Stories and thoughts about family and life

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.

Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

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.”

Leave a comment »

Pistachio Fruit Salad

It’s the silly things that make you cry, sometimes.  I’ve been amazed at the strength I’ve had in some situations lately, but how others I simply fall apart when someone hugs me or tells me some incredible story about one of my parents.

We started cleaning out the house this weekend.  I had done a little bit last weekend, but really not much more than straightening a few things.  This weekend we really got into it and went through a bunch of papers, sorted through items, started cleaning up the shed and uncovering all kinds of lost treasures.

I had this grand plan (because we Type A people are like that) of moving from one end of the house to the other, and we did a little bit of that, but we also were like three lost children wandering around from thing to thing at times, not quite knowing what to touch next.  It probably doesn’t help that Mom and Daddy bought that house six months before I was born, so there are almost 47 years collected there.  That’s a LOT of stuff!  They lived in the country, too, so the house was also well-shared with a few mice.  Mice like country houses.  There’s lots of paper, between wrappings, shelf liners and the like to keep them busy for quite some time.  In the country that you raise your truck hood to keep the rats out (and even that doesn’t work for long).  Daddy had even come to putting moth balls in a bag under the hood to drive them away.  They’re quite destructive creatures and they’re hard to exterminate.  Anyway. . .

As we cleaned and worked our way through the kitchen in particular, we were amused to find things way up in the top of the kitchen cabinet which obviously hadn’t been seen in years.  My dad was 6’6″, and my mom was about 5’4″ so she had no hope of seeing the things Daddy would put way up high, anyway.  Apparently as he was doing more cooking, more things got moved to the top shelf, and that’s how we found old chocolate chips, old cake mixes, a long-lost bag of marshmallows, and a crazy old bottle of some kind of peppermint oil I can’t remember them having in my life.  Daddy had a way of not realizing that you weren’t nearly as tall, and couldn’t possibly see whatever he had moved up higher than you.

When we girls were all together the weekend before Daddy died, we were cleaning out Mom’s things.  We had taken a break and were sitting out on the front porch talking about this pistachio fruit salad Mom made every holiday.  My older sister is hosting Thanksgiving this year, and I offered to make this family treat.  The plan was that I would pick my dad up the day before Thanksgiving to take him with me, so we would all get to enjoy it and that way Mom would still be with us on Thanksgiving.  Daddy passed away the following Wednesday, four days later, but that has only strengthened my resolve that the Pistachio Fruit Salad is a MUST for this holiday.

My sisters and I discussed the various ingredients of the recipe and what we could remember went into it.  I looked it up on the internet and found something fairly close to it, and we agreed it would do.  I had decided I would use Mom’s bowl from the house for it, completing the experience for all of us.   As we were cleaning the house Saturday, I found the bowl, and put it to the side so I could ensure I knew where it was.

Sunday, my older sister was going through the recipe drawer, and we were laughing at all the crazy scraps of paper with our little, block hand-writing or early cursive as we were all learning to appreciate recipes and keeping them together.  Then a stack where they had been written on notebook paper (which apparently the mice prefer over magazine paper), and the middles of the pages had been nibbled away.  They looked like scribbled swiss cheese or some type of bizarre paper snowflakes, and we laughed about how great those recipes must have been–if only we could see the rest of them.   When Mina hit the next piece of paper and said “oh, my” tears welled up in her eyes.  She walked toward me and said she would make a copy but wanted me to have the original.  I couldn’t imagine what she was about to hand me.

All three of us were crying as we passed around the piece of paper where, neatly written in Mom’s handwriting, was the recipe to the Pistachio salad.   You forget (or you think you do, anyway) your mom’s writing.  But looking at that paper, her handwriting was so distinctive I could pick it out of 100 people.  It was almost like Mom knew we were wanting to make that salad and told the mice to leave that particular piece of paper alone.  It was perfectly preserved in her handwriting, and we all marveled over it.  And now I can truly make HER pistachio salad for Thanksgiving.  Forget that nonsense I found on the internet–THIS is what we are having!

