October 2 Has Meaning for Me

October 2 has meaning for me.

Different days have different meanings. To a lot of people, October 2 means nothing different than any other day. To me, it has meaning.

October 2 is the anniversary of a day my life changed forever…the day my Daddy died in 2006. Pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about it before. Today is the 14th anniversary of his passing. While it’s hard to believe it has been 14 years, it also feels like I haven’t seen his face or heard his laugh in forever.

For years, I could only remember him sick. Pancreatic cancer was a cruel disease for him. Frankly, it was cruel for me and the rest of the family too. I had never felt such emotional pain. I thought I would lose my mind with grief. Yes, the disease was terrible, but through those months from diagnosis to his passing, we managed to have some good times. We laughed…a lot. We cried a lot too. We spent a lot of time together. My husband and I moved our little family down to the Alabama Gulf Coast for months, to be closer to Mother and Daddy. We were lucky we had a condo on the bay near their house. Our daughter was about to turn three. It wasn’t easy to uproot the family. We had good support in Charlotte…great friends we had made over the course of our marriage. They called to check on us, and they mailed little treats to our daughter. I called them and cried regularly. We didn’t have a lot of support in Alabama, but I enrolled our daughter in a church preschool…they very graciously took her when they didn’t have to. And I did everything I could to keep my little family happy while trying to help my mother help my daddy. Daddy was so sweet throughout his illness. It was heartbreaking watching him get sicker and sicker…and that was all I could remember for a long time.

But now, I can remember him not sick. I can remember his laugh. I can remember his stories and his wordplay. I can remember watching Atlanta Braves baseball on WTBS with him. I can remember watching the Chicago Cubs on WGN and listening to Harry Caray with him. We loved the early days of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire…when Regis hosted. He was into all the same “useless knowledge” I’m into. I remember what a jokester he was. I remember how he carried me to the car when I had a stomach bug at 17…just picked me up like I weighed nothing and carried me to the car to take me to the doctor. I can remember how big his hands looked when I was a little girl. When he was dying, I kept looking at his hands…trying to etch them in my memory. I don’t know why that was so important, but for some reason it was. I think his hands represented his strength to me…his physical strength, but also his emotional strength. He was rock solid to us. He carried the burden of supporting our family, and he didn’t have a financial safety net in the form of parents who could help him in a financial emergency. He gave us that safety net, though.

My brother and I laughed just recently talking about how Daddy always made sure we were taken care of. He provided for us…everything we needed and most of what we wanted…throughout life. And here’s the funny thing…he’s still providing for us, in a way. Just recently, almost three years after my mother died, we discovered they had a life insurance policy he had set up many years ago. Today, on the fourteenth anniversary of Daddy’s passing, I deposited the check from that policy into a bank account, and afterward, I sat in the car and thought, “Wow. Fourteen years to the day after he died, and he’s still giving to us.”

Don’t get me wrong. Mother provided lots for us too…in a different way, but today is about remembering Daddy. I used to dread October 2 every year, because it meant heartache to me, but now I smile. I’m certainly not happy he’s gone, but when October 2 rolls around, I spend the day thinking about Daddy. I’ll look at the moon tonight and remember how he used to call me in Charlotte from his home in Alabama and tell me to go outside and look at the moon when it was particularly spectacular.

Just this weekend, when I was in a store with a friend, someone heard me call her “Miss Merry Sunshine” and asked if that was her name. I explained that I just call my friend that because she’s perpetually happy. And even that made me think of Daddy. When he was sick, I would take our toddler daughter over to visit, and he would sing Good Morning, Merry Sunshine any time she walked into the room. She loved it…and frankly, I did too. In one of his final days, I walked into the room with her, and he had a lot of morphine in his system…his speech wasn’t clear. His smile was clear, but his speech was garbled. He was “singing” but it wasn’t clear. I took that almost-three-yr-old little girl outside, and said, “I wonder what Big Ken was trying to say to you?” She looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Good morning, Merry Sunshine!” So yes, I thought of him this past weekend when the woman in the store thought my friend’s name was Merry Sunshine.

Now that little toddler girl is almost 17. In memory of Daddy, before she goes out with her friends tonight, I’ll take her hand and press a crisp $20 bill into it. He used to do that…give me “walking around money,” or WAM, as we started calling it when I was in college.

His passing was difficult. That’s not even a good word for it. It hit me hard. But it also taught me some coping skills…his final lesson to me.

Lots of good memories of Daddy. Thanks, October 2, for making me sit back and think about him. I still miss him, but I have wonderful memories of him.

A Bluebird Takes Flight

A bluebird of happiness takes flight.

I just received word that a dear family friend passed away. When I say “dear family friend,” I mean someone who had basically been a member of my family since my parents first married in 1961. My mother met her when they were both working at a Sunland Center in Florida. Sounds luxurious, right? Well, Sunland was  actually a facility that specialized in offering services for the physically and mentally disabled…mostly children. My mother was a nurse there, and Cynthia, the family friend, worked in the recreation department. Cynthia was just 18 when they met, and while she admired Mother, I think Mother kind of took her under her wing. Mother was four years older, a registered nurse, and married. They became lifelong friends.

With encouragement from my mother, Cynthia later went to nursing school and then continued her education to become a nurse anesthetist…against the odds, since she was dyslexic. But she worked hard, and she was successful.

