about 15 voicemail messages.  And now I can hear him any time I want.

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Thanksgiving Adventures

Thursday was my first Thanksgiving without both my parents.  It’s been nothing short of an exceptional year and a lot of drama I wasn’t anticipating.    My mom had been ill for a while, so while her death was sudden I was much better prepared for it than my losing Daddy.   Still, I wouldn’t have told you that the holidays were going to be so terrible.  We were repeating last year’s holiday and traveling to my sister’s house.  I made the Pistachio salad my mom used to make and Mina had pecan pie in Mom’s pecan pie plate (literally shaped like a pecan pie with a pecan on top).  It was a wonderful day and we felt a lot of love.

We had decided to go to the farm that evening and on our way down the hill (traveling from Fayetteville down the mountain, for those who aren’t from around here), I started to cry.  The weight of it hit me for a few minutes and I gathered myself back together and thought that would be the worst of it.  I was kind or proud that I was holding it together–my poor kids have seen more tears lately than I’d like to admit.   As we drew closer and closer to Ft. Smith, I told my husband I’d like to go see Mom and Daddy.

I joke all the time that I need a camera crew to follow me around.  This holiday was no exception.  I could, quite seriously, have a very successful comedy show with nothing more than my ordinary life and the antics surrounding it.   We discussed whether the cemetery was even open on Thanksgiving.  Louis checked the National Cemetery website–it’s unclear.  I have him text a friend of mine who has relatives buried there.  She’s pretty certain it’s open, but we’re not 100% sure.  Louis continues to check various sources and discovers that the cemetery is supposed to be open “until dusk.”  Well, the sun was going to set at 5:06.   At this time it was 4:30, and we were coming into the edge of Ft. Smith.

We make a flying trip down Rogers Avenue to the cemetery and find the gates are, indeed, open.  We try to find the nearest Harp’s or Wal-Mart and have to drive pretty much right back to the interstate to find an open place with flowers.  I run into Wal-Mart, find a lovely little simple bouquet of flowers, and proceed to checkout.  I rush back out into our waiting SUV and we drive like maniacs back to the cemetery.  We’re so thankful as it’s 5:03 and the gates are still open.  We just have to make it inside, and we can finish our mission.  Red light.  The longest red light I’ve seen in a while.    The light finally changes and we zoom down the last two blocks and sail into the gate of the cemetery.  Whew!

Lucas had looked up the location of the grave site when we had been there the previous week (I hadn’t been since Mom’s funeral).  He was able to direct us around the cemetery to the appropriate section, and we all climb out of the vehicle and head toward the small marker indicating where the headstone will be placed in another week or two.   Tears already start to flow as I approach the fresh dirt, and I can hardly breathe anymore as I hand the flowers to Brennan and ask him to place them for me.  Lucas takes a picture and offers me his shoulder.  I buried my head and cried for several minutes, so thankful that I have my husband and my children.  So thankful that the cemetery was open.  So thankful that we could find flowers and that the last red light wasn’t any longer.

After what felt like forever, the sun began to set and I finally regained my composure.  It was getting colder, and I told my family it was time to go.  Louis offered to drive and we walked back and loaded up.  As we headed for the exit, Louis and I both erupted into laughter as we discovered that the cemetery has a side exit (which was the closest to where we were parked), and. . . there is no gate!  We remarked how funny my parents would have found this whole thing–us rushing around town like lunatics and then discovering that we could have taken all night and it wouldn’t have mattered because the side gate is always “open.”

So, Thanksgiving 2017 is now past us.  I’m sad, and I missed my parents much more than I would have thought.  We didn’t always spend the holidays together, so I thought this would just feel like one of those years.  Instead I missed them both, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called that phone number and caught myself just before it rings.  That’s probably the loneliest feeling I’ve experienced yet in my life.

I’m thankful for another year of my life and my beautiful family.  I’m thankful that neither of my parents suffered much in their last days, and I’m so exceptionally thankful that we were all home just a few days before Daddy died.  I honestly believe that he knew the end of coming and he was holding on to see us all again.  I’m thankful that I had such a beautiful farm to call home and that I was able to live the life I did and learn the lessons I did growing up.  They were sometimes hard or painful, and sometimes I couldn’t see the lesson in the moment, but I’m still thankful for all the things I’ve learned or gained from those experiences.  Most of all, though, I’m thankful for my sisters and my wonderful husband and children, who have let me lean on them and shared in the grief.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that our little “adventure” gave you a little chuckle.  Like Daddy always used to say, “just as soon laugh as cry about it.”

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