We’ve got a lot left to do, and we have already accomplished a lot.  We’ve been amazed at some of the old dishes or glasses we ran across, and had fun relaying the stories of them.  Mina found an old coffee mug she and Daddy used to “fight” over because it had a windmill on the side and it would supposedly “cool” their coffee.   We found the old sugar container which used to be on the table, and I searched through the cabinet until I found the matching dish for it.    It’s funny how many items were associated with a particular function.  There was one pitcher which was for nothing but tea when I was growing up (it, by the way, had a spoon we used to measure out the perfect amount of sugar–we haven’t located it yet).  The “french fry” bowl.  The small pate’ bowls my mom kept for us to give the cat ice cream (he wasn’t spoiled or anything), specific serving platters or small dishes which had this use or that over the years.  We found things Mom used for canning, various pieces of cookware or serving items we had used in years long gone now.

There is still plenty to do, and we’re bound to unearth more interesting items as we go, but for now I’ve got my sights set on Thursday.  A fun night away with my family, Thanksgiving dinner with my sister’s family, and. . . pistachio fruit salad.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Leave a comment »

Jennings Mountain

I’ve shed a lot of tears this week.  They come and go in waves now—from hysterical, crazy crying, to sobbing for a few minutes to tearing up but getting it all under control.   I never know when it’s going to hit or what’s going to set me off.  I know that’s to be expected, but it’s still a lot to work through each time.  This morning, for example, I lost it momentarily during breakfast.  Breakfast was the meal my dad and I shared together the most often–it was always our time to talk and muse over the happenings in the world.   It hits like a ton of bricks every time I hit one of those things which won’t ever happen again.

When Daddy called me Tuesday night, he was hurting, and we agreed I was going to make an appointment to finally see about having his knees repaired.  That was the last time I talked to him, and I had no idea it would really be the last time.  He apparently had a heart attack in the middle of the night and that was it.  No more two or three times a week phone calls.  No more escorting him to VA for his appointments, no more anything.  No more breakfasts.  No more “I love you girl” as we would hang up the phone.

My dad and I were very close.  Growing up, I was the typical tomboy and he and I did practically everything together.  I’ve learned so much from that man I can’t even put into words.  I would not be denied those lessons, either.  I’m sure I drove the man nuts–I had to know how everything worked.  I could swing a hammer, run electrical, handle plumbing.  I drove the tractor before I could drive a truck.   I learned so much about logic and critical thinking skills from having to stand there and solve problems.   He trusted me with a lot, and at a much younger age than I would have trusted either of my children.  I’ve learned to respect that so much more as I have become an adult with my own family.  He argued on my behalf so I could enlist–he knew how badly I wanted it and my mother was solidly against the idea.  I had to have their permission because I went delayed entry and enlisted at 17.  He always had my back.

When the first responder called me to tell me he was gone, I couldn’t even speak.  I could only cry out.  God bless my husband, who came and took over for me, called my sisters, listened to me screaming in his ear that I had to go to the farm NOW.  He obligingly loaded me up, took me to tell my boys, and then drove me to the farm, two and a half hours away.

That night was really a blur.  By the time we got to the farm, the coroner had already been there, and things were in motion.  All three of us girls and our spouses were there, and we made a preliminary plan.  We ate dinner and went our separate ways.  By late Thursday the funeral plans were made and there really wasn’t anything much more for me to do until the funeral on Monday.  It hit me suddenly Friday morning.  I needed to go to the farm.  I needed to go and spend the night, and be in that familiar place, and hear those familiar sounds, and feel something that connected me to him—something to fill this hole in my heart.

I finished what I absolutely had to do at the office, threw a couple of things in a bag, and headed for the farm.  I had dinner with my best friend, who helped me relax and keep things in perspective, and then I settled in for my night alone at the farm.  My husband was concerned about me going by myself.  I was not afraid, or even concerned.  My parents bought that house six months before I was born.  I am as comfortable there as I am my own home, and as I settled in for the evening, I found myself doing weird little things to make it feel “normal.”  I turned on the kitchen light over the sink.  I turned on the TV in the dining room (where Daddy usually sat), so the house didn’t feel so quiet.  I realized I hadn’t packed a sleep shirt.