My parents moved to Alabama soon after I was born, and I remember Cynthia visiting regularly throughout my life. In fact, I thought she was my aunt till I was eight or nine. I have pictures of her visiting when I was a baby.  I know she was with us at a hotel in Panama City Beach in March 1970, when my toddler brother pulled a coffee pot off the table, burning himself. Mother and Daddy rushed him to the hospital, and Cynthia stayed with me. We watched people shooting fireworks off the balconies of the hotel…out over the beach. That’s likely one of my earliest memories, since I was not quite three years old. I’m sure it registered in my longterm memory because my brother’s burn was emotional for me.

Later, Cynthia had a little Triumph convertible. I thought she was the coolest, and I loved riding in that little car with her. She would visit us once or twice a year, and she was fun and energetic. She loved telling stories, and she loved to laugh. She had an infectious sense of humor with a twinkle in her eye, and she was always supportive of our little family. With no kids of her own, she treated us as if we were hers. Interestingly, somehow I remember that she was visiting us in Spanish Fort when I turned ten in 1977. She gave me a cool hooded shirt and shorts, and some Faberge Tigress cologne…what I thought was a grown-up gift! I loved it…the bottle was beautiful, with a fuzzy top that looked like a tiger skin. Funny what we remember.

And when Daddy was dying with pancreatic cancer, Cynthia was right there with us…helping us help him. I vividly remember her bathing mother’s dog and entertaining my daughter and my cousin’s daughter. The girls were two and three years old at the time, and Cynthia knew how to entertain them.

You might remember that I wrote about Cynthia once before, a couple of years ago when I wrote about the Bluebird of Happiness I found in my mother’s home after she died. I didn’t know where she got them, but I knew Cynthia often brought little gifts when she visited Mother, and I was right…when I called Cynthia, she said she had given them to her. I promptly packaged them up and sent them to Cynthia, and she later told me she kept them on a little table next to a picture of Mother. You can see the Bluebird of Happiness piece here. 

Last year, when I took my daughter and one of her friends on a road trip along the Gulf Coast, we visited Cynthia in Tallahassee. She took us to dinner at Shula’s atop the Hotel Duval, and we enjoyed the view of the Tallahassee skyline from the balcony. I had planned to see her again at Labor Day this year, when we visit Tallahassee again for a Florida State University football game.

While I’m brokenhearted…again…after a big loss, I know that if she were here with me right now, we would be laughing about something. She could make anything funny…with just a look.  In fact, last year, when we went to dinner, she kept my daughter in stitches with her crazy sense of humor. She told my daughter stories from my youth, and we laughed and laughed.

She loved my family as if we were her own, and the feeling was mutual, so this loss is a big one. It took the wind out of my sails. While I know loss is going to happen, this one was a shock. She was 76, but she was a young 76, if that makes any sense. She was a tough chick, and she is missed already.

Hug your loved ones, and if you can’t hug them because of this pandemic, talk with them as much as you can.

Love and Loss

In just the past week, a friend in Mobile and my brother both lost their beloved pets…and when I say “lost,” I mean the dogs passed away. If you’ve never had a pet, you likely think “beloved” before the word “pet” is odd. But if you’ve had pets, you get it.

Growing up, we always had pets…mostly dogs. We had a cat once, but it was a stray that stayed outside. I was too young to remember its arrival, but my mother told me we named it Valentine, because it showed up on Valentine’s Day. We had lots of dogs along the way, and no matter what breed they were or how much of a mutt they were, we loved them all. After I got married, we got an Airedale Terrier and named her Annie, even though I wanted to name her Fannie, after a college roommate. My husband wouldn’t go along with the name “Fannie,” but later, he said he wished we had named her Fannie. I was crazy over that dog.

Annie helped me get through morning sickness (or all the time sickness) in the first trimester of pregnancy. She was a big dog (about 80 pounds), but when I would lie in bed with nausea, she would get in bed next to me and put her warm back against me. She was the only dog I had as an adult who I knew would put her life on the line for me. And I knew she would. She was not aggressive, but she was very protective, and I was grateful for that, especially when my husband was out of town.

My brother didn’t call me and tell me about his dog’s passing. His dog, a beautiful Weimeraner named Amos, was his sidekick. I woke up yesterday to a text message from a family friend, Jane, who told me, “Amos is gone.” I must have gasped audibly, because my husband asked me what was wrong. I called Jane immediately, and she told me Amos’s health had declined rapidly, and he had passed away during the night. We sat on the phone and cried together, and after we hung up, I texted my brother. I couldn’t call him, because I couldn’t stop crying. He didn’t need to listen to me blubber.

My friend in Mobile who lost her dog called me a few days before my brother’s dog died, crying hysterically, after her dog was hit by a car. She lives on a busy road, and the dog had jumped the backyard fence. She had fostered the dog after she found him wandering somewhere. We always laugh that she’s a “bleeding heart.” After her dog passed, she said to me, “I just love too hard!” She said she had resolved she wouldn’t do that again, because it hurts so much when she loses a pet, but she can’t help herself.

I remembered something Dr. Seuss said about love, “A life with love will have some thorns, but a life without love will have no roses. To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.” Isn’t that the truth? My brother was certainly the world to his dog, as my friend in Mobile was to hers.

