The Loss of a Beloved Teacher

The loss of a beloved teacher.

When I was growing up, my family moved several times. In fifth grade, I landed in a new town and new school. It was a school that was several times bigger than my previous elementary school. At my “old” school, we had only two classes for each grade. Everyone knew each other, and we were a pretty sheltered bunch. At my “new” school, there were four or five classes for each grade. Everyone did not know each other, and well…they weren’t as sheltered. Fortunately, I fell into the classroom of a wonderful, caring teacher.

I feel pretty sure she could feel my pain on the first day. While everyone was friendly, I’m sure I looked like a deer caught in the headlights, so my new teacher assigned two girls to look out for me. They showed me around and introduced me to their friends, and it certainly made the transition easier. Assimilating wasn’t difficult, thanks to the teacher and those girls she introduced me to.

There was something special about this teacher. She was dealing with students from various socioeconomic backgrounds and races, and somehow she brought us all together. I don’t know how public schools work in Alabama now, but back in the day, students were grouped by reading level and math level. We had at least two different levels in our class at any given time, except math, when we went to a different classroom where everyone learned the same thing. In some cases, I’m sure students who weren’t working on the highest level might have felt inferior, but I don’t think they ever felt that way in her class. She loved all of us, in spite of and because of our differences. And while I was in the highest level reading group, I know we never looked at the other groups in our class and thought they were “less than.” That’s because our teacher pulled us together. She understood that fifth grade students needed to move around some during the day, and she encouraged us all to participate in discussions, be creative, and work with our “neighbors.”

I had always been a good student, but I had usually been pretty quiet in class. But at the end of the first grading period, the teacher called my mother before sending home my report card. She wanted to warn my mother ahead of time that she had marked “talks too much” on my report card, but she explained that she had done it for our whole group that sat in the same area. Apparently, we had bonded well enough that we never stopped talking! My mother was surprised but thought it was funny, since she had never been told I “talked too much” at school. And we, the students, learned a valuable lesson about working as a group…everyone in the group is responsible for each other.

One of those friends, James, from that class group texted me recently. He is my longest continuous-contact friend, and we were brought together right there in that classroom. We have been friends for 43 years. He texted me to tell me our beloved teacher had passed away. He loved her too. In fact, he was, quite possibly, the student who checked in on her the most over the years. She saw something special in him when we were in 5th grade, and he didn’t disappoint. He remembered her kindness and spent time with her when she was in the hospital several years ago, and then, last year, he visited her at home…spending time laughing and talking with her.

The last time I spoke with our teacher was Mother