I tiptoed into Daddy’s room and opened his t-shirt drawer, deciding that he wouldn’t mind me wearing one of his t-shirts.    I settled down for the evening in my sister’s bed, with the TV on low, and listened to the familiar sounds of the country–the dogs barking, the frogs and crickets, the house settling, and finally drifted off to sleep.   It’s funny to me how I worry in a hotel room about waking up and not knowing where I am and walking into a wall or something, but in that old house, it’s just like riding a bike.

When morning came, I turned on the news and started straightening things up a bit–grouping things together and trying to make it a little easier when we start really cleaning things out in a couple of weeks.  My sister drove down from Fayetteville and brought me breakfast, which was truly a welcome sight.  As we sat and visited and I inhaled my sausage roll from Rick’s Bakery, we discussed driving around the old place.

We hopped in Daddy’s truck and spent the next two hours driving around the outer fence lines of the property, and talking about hauling firewood or pulpwood over the years, feeding cows here or there, which ponds we had fished in as kids, building this fence or that loading chute, and trying to reach the old bluffs we used to visit frequently as kids (let me tell you, someone should have been there getting us on video climbing back and forth through the barbed wire fence!).

We drove through the old hog farm, and I stopped on the road, looking down into one of the buildings, remembering just as it was yesterday helping Daddy assemble the equipment and prepare to receive our first animals.  We discovered a pond we both had forgotten had ever been dug, and discussed all the buildings on the old place which used to stand (or parts were standing) and are all now gone.  It was the most beautiful way to spend the morning–revisiting the land Mom and especially Daddy loved so much, and laughing about what an interesting childhood we had.  We recalled a winter where every vehicle on the place was stuck.  Another winter (I was about 5, we think), when we couldn’t get up and down our road and Mina and I would drive the tractor down to the bottom of the mountain to catch the school bus.  Daddy would meet us in the afternoon, put us in the pickup, and use the tractor to tow the pickup up the mountain again.

We had a lot of hard times (especially winters) there, but I also remember evenings on the front porch with Daddy, watching a storm roll across the valley, that sweet smell of rain on the air.  I remember walking in from hauling hay, and Mom was getting chicken ready to fry.  I remember cold afternoons after hauling wood, when I’d take off my boots and stick my feet in the edge of the fireplace to warm them.  I remember Daddy and me lying in the living room floor and watching Pink Panther movies on TV (Mom couldn’t stand Peter Sellers, but Daddy and I thought he was hilarious).  I remember hating to load the woodbox, but being so grateful it was there when it was time to put more wood on the fire or in the stove.  I remember a small stove which used to be in the kitchen, and Daddy would get it going in the morning so we could dress in front of it and stay warm.   I remember pull-starting the tractors in the winter sometimes and how I gave Daddy the ride of his life one year the roads were solid ice: me driving the truck and him trying to start the tractor.  I remember always having fresh vegetables in the garden, and all the things Mom would put up like beans, carrots, peas.  I remember how Daddy would always make us snow ice cream, and we thought he was an absolute genius.

We’ve had a lot of loss in one year.  It’s difficult coming to grips with all of that, but memories like those help keep it all in perspective.  Daddy always told us girls that he had no intention of leaving that mountain.  He would say “I’m not coming down until I’m dead or the whole damn thing crumbles down around me.”  One of his friends reminded me the day Daddy died that not many people in life get to lay out how they want things to end, but Daddy got his story ending exactly the way he wanted it.  We had a wonderful weekend last Saturday.  Daddy got to hang out with a bunch of excited boy scouts, and we had a fish fry that night with a ton of Daddy’s friends.  He laughed, and had a wonderful time.  And he died on the mountain he loved so much.  I’m glad he got the ending he wanted, and I will forever treasure my memories of Jennings Mountain.



Leave a comment »

Cleaning the closet

Saturday was a bittersweet day.  It’s always good to get to see Daddy, and we were having our Boy Scout troop up to the farm for a campout weekend, but we were also finally cleaning out Mom’s stuff.  She passed away at the end of June, but I couldn’t bring myself to think too much about all of that.  My sisters and I agreed that this would be a good time to do it, and we all met up at Daddy’s Saturday morning.