Here’s the thing…yes, it hurts to lose those pets we love so much, but the joy they bring us outweighs that pain. I cried for a month when we lost Annie, but now, six years after her death, I mostly remember the good stuff: her fighting off the scary snowman, her happiness when I came home, how she drooled like crazy when she saw me get out the peanut butter jar, her floating on the pool lounge, and her unconditional love.

And sometimes I have to remind myself  the same applies to people. Yes. It’s totally worth it to put yourself out there. I’m 52. I’ve loved friends along the way. No, I’m not talking about boyfriends, but yes, I had boyfriends when I was young. Do I regret loving any of those people along the way? No. Most of those folks are still my friends, but some are no longer my friends, and I certainly don’t have any boyfriends. Even though a few friends are no longer in my life for whatever reason…their fault, my fault, or no one’s fault…I’m glad I loved them. I’m even glad I trusted them. Here’s why: if they were my friends, there were some “roses” along the way. Sure, there were thorns, but I know we had some “roses” along the way. And no matter what, I learned something from every relationship…sometimes learning more form the thorns than the roses. And don’t get me wrong…sometimes I presented the thorns, no doubt. All my relationships, the great ones and the failures, have contributed to my life. In fact, because of that, I don’t hold grudges. I wish all those people well.

So right now, during this coronavirus, I’m making a point to reach out to some folks I haven’t talked to in a while. Because, yes, there will be some thorns, but the roses are glorious!

 

The Sad Season

The holidays are winding down. Lots of folks get depressed after the holidays…Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or just plain old sadness that the holidays are over. And then there are people like me who have experienced loss…and the unfortunate few of us who have actually experienced loss during the holidays.

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of my mother’s passing…two years without my mother. She fell ill on Christmas Eve 2017, and I received a phone call at 8:30 that night…she was in the hospital in Alabama. My little family rushed through opening gifts in Charlotte that night, and before the crack of dawn on Christmas Day, I left to go be with my mother. As I drove to Alabama, I was thinking of how I was going to tell my mother that she was coming back to Charlotte with me. I was thinking of how angry she would be that I wanted her to leave her house. But I never got to tell her she was coming home with me. The doctor made it clear to me on December 26 that she would not recover, and since both my grandmothers had died on December 26 in different years (eerie, right?) I needed Mother to make it past that day. I asked the doctor if she was likely to make it to the 27th, explaining why I was asking, and he assured me she would…but not much longer. I didn’t want her to die at all, but if she had died on the 26th, every year after that, I would have been waiting for something to happen to me on the 26th. We needed to break the cycle. She made it to the 30th.

Last year, the first anniversary, was a terrible day…terrible. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, and it was just a terrible day. But this year, I am bound and determined to make it a happier day. Of course, I’m still sad my mother isn’t here, but instead of crying all day, I hope to be celebrating her life…drinking a toast to her memory.

In fact, as I type, I’m on a plane to Los Angeles…a vacation with my daughter, her friend, and my nephew and his friend. Mother would have loved knowing my nephew is vacationing with us. We have a lunch reservation tomorrow at a fabulous restaurant, where we will remember Mother. We might even order a Bailey’s and coffee, her favorite, after lunch.

And as hard as I will try to be happy, positive, and upbeat, I know a little sadness will creep in. I know that, because I just tried to read a piece by Sean Dietrich (see Sean of the South on Facebook here), and I couldn’t get past the first couple paragraphs about his dad, who he lost years ago.

So right now, for this second anniversary, I’ll take “mostly happy with a little sadness creeping in.”

All this is my way of reminding everyone that some people are sad right now. Some are suffering. Some are just trying to push through the season. And then some will be even more sad at the thought of starting a new year without a loved one. I hope I will show mercy and offer courteous goodwill to those who need it. I hope I will try to help my friends and family into 2020…with some love, patience, hope, and clarity. And I hope they will do the same for me.

Let’s make 2020 a good year.

 

And They Said It Wouldn’t Last

On August 19, my husband and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. We were married in 2000, when we were both rapidly approaching our mid-thirties. We had known each other for three years, having met through a mutual friend with whom I worked.

I was 33, and he was 34, and when we got married, I was living in Mobile, Alabama, and he was living in Charlotte, North Carolina. We had met in Mobile in 1997, but he had moved to Charlotte soon thereafter, so we had a long-distance relationship, and I had no plans of moving unless I was married. I’m sure I could have found a job in Charlotte, but at 33, I wasn’t willing to make a partial commitment to a man; I needed a full-on commitment if I were going to move.

So we were married on August 19 in the historic First Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka, Alabama. When we returned from our two-week Hawaiian honeymoon, we went to Mobile and loaded a truck with all my belongings and moved them to Charlotte. I had lived in different places, so moving was not a challenge for me. In fact, the longest I had ever lived anywhere at that point in my life was nine years…moving wasn’t a problem. Of course, my family was in Alabama, but I could visit whenever I wanted, and we talked every day.

Not gonna lie. The first year was challenging. Remember, we were 33 and 34. We had both been living alone for years, and I loved living alone….eating cereal for dinner in front of the TV; staying up as late as I wanted; being in charge of the remote control; not answering to anyone…you get the picture. We were two (and still are) two very different people. He likes to be home. I like to be on the go. In fact, home, for me, is just a place to change clothes. And I’m always planning my next trip. He’s quiet. I’m not. Seriously, he is very quiet and reserved. But we were married. Suddenly, I had to be more grown up. I had to cook and eat real meals at the table instead of sitting cross-legged on the floor. My husband liked to go to bed earlier than I did, and he always held the remote control. Life was different, and when I was down, he didn’t understand. What did I not like about leaving a one-bedroom apartment? Well…that little one bedroom apartment was my space, and after getting married, it seemed I rarely had my space. I’m sure there were people who could sense the tension and thought, “They’ll never make it.”

But one year in, I was accustomed to married life. In fact, one year in, and I was flat out enjoying it. We got a dog…an Airedale Terrier I wanted to name Fannie after a college friend, but the husband wouldn’t go for “Fannie.” We opted for Annie instead. She has been gone for several years now, but I still wish we had named her Fannie.  And then, 2.5 years after we married, we were expecting a baby. We found out in May 2003 it was a girl, and we were thrilled. She was born in October of 2003, and no one ever loved a baby more than we love that girl. But again, there was added stress. We were sleep deprived. We were exhausted (mostly me). But after the first few months, we started to get more sleep. We started to have more fun, and the stress of having a baby in the house subsided. We were a happy little family of three.

It hasn’t been all fun and games. In 2005, my husband’s beloved grandmother passed away, and all of us were heartbroken. She was kind and caring, and she was a force of nature. At the same time, my mother was driving from Mobile to Birmingham (4-5 hours) all the time, trying to get my grandmother settled in to assisted living, and my daddy was having undiagnosed health issues. In February 2006, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he died that same year…eight months after his official diagnosis. My heart was broken. While I had lost grandparents, I had never experienced a loss as terrible as that one. It was the hardest time of my life, at that point. I was truly devastated. My heart ached in a way I didn’t know it could.

After that, my husband had not one, but two brain surgeries, and we survived that. I say “we,” because it was hard on both of us. Physically and mentally, it was difficult for him. It was emotionally and mentally hard on me. He came back from surgery a different person, but we got through that too. You can read about it here. And then, I lost my mother in December 2017. It took the wind out of my sails. I slept for a month afterward. I had learned some coping skills after the losing my daddy, but it didn’t matter. Nothing could have prepared me for the loss of my mother. I can still get upset at any moment, and it has been 20 months since she passed.

But my husband helped. He understood. He knew that when I stayed in bed in January of 2018, I needed to be there. He looked out for me. He supported me. And then, one of my dearest friends died in June 2018 after battling cancer for 30 years. My husband supported me through that too.

We’ve had our share of heartaches, but we are a team, and we deal with them together. We have had our share of disagreements, but we’ve moved past them. Sometimes he thinks I’m absolutely insane, and vice versa. I’m not going to lie and say it has been easy. It hasn’t always been easy. I don’t always understand him, and he doesn’t always understand me, but we try.

But married life hasn’t been all about loss. It hasn’t been all been difficult. We love raising our daughter together. We love sitting out on the patio together in the evening…sipping Prosecco and listening to jazz music. We have enjoyed going to lots of concerts together. At night, before we go to sleep, we watch an episode of Chrisley Knows Best, The Young and The Restless, or CSI: Miami. He helps me plant the garden every year, and I tend it. We both love to watch college and NFL football, so fall is a busy time for us. And we try to go to all our daughter’s field hockey and lacrosse games. He brings me coffee in bed every morning, because he learned that I’m a lot happier if I wake up with caffeine. I go to bed earlier, because he likes to get to bed earlier than I do. We laugh a lot…at each other and with each other. We have fun together. We are thankful we wake up every day. We appreciate the life we have together.

Our daughter is about to start her sophomore year of high school, and in three short years, she will be heading off to college somewhere. We will enter a new phase of life, God willing. And we will have to adapt to more changes. Right now, we aren’t always on the same page for our plans for the empty nest years. But I’m sure we will find ways to compromise. We will find ways to make sure we both get to “live the dream.” He wants the Gulf Coast, and I want to travel to different cities. We will find a way to make it all happen, and we will have fun along the way….God willing.

Happy 19th Anniversary, Cary! And they said it wouldn’t last…

True Friends Are Like Warm Blankets

True friends are like warm blankets.

This weekend, I spent three days in central Florida with a dear friend from college. We have kept in touch since we were 19 years old and students at the University of Alabama. We’re both 52 now…do the math.

We have shared a lot over the years…secrets, tears, laughs, good times, sadness, hard times…heck, we even have the same wedding anniversary, but she married five years before I did. We are true friends…through thick and thin. Oh, the stories we could tell! Stories of fun nights, bad dates, good parties, bad boyfriends, great experiences, terrible breakups, exciting jobs, sad losses, new babies, teenagers, and some stories of things that could only happen to us…or at least it feels that way. And we have shared some of those stories with our kids. They didn’t really seem to care at the time, though. In fact, they likely rolled their eyes, but one day, they will remember the stories we have told them…and they’ll laugh about some of them, and likely cry about others.