We started going through her closet, and making decisions about keeping, donating, or tossing.  As we handled each outfit, we talked about how this blouse had come from Belgium or that sweater was one I had given her, or pants my sister had bought her.  So many of the outfits I could still see her in.  I could picture her as plainly as I look at my screen now:  walking in from when she worked at Ft. Chaffee, or attending some function.  We found the outfit she wore to my sister’s wedding just a few years ago, complete with the silk flower corsage still attached to the lapel.  We found several tops we knew she never would have worn (and were likely gifts), including one identified by one of my sisters as something she probably brought her back from a trip to Mexico.  We talked about how she had accumulated clothes over the years, and how many had significance for us.

My parents bought the house about six months before I was born.  My older sister was 9 when I was born, and she recalls the remodeling of the house, and the addition of the other two bedrooms, and bathroom.  That house has seen so many birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmas days; so many snowy cold days with no water, warm afternoons by the fireplace, hot afternoons working in the garden or coming in for dinner after hauling hay.   We went through Mom’s closet and talked about the various clothes she had coming from Europe, working at Ft. Chaffee, working on the farm, and then retired life, and today I find myself reflecting on the years time crosses and the events which come and go without much thought.   When we finished the clothes and shoes, we approached the suitcases in the top of the closet, some of which Mina recognized for their trip from Belgium to Booneville–I can’t even imagine having made such a life-altering trip at her age.

We took a break after Mom’s closet, all three of us emotionally worn and a bed full of piles of clothes for various destinations, with trash bags full of donations and hangers all over the floor.  When we resumed our work, we tackled the back bedroom, where Mom stored her sewing and knitting items, as well as things they didn’t access often (such as the Christmas tree).  We cleaned out boxes they had held on to, went through things we had stored there as we were cleaning up other parts of the house, and found lost things of our own as we went.  It got to be kind of funny about what we might uncover next.  Joan found the telephone she had in high school, and the old cassette player she had in elementary school.    Mina found a stack of old cards, and gave me birthday cards the kids had made one year.  It was so sweet to see their little writing, and their pictures, drawn with explanations of “me” and “cake” above them.

The things in their bedroom were the hardest for me.   Both my sisters had already made a pass through the room and cleaned out several things while I was running errands that morning, so a good bit of it was already done.   Still, there were several pieces of jewelry, scarves, handkerchiefs, and paperwork to go through.  Mina presented something my 14 year old has termed as “genius”, and suggested that I take a set of pearls and handkerchiefs for my boys to give their brides on their wedding day.    I sat there, holding one of the sets of pearls and running my fingers over the small pieces and the clasp, imagining the picture she was painting:  me sitting with one of my sons, handing them a package of items which belonged to his grandmother, and knowing how much it would please her to know how touched he would be.   Or even more, if I could give those pearls to my future daughter-in-law myself, placing them on her neck and telling her about the day I sat in my mom’s bedroom with my two sisters, having this conversation.  Pearls are even more significant to me, as it’s one of my birthstones.  How interesting an idea that would tie so many aspects of our family together.

We divided the items, picking the things which suited our personalities, or that we had a special connection to Mom.   I remembered buying a ring that had “Pepi” (what my mom was called) engraved on it on a trip a number of years ago.  I was surprised to find a second ring also engraved with the same.  I asked for both rings, so my boys could each have one, and we have agreed to put those on chains for them.  They both were quite fond of my mom, and I thought that was a great way for them to have some of her jewelry they could appreciate.

I was really fine going through all the things, until we reached the box of special papers, which included my original birth certificate from the hospital where I was born.  I can’t even explain exactly why THAT was the thing that did it for me, but I couldn’t hold it back anymore.  I went and sat in the bathroom, turned the vent on, and had a good cry.

We weren’t able to get to everything, and we were amused at the number of places she stashed jewelry, lipstick, nail polish, etc.  We found several baskets with earrings or watches in them, and each new basket was a new collection of stories or memories.   I laugh thinking about what we’ll find next.