As for this weekend, we didn’t talk about old times a lot. We have covered that many times over the years. Of course, we laughed about some of the funnier things that happened when we were together, but we didn’t rehash it all. We talked about life as we see it now…33 years after becoming friends. We’re middle-aged moms now. We have a different vantage point now than we did at 19. We talked about things we have been through…things we have survived…and we talked about happiness. We talked about how, at 52, we know happiness doesn’t come from having material things. We are very aware that not worrying about how the bills will be paid can contribute to a peaceful, happy existence, but all the extra stuff...not so much. You can have lots of jewelry and fancy cars, but do those material things make you happy? We discussed that what makes us happy is experiencing life with people we love.

We know that for a lot of reasons, but mostly, we know it, because we didn’t sit around talking about material things at all. We didn’t talk about cars, jewelry, handbags, or clothes. We enjoyed talking about interactions with people. We shared stories about life experiences. It wasn’t about bragging rights. It was about sharing life events and how we handled them. We discussed painful experiences and what we learned from them. I’ve lost both parents, and she has lost her dad…we talked and cried about that a lot. And we talked about joyful experiences…things we did together; things our kids have enjoyed; stories of our children’s childhoods and our own childhoods…and more.

Did I mention we laughed a lot?

And while no one can “relive” their youth, we found ourselves absolutely slack-jawed while we watched Endless Love (rent it on Amazon here), a movie we were too young to see when it was a released with an R rating in 1981, but we both watched later on HBO. In fact, it had been so long since either of us had seen it that we forgot Tom Cruise and Jami Gertz had bit parts in the movie. And we had never realized before that a then-unknown Ian Ziering (of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) was in the movie. We also watched Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink (you can rent both on Amazon.com) and reminisced about seeing those movies as teenagers. And before you even think it…I know Sixteen Candles could never be made today with its sexism, underage/nonconsensual sex, underage drinking, and more…but it’s comedy, people! It’s supposed to be funny. I thought it was funny in 1984, and I still think it’s funny now.

During the day, we drove around the lovely town where she lives. We looked at historic homes, parks, flowers, and trees, and one day, we went tubing with her teenage son at Ichetucknee Springs State Park…quite the adventure! The water was refreshingly cold as we floated down the river…laughing and talking. She laughed at me when I would float off into the grasses on the edge of the river, and I laughed at her when she missed the entrance to the disembarkation ramp. We made new memories we will laugh about for years to come.

But what I enjoyed most was simply being with my friend. She knows who I really am and loves me anyway. Spending time with my friend was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. She’s comforting. She has been around for a long time. And she makes me feel secure. I came home feeling rejuvenated. I came home feeling content.

Sure, we are middle-aged moms now, and we have had a lot more life experience than when we became friends. We are, in fact, older than our parents were when we became friends. Wow…we really are middle aged.

She’s a keeper.

Lessons From The Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle. It’s a place I know well. It is a place that is near and dear to my heart.

My daddy, his siblings, and all my first cousins grew up there. I was born there. My grandparents lived there. My daddy is buried there, and my mother’s ashes are there.

When I was five months old, my family moved to Brewton, Alabama, and I never lived in the Panhandle again, but we visited family there regularly. We also vacationed at the beaches along the gulf coast in the Panhandle. I learned a lot in the Panhandle.

This past week, I took my teenage daughter on a road trip through the panhandle. Neither of us had been there since 2007, and she had no recollection of that visit. I also showed her some places she had never been. She didn’t act particularly interested in all my stories, but maybe she will remember some.

Maybe she will remember my telling her about doodlebugs in the Panhandle. Nope, I’m not talking about VWs. I’m talking about antlions, insects whose larvae dig pits to capture prey. If you’re not familiar with them, this will be as confusing to you as it was to my daughter. But doodlebug pits look like tiny holes in the ground with a small crater around them. When my cousins and I were little, our Granddaddy showed us how to get doodlebugs to come out of what we thought were their homes. He told us to put a tiny stick down into the hole and stir it while saying, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out and get a cup of coffee. Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire.” After a few stirs and a few chants, the doodlebug would emerge! We thought it was because of our chanting, but as an adult, I know it was because of the stirring. I think Granddaddy was just giving us something to do, so we wouldn’t bother people, but we spent hours bothering doodlebugs…and we had fun and made memories!

I also learned about biddies in the Panhandle. Nope…not gossiping old ladies or hot girls (urban slang). Biddies…young chickens. I must have been about six or seven the first time I heard young chickens called “biddies” by my cousin, Patti. I think we were visiting her house when she suggested we go see the biddies. I followed her to someone’s barn…I have no idea who it belonged to. I don’t remember much about the biddies, but I do remember there were cats there…and hay. I also know my mother must not have known where we were. She would have been worried about snakes. I don’t think we stayed long, but I learned that some folks call young chickens “biddies.”

When my Granddaddy died, a family friend took some of the cousins to get a milkshake at cousin Patti’s other grandparents’ store in Sneads while the grownups talked. They didn’t have a chocolate shake, so I ordered a strawberry shake. I feel sure the folks at Patti’s grandparents’ store knew how to make good milkshakes, but on that day, I learned I don’t like strawberry milkshakes.

On the beach in Panama City Beach one year, when I was a teenager, I learned that tar sometimes washes up with the tide. There had been an oil spill in the Caribbean, and the jetstream pushed a lot of the tar into the Gulf of Mexico. I knew nothing about it, until I was walking the beach near the Fontainebleau Terrace and got some tar on my white sneakers. Had to throw those away…tar doesn’t just wash out easily.

Also in Panama City Beach, at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, I learned a Scrambler amusement park ride is a lot more fun when it’s enclosed in a giant building shaped like an abominable snowman with loud music playing and mirrors on the walls…and bright lights flashing. I also saw a chicken play a piano at Miracle Strip and rode the Starliner roller coaster.

Miracle_Strip_Amusement_Park

Miracle Strip Amusement Park in 60s or early 70s

And everywhere in the Panhandle, I learned that gnats will congregate around your eyes, your nose, and any cuts or scrapes you have. Natural springs are naturally cold (Blue Springs Recreational Area). And more info here. I learned that Spanish moss is beautiful, even though it’s not a moss at all…it’s a flowering plant. I learned about stalactites and stalagmites at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. In Quincy, I learned about a banker who loaned folks money to buy Coca Cola stock….eventually making them millionaires. Many years later, I became friends with that banker’s great granddaughters purely by accident, after meeting one of them at a party in Charlotte! From my daddy and his siblings, I learned what life was like in the rural Panhandle after the Great Depression. I learned about peach trees right outside the door whose limbs were used as switches. I learned about the one room schoolhouse in Bascom and Faye Dunaway’s being a student there. Yes, that Faye Dunaway…of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I listened to speculation about how a community called Two Egg got its name, and I ate as much pound cake as I could when I visited a great aunt in Two Egg. In my grandmother’s house, I learned what an antique sewing machine looked like, and I heard stories about my grandmother and aunt playing organ and piano at folks’ weddings and funerals…oh, one funeral story I’ll have to share another time. At the beaches in the panhandle, I learned how much fun it is to bunk with all your cousins in one house on vacation. And I used my first crosswalk button to cross the beach road in Mexico Beach when I was six…it was malfunctioning and shocked the stew out of me. On that same trip, I learned about wading out into a bay to catch scallops on the same trip. And I learned that fireworks are pretty on the beach.

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Blue Springs Recreational Area and Park, Marianna, Florida

The coastal Panhandle looks different now. There are planned communities and high rise condos where beach houses and roadside motels used to be. The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park is long gone from Panama City Beach, but there is a new Miracle Strip located near Pier Park on the beach road. Shipwreck Island waterpark and Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant are still there, and even the old Fontainebleau Terrace is still standing…it was a beauty in its heyday.

A little farther north, along Highway 90 in Jackson County, one big difference is that most motel/hotel accommodations either closed or moved over to I-10 after it was completed through the area. Well, that and the Hurricane Michael damage that is everywhere from Panama City to Jackson County…lots of devastation. In Marianna, lots of the downtown businesses were damaged and/or destroyed. I have lots of memories there…getting my first Florida State University sweatshirt at Daffin’s, seeing the RCA dog on top of one downtown business, and watching Mary Poppins in the old movie theatre there. The theatre has been gone for a long time, but I remember. Say a prayer for the folks who are still affected by that terrible storm. Lots of people are still suffering, including my aunt, whose house in Panama City was badly damaged by the storm.

The Panhandle taught me a lot. All this, and I didn’t even mention Tallahassee, Destin, and other places yet! Whew! I’ll share stuff about those places soon. Big lessons from all over the Panhandle. Mostly, it taught me my aunts, uncles, and cousins are keepers. Maybe we need to plan another beach vacation for the whole bunch!

I hope my daughter will remember some of it…

***Some friends asked me about the planned communities along the Gulf Coast. You can find lots of rental information here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Talk About Snakes

When I was growing up in Alabama, snakes were a full-on reality. I don’t mean green snakes or milk snakes or oak snakes. I mean real, scary, venomous snakes. In fact, in Alabama, there are six kinds of venomous snakes. For comparison, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, there is one type: the Copperhead. But in Alabama, you have to watch out for the Copperhead, the Cottonmouth (also known as a water moccasin), the Timber Rattlesnake, the Diamondback Rattlesnake, the Pygmy Rattlesnake, and the Eastern Coral Snake. You can see pictures of them at Outdooralabama.com here. And I should tell you…they are plentiful.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve run into lots of Copperheads since moving to North Carolina nineteen years ago, but I was reminded about those Alabama snakes when I saw an article on Facebook today about a woman in Greenville, Alabama, who was bitten by a Timber Rattler. You can see the article here. According to the article, she had to have 16 vials of antivenin…sixteen!

I shared the article on my personal Facebook page with a statement about how I likely narrowly escaped death when I was 18. My nephew, who remembers all the stories I tell about my life, immediately commented that he was sure I had told him the story, but he didn’t remember it. And that’s when I realized I probably had not shared it. Why? Because I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not one to “hang out” in the woods. I don’t like ticks. I don’t like snakes. I don’t like excessive nature. “Nature,” in Alabama, means you might encounter any number of those creatures and more.

But on this particular day when I was 18, the summer before I went off to college, I ventured into the woods with three friends. Full disclosure: I didn’t really know we were going into the full-on woods. The family of one of the friends had a “hunting camp” in the woods, so we were going there to hang out one Friday night. Now, when I heard “hunting camp,” I guess I was thinking more “hunting lodge.” As we drove, in a Jeep, through the woods to the hunting camp, I started to realize it was really a camp. The fact that there was no road to it was my first clue. And I was a little scared…not gonna lie…I was scared. But I had to play it cool.