Our Boy Scouts were so sweet and considerate of the three of us, carrying boxes, moving things, and helping hauling and loading boxes and bags for us.  We were able to take care of things for Daddy and clean and organize things for him a little bit.   We had a wonderful dinner surrounded by friends and family and cooked by my brother-in-law with a little help from my husband.  I’m so thankful we had so much love and support on such a difficult day.

As I sat down today with my boys and went through the items and relayed the stories and thoughts around each item,  I was impressed at how thoughtful they were with each piece.  I was afraid they wouldn’t want the rings I had requested for them, but they were both flattered and immediately asked for chains to wear them.  When I showed them the handkerchiefs and the pearls, they both sat and thought for a moment and I told them they didn’t have to do it, but they both responded that they thought it was such a cool idea and Brennan proclaimed my sister a genius for such a thoughtful plan.

I’m not sure I would have claimed any of the pearls otherwise–I have two sets of my own which are very special to me.   I’ve also not thought much about my boys ever getting married until today.   I was surprised that my mother had kept some of the things she had, as she’s not been especially sentimental over the years, but I was very grateful to have these things I could share with my boys.

1 Comment »

One Month Later

It’s been a month.  You can put any inflection on that you’d like.  A month has passed, and boy has it been a doozy.

Mom passed at 6:10 on June 29.  I think that’s etched into my brain.  Two days later Daddy was so sick he ended up spending the better part of a week in the hospital (nothing life-threatening, and he’s much better).  I can’t decide if that was a welcome distraction or more overwhelming activity than my poor brain was prepared to handle.  At any rate, a month has passed, and now I sit to finish the tasks I’ve put off far too long: thank you cards, and cleaning up things.

As I go through the soft green bag the funeral home provided us, I’m flooded with all those emotions again.  I re-read the obituary, which was so thoughtfully written by my brother-in-law, Les.  I read the cards and the book the funeral home put together with  the signatures of all those people who hugged me that day–many were a blur at the moment.  I sat and reflected on the people I know I saw, but who never signed the book.  I know they were there, and all those hugs meant so much that day.  I appreciate that the funeral home, so well-versed in this process, had the forethought to capture things in the book for me: the flowers on the casket, the geneaology of her family, etc.,  I know this is their business, but it’s comforting to know that no detail was forgotten, and how they appreciate what you’ll need/want to know later.

My mom and I weren’t as close as I would have liked.    I thought a lot about that as I prepared something to say that day.  I wasn’t sure I would be able to speak–I had actually thrown away what I had prepared, but decided en route to Ft. Smith that I really would regret if I didn’t at least try.  I talked about Mom coming from Belgium, and how that must have been quite the adjustment for her when she found herself on a farm in Booneville, AR.  I told a story about when the FHA person came to review the items on the farm and asked Mom about the “bush hog” and she confidently replied that Daddy had slaughtered it a few months before.    As I wrote the words to speak that day, I thought a lot about how I had always thought of myself as Daddy’s girl, but that I had to acknowledge that I have some of my best traits from my mother, which I suspect is why we didn’t always see eye to eye.  I had gained my tenacity, my willingness to fight for what I think is right, and my strong will from her.   I was able to deliver my words with relatively strong composure, only “losing it” a time or two.

I think regardless of the relationship you have with someone, you have a hole when they’re gone.  I feel for Daddy, and his missing her after 48 years together.  I tread rather lightly when I speak of her, not sure if I’m saying the right thing or not.  We’re able to share fun stories about her and laugh about things, but I see that faraway look in his eye.  My pain is nothing compared to his, I know.  I know each day will get better, and at least she didn’t have to suffer long-term, and all of those comforting things you’re supposed to think when someone is gone.

I have been truly blessed by people who have reached out to me in the past month with wonderful texts, e-mails, cards, letters, flowers, and other gifts.  Thank you all for helping me get through this time in my life.  I never imagined I would be losing a parent in my 40s.  Mom wasn’t in great health, and I knew her time with us was preciously short, but it still hits you in ways you can’t comprehend at that moment, and your parents are such fixtures in your life that it’s hard to think about not having them.   Thank you all for loving me and sharing in my grief.


Leave a comment »

She’s gone

She’s gone.  It’s too real and too unreal at the same time.