We arrived at the hunting camp, and I’m sure my eyes were wide. I looked at it. I’m sure I looked at one of my other non-nature friends, hoping she would say she was scared, but nope. She let me down. She was actually laughing and smiling. I knew I was in trouble. There were no power lines anywhere. I had thought we would be going to a small house where there was television, a refrigerator, modern conveniences. Nope. Heck, when we walked inside, I discovered there wasn’t even much of a floor. I was scared.

It was at this point I spoke up. I don’t really remember what I said, but I made it clear I wanted to get out of there. Nope…not gonna hang out up there. Fortunately, my non-nature friend in the party spoke up too. Hanging out in the “hunting camp” was not an option. I’m sure I said something along the lines of “Let’s leave now.” So we did.

There were three stair steps to get out of the “camp,” and I was leading the charge to the Jeep.

I stepped down the first two steps, and just as I was about to step off the bottom step, I saw a giant rattlesnake slithering by…right where my foot would have dropped. Now, I’m not exaggerating. It was a huge snake…a Diamondback Rattlesnake. A frightening creature. They can get up to more than five feet long, and they are thick-bodied, scary snakes. I’m not sure how big this one was, but he was big. Fortunately, he had no idea I was there, so he just kept slithering by. If he had been aware of my presence, he would have made noise…aren’t we all glad rattlesnakes have rattles?!?! I don’t know if I gasped. I don’t know if I screamed. I know I pulled my foot back quickly and stood frozen on the steps till the snake had passed, but then I was afraid there were snakes I didn’t see! I was scared to go back into that God-forsaken “camp,” but I was afraid to touch the ground to get back to the Jeep. Finally, one person went ahead of me, and then I ran to the Jeep.

As we drove out of the woods, I cried. Yep, cried. I said a prayer of thanks to God that He had spared me that terrible fate. I said a prayer of thanks that my brother was still alive; he spent so much time in the woods that he should have been bitten by at least one snake. I also prayed that the car would not break down before we got back to civilization.

For days, I thought about how fortunate I had been. I would have died if that snake had struck me…no doubt. There is no way my friends could have gotten me out of the woods fast enough to save me, and there were no phones to call an ambulance (which wouldn’t have been able to find me) either. I had seen death in the form of a Diamondback Rattlesnake and escaped.

The moral of the story? Well, there are a few lessons here. Don’t go places you aren’t supposed to go. Stay out of the woods. “Hunting camp” does not mean “hunting lodge.” One (a lodge) has real walls, electricity, and modern conveniences, and one looks like a place you might find a dead body…mine if I had stepped on that snake. And this has nothing to do with that particular snake tale, but it is a lesson: I don’t like brown water…like water in lakes and rivers…never have, because snakes can hide in the water. My friends, Angela and Mary Ann make fun of me for it, but here’s what I think: that brown water is their home…the creatures, I mean. I don’t want them in my home, and really…I don’t want to get in their home either.

A few years ago, in Maine, one of the kids with me kicked a ball into a grassy field, and I had to retrieve it. As I ran out into the field, I thought, “I wonder if they have venomous snakes in Maine.” As soon as I got to the ball, I saw a snake. And as soon as we got back indoors, I looked up “snakes in Maine” and found they had no venomous snakes. Whew!

Maybe I’ll move to Maine…

 

 

Poking The Bear

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Photo by Photo Collections on Pexels.com

My husband and I were talking last night about the losses we have had to endure since we were married. He lost his beloved grandmother in 2005. I lost my dad in 2006, and then I lost my mother in December 2017. We were devastated over every single loss, and honestly, it sticks with us. I don’t walk around in a state of sadness. I’m generally pretty happy, but occasionally, the sadness will break through, but I never know when that will be. And the interesting thing is that sometimes, the grief doesn’t manifest itself as sadness. It manifests itself as forgetfulness, indifference, or anger.

The forgetful part of grief just can’t be explained. I don’t know if my brain went into pure survival mode after each loss, but in the first six to eight months after each loss, I couldn’t remember anything, and I’m known for having a good memory. With the loss of my mother in December 2017, it seems to have lasted longer. It has been 16 months (to the day) since she died, and I’m still having trouble with my memory. Obviously, I loved my mother, but I think the loss of a second parent is more difficult, even in my 50s, simply because I know I don’t have a parent anymore. It does a number on the brain. My brain seems to have channeled all its energy into survival mode, and a lot has fallen by the wayside, including my memory. In fact, I’m hoping my memory is in recovery mode now, but if I forgot something that was important to you…I’m sorry. I’ve even forgotten things that were important to me.

Indifference comes into play when I hear someone complain about something that I think is not a big deal in comparison to losing a loved one. Indifference comes into play when I think someone is making a mountain out of a molehill…and I tend to think that a lot. During the past week, my bank account was hacked, and I had to set up a new checking account. Ugh. Also, during the past week, an angry driver, who mistakenly thought he had the right of way in the Target parking lot, clipped my car. It was annoying. I know people who would have cried and would still be crying about both events, but I have the perspective of grief. I know those things aren’t small problems, but they aren’t as big as losing a loved one. Seriously, grief changes your perspective. A grieving person might even be indifferent about something that is important to you. Planning a party? The grieving person might not care about coming to your party. Don’t be offended.

Anger is a whole different beast. I’m not really into astrology, but anyone who knows I’m a Gemini would say I’m a true Gemini. I’m happy-go-lucky most of the time, and I truly want to be happy-go-lucky all of the time, but if I’m cornered or pushed too far…not so happy-go-lucky. In grief, the “not so happy-go-lucky” part is more easily triggered. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not something I want to continue, and I work really hard to keep it in check, but I think, in grief, we tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves. Well, maybe I shouldn’t generalize. Maybe I should say, “In grief, I wear my heart on my sleeve.” I’ve never been one to “get my feelings hurt,” and I’m still not. In grief, I don’t “get my feelings hurt,” but I do find I’m more quickly angered. That doesn’t mean I’m always angry. It means I don’t want anyone to poke the bear.

The one emotion everyone expects from grieving people is sadness. And yes, I’ve had profound sadness. For a month after Mother died, I went to bed. I barely functioned. I’ve written about it before. I gave myself permission to stay in bed for that month…crying whenever I needed to. After that, I forced myself to get up and get moving, but that doesn’t mean the sadness didn’t creep through every now and then…it still does. In fact, on the 30th of every month, I find myself calculating how long Mother has been gone…just as I did for years after Daddy died. Now I don’t have any parents. I don’t have a mother or daddy I can call for advice. Fortunately, I have some trusted family members, but they’re still not my mother or daddy.

So here’s what I’m telling you. A grieving person might be wearing their emotions on their sleeves for a long time. We all grieve differently, but don’t be surprised if your grieving friend is emotional for longer than you expect. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get the reactions you expect. Don’t be surprised if they forget things…even important things. Don’t be surprised if they are quick to anger.

In fact, I think of the grieving person as a bear. A bear lives in survival mode, except for the hibernation period, which was also part of grief for me. If there is something you wouldn’t do to a bear…annoy it, anger it, corner it…then don’t do that to your grieving friend. Look at the claws on the bear in the picture above…that’s what grief can bring out.

Simply put…don’t poke the bear.

***Please note: if you are grieving and having difficulty returning to regular life activities, please seek professional help. ***

 

 

 

 

 

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Decide To Be Happy

Sometimes, life hands us lemons. We’ve all heard it…we need to make lemonade. My mother used to always say, “You have to decide to be happy.”

Every single day since I lost my mother in December of 2017, I remind myself that I have to decide to be happy. It’s not that I haven’t experienced any happiness, but sometimes, when I get sad about having lost her, it’s hard to bring myself out of it. And every time, I hear her say, “You have to decide to be happy.”

I try not to write about death and loss very often, because I know people don’t want to hear about it. I know it’s a downer. I know that sometimes, I feel better if I think of something happy. But right now, it’s OK if no one wants to hear about it. It’s OK if everybody skips over this, because right now, I need to write about it.

I’m in the process of closing out Mother’s estate. No, there were no loose ends to tie up. She made it as easy as possible. She had a will. She listed survivors on bank accounts. She didn’t have any debt. She made it easy. Maybe if she had made it complicated, I could have gotten angry with her and been in a bigger hurry to close everything, but nope…she made the division of assets easy. Yet, I still haven’t closed out the estate, and it’s time for me to do it. I should have done it six months ago, but it’s downright depressing.

In fact, I feel more sad now than I did immediately after her passing. Weird, I know, but I guess I feel like closing out the estate is like closing the final chapter on her life. There have been days that I knew would be difficult…my parents’ anniversary, Mother’s Day, her birthday, Christmas Eve (the anniversary of her hospitalization), Christmas Day, the anniversary of her death (December 30)…but I never expected this part to be so difficult. I thought it was completely transactional, and being a tough chick, I thought I’d be able to treat this as a transaction. But I can’t. I realize that now, because I’ve been delaying it…and I’ve been sad.

And I’ve been off my game. Sure, I’ve gone through the motions of regular life, but deep inside, I’ve been off my game since she took her last breath.

And now I’m faced with closing the book on the estate.

But something occurred to me today: Maybe…just maybe…it will be freeing. That’s all I can hope. Maybe I will feel a little sense of freedom, like a weight has been lifted, when I sign all the papers. Maybe closing the estate will actually make me feel better. We’ve all had times like that. We put something off because it’s scary, but once it happens, we feel a sense of relief or freedom. I have friends who put off signing divorce papers, because it was depressing, but once they did it, they felt like the albatross had been removed from their necks. Maybe the estate is my albatross? That sounds terrible. My mother would not like it that I referred to it that way, but she doesn’t get a vote in this.

After my daddy died, mother was talking with her doctor about anti-depressants, and she said, “My husband wouldn’t like it.” The doctor, very calmly, said, “Your husband’s not here anymore. He doesn’t get a vote in this.” And he was right! She knew it, and she actually laughed! For the record, she started taking the anti-depressant, and it made a big difference in her approach to life. Sure, she was still grieving Daddy, but the anti-depressant helped her decide to be happy.

As soon as I receive all the paperwork, I’ll sign off on closing the estate. In fact, I’m going to invite friends to a brunch at my house for that very day, so they can come over and drink some champagne with me to celebrate the closure…the freedom.

Mother would laugh about that, and she would be happy to know that it’s done.

I will decide to be happy…just in time for spring!