Mom had been sick for quite some time.  COPD sufferers deal with their illness for years sometimes, and some days were definitely worse for Mom than others.  I had just had lunch with my older sister and my parents a couple of weeks before.  Mom was struggling more and more, and she could no longer walk much at all.   She used a wheelchair any time we were out like that, and she was prone to falling if she did try to walk much.  Still, I never imagined what Wednesday and Thursday held for my family.

Late Wednesday evening, Louis and I were with friends when my dad called.  I didn’t take the call right when he called, but listened to my voicemail a few minutes later and could hear the panic in his voice “Mom can’t breathe.  I need your help.”  I called him back to find that the ambulance was there and they were discussing transport.  They’re over two hours away from me, so these kinds of things have an extra anxiety attached to them.

The next several hours were consumed with communicating with my sisters, grabbing a few things to throw in a bag, grabbing my laptop and picking up my sister and driving.  Brennan, my youngest son, wanted to go with us.  He’s my Daddy’s buddy, and he inherently understood that Daddy needed him.  I was so proud of how mature he was through the whole ordeal.

I promised Daddy I’d be there just as soon as I could.   I had suggested that they go to Ft. Smith, and Daddy called a few minutes after we were underway and said they were going to Waldron instead (closer to home).  That didn’t give me a good feeling about the whole thing.

As we got close to the farm, Daddy called and said they were transferring her to Ft. Smith.  A quick regroup with my other sister, and we were all heading to Ft. Smith.  When we arrived, I found my dad in the “family room” the hospital provided us.  We waited for what felt like an eternity and when the doctor finally came in, he explained that Mom was very sick and they had nearly lost her in each ambulance trip.

By 5:30 a.m., they realized nothing they were doing was helping, and we began discussion about comfort care and hospice.  The doctor who talked to Daddy was so gentle and kind, and he did his best to explain everything and help us understand what she was going through.  We proceeded with comfort care, and by 6:10, she was gone.

The things that go through your mind in a situation like that are nothing short of incredible.  I had remarkable moments of clarity, where I jumped into my professional mode and ensured all the records were in order, straightened out their insurance details (which were provided incorrectly by the first hospital), and made sure all the contact information was accurate.   We all had moments where we would burst into tears for a few minutes and kind of regroup.  As I knew Mom was gone, I was walking down the hall, crying so hard I was hyperventilating, and some sweet nurse stopped in the hallway and wrapped her arms around me, tried to get me to sit down on a nearby gurney, and asked what she could do.  I felt it was important that I try to keep it together to help Daddy through, but it was also important that I just not completely lose it for myself, too.  I regained my composure and went outside to be with my dad.

I took Daddy to the cemetery while my older sister and her husband went to the funeral home.   Daddy wanted them both buried at the Veteran’s Cemetery together, and the representative there was so kind and helpful, giving us the details we needed, and even escorting Daddy out the back door of the 100+ year old building they’re in, so he wouldn’t have to walk so far to the truck.  We went to meet my sister and her husband at the funeral home, and my brother-in-law Les came out and explained what they had already done.   Of all the kindness shown to us that day, and all the generous, wonderful people placed in our path, Les made the biggest impact on me, and I am so grateful he was there.

Mom and Daddy didn’t have anything pre-arranged, and those are difficult decisions to make on a good day.   Les took control of the situation, not letting anyone talk us into anything, and finally telling the representative “you’re going to show these two ladies whatever caskets you have and they’re going to pick what they want for their mother.”  It was so nice to have someone just take over and take such a difficult burden off our shoulders.  Sales people are still sales people right to the very end.  Les helped us walk through the room and shared in our conversations, helping make logical sense (if that’s even possible) out of all the choices and the hows and whys you choose one casket over another.  Les wrote the obituary, and helped my sister take care of all those paperwork details.   Even worse, it was his birthday, and he was sitting there with us in Ft. Smith, dealing with all of this.  He was so kind and thoughtful, and gentle about it.  He understood that we were numb and couldn’t really even communicate about it all yet.

After everything was arranged, Daddy wanted to go home.  I tried to get him to go back to the hotel with me (we had gotten a room in the middle of the night to try to get him to rest), but he refused.  He wanted to be in his own house.  I can appreciate that.  After he left, I checked in with my husband before heading to the hotel, and I sat in the Sparks Hospital parking lot and I cried.  I ugly cried.  I spoke in crazy, incoherent sentences and I recounted the details of the bizarre surreal night we had just experienced.  I told him that while we knew Mom was sick and her days were likely numbered, I didn’t imagine it would happen like that, but that I was grateful she didn’t suffer and it went quickly with no pain.  I told him that the nurses who took care of us were nothing short of saintly, and that one had even found my sister an extra gurney and put it in my mom’s ER room, so she could be close-by while my other sister and I tried to get Daddy to rest.  I told him about the nurse who hugged me in the hallway, and the countless people at the front desk who knew we were hurting, and did their best to make us comfortable.  I told him about the front desk person at the hotel, who realized we were leaving about 45 minutes after checking in to go back to the hospital, and she arranged things so we could come back later and still have our rooms.  I told him about the wonderful doctors who had been so kind and gentle with all of us, and I cried.  I cried until I thought I couldn’t cry anymore.    My husband and my younger sister’s husband were both on the way with my other son to meet us in Ft. Smith.   At first I had told him not to come.  Now I was so grateful he’d be with me soon I could barely breathe.

I finally got my wits back about me and drove to the hotel and got back into my room.  I had just gone to sleep when they arrived, and after my sister and her husband left, I tried to sleep.  Sleep wouldn’t find me anymore, though.  Try as I might, I couldn’t drift back off.  I finally sat up crying, and told my husband to take me home.  I thankfully had something in my bag to knock me out, and he put me in my truck and drove me home.

The afternoon was filled with texts and Facebook messages, phone calls and my wonderful loving friends who were all checking in on me.  I honestly barely remember talking to any of them.  By the time Louis put me in the truck, I was operating on about 30 hours with no sleep (save the 15 minute “nap” I had right before they arrived).  I was delirious and sad and a million other things I can’t quite articulate.

I will tell you that my relationship with my mom wasn’t as close and wonderful as some people have.  We argued and I know I drove her crazy.  I’d be lying if I told you she didn’t drive me a little crazy too.    I’m strong-willed and my tenacity was something she both loved and disliked.  She could be strongly critical of me when she disagreed with me, and she could hold onto something you did 10 years ago like it was yesterday.  I’ve come to realize, thinking about all of this, that many of those traits of mine which drove her crazy are the sames ones I got primarily from her.

Watching my Daddy’s heart break over and over again is probably the hardest part of all of this for me.  I can rationalize that Mom was sick, and that now she’s not sick anymore.  She doesn’t have to feel badly, or struggle breathing, or not be able to walk or any of that.  I can think about it that way and know that it had to happen.  But, she and Daddy were married 48 years.  I know she could push his buttons sometimes too, but as we talked the other day and he said through his tears that he had lost his soulmate and he didn’t know how he would get along without her, I appreciated that the love they shared was truly fantastic.

I will truly miss her.


Leave a comment »

When you have to go. . .

It occurred to me, as I was relaying this story to my sister today, that it really was pretty funny and you might enjoy hearing it as well.  I have a way of getting myself into some crazy situations.  This is certainly no exception.

I’m working remotely this week, and have traveled to Austin with my younger sister in her car.  We began our trip Sunday and drove to Dallas.  As is normal when I drive, about 1/3 of the trip was made in the rain.  That was fine, except that it was really raining when we arrived in Dallas.  I got up Monday morning and worked a bit and then we began our trip to Austin, and it rained the majority of that trip as well.   We found a lovely little Italian place in Waco shortly after the rain stopped, had a nice lunch, and then got back on the road.  We were only back on the interstate about 10 minutes when we encountered a complete standstill in traffic (something folks in Austin tell me is quite common on I-35 near Waco).  As we moved to a stop, I made the observation that had I known this was coming, I could have gotten onto the service road just to our right.  By the time I finished that comment, they were completely stopped as well.

After sitting there about 45 minutes, I came to the realization that I couldn’t sit there much longer.  My mom friends can attest, that having a couple of kids makes you a slave to your bladder.  When you have to go, good grief you have to go! I kept trying to tell myself it was in my head, I’m a tough girl and I can wait another 30 minutes, and just about anything else I thought would help.  Alas, my bladder is apparently either hearing impaired or just really doesn’t care (I’m going with the latter).

After I sit a few more minutes, I decide this is pretty dire, and I announce to my sister that I’m going to go on the other side of the trucks on the service road and see if there’s room in the ditch for me to, ahem, relieve the situation.  After she looks at me like I’m nuts, she finally realizes I’m actually serious.  I proceed to walk across the interstate, and across the small dirt ditch and up onto the service road.  The “small ditch” isn’t really even a ditch, but I discover very quickly that the dirt in it is a thick gooey mud now after the rain and I fear for a moment that I’m not only going to wet myself as I walk across the interstate shoulder, but that I’m going to end up barefoot too.

I finally free my shoe and make my way up onto the service road and approach one of the idling trucks.  The trucker cautiously rolls his window down and sizes me up.  I explain my situation to him and tell him that I’m going to just go off the side of the road into the ditch next to his truck, and he obliges, explaining that he understands my predicament.   I thank him and walk around the side of his truck and realize that the roadway is curved in such a perfect way that I will be giving everyone in the next 50 cars quite a show.  As I walk back around the truck, the trucker stops and me I explain.  He suggests that I go between his tractor and trailer where no one can see me, and explains how I can accomplish this.  A few minutes later, and feeling much better, I thank the trucker and prepare to head back across the interstate when a lady in a waiting car stops me.  “Did you do what I think you did?” she asked.  Oh my goodness.  Are we really going to get into it, because I dare you at this point.  I nodded and said “yes ma’am.”  She nods toward the truck, “think he’d let me do it too?”  I almost laughed as I told her that he was very nice and had explained that we were still over a mile away from the accident and storm clouds are gathering again, so if she was going to go, she needed to act.

I start back across the interstate and my sister is watching from her car as I re-engage in the shallow ditch and nearly lose my shoe again.  As I approach the car she gets me another pair of tennis shoes from her trunk so that I don’t get her car dirty.  I change shoes and we spent the next 90 minutes waiting to move.

So, that’s the first part of my adventure.  The bag with the shoes in it has been sitting in our bathroom in the hotel room, waiting on me to do something about it.  I wanted to clean the shoes, but frankly was busy working yesterday and never got down to ask anyone at the desk about it.   I went downstairs at lunch today to eat and told the girl at the front desk that our bathtub was draining slowly, and asked as well if they had a large sink I could use to wash these shoes and rid them of their mud.  She explains that after she has the maintenance man fix our slow-draining tub, I can just use it.

Now, normally I wouldn’t have given in, and honestly I did try to talk her into letting me use some kind of a cleaning sink or something more equipped for this type of job, but she insisted it would be fine and the mud didn’t seem to be too bad. I really just thought I’d be rinsing my shoes off.  Yeah, well. . .

After the maintenance man situates our tub this afternoon, I take a break from working to deal with my shoes.  As I get one shoe almost cleaned, I realize that the drain is backing up again, and I still have a shoe to go.  I get shoe one clean (mostly), and get the tub to drain, so I set about working on shoe number two.  About half way through that shoe, my other sister calls and I start laughing hysterically at my predicament.  The tub is full of mud and water and I’ve splattered mud all over the side of the tub.   As I’m speaking with her, I’m working on the drain, flushing the tub, and trying desperately to finish my job.   Apparently the mud was thicker than I thought it was, and after finally clogging up the tub so much that it wouldn’t drain at all anymore, I ended up going back to the front desk, talking to the same girl and explaining that after following her advice, I needed the maintenance man to come and fix the tub again.

I don’t know what she said to the poor guy, but she looked pretty embarrassed when she was on the radio asking him to come back to the room.  He came and took care of it a second time, never said a word, and at least now I have clean shoes.   All this because we had to sit for over two hours on the interstate and I had to pee!

I bet all you did today was listen to election coverage, huh?  My life is just too exciting for words some days!  I wonder what kind of trouble I can stir up tomorrow.


Leave a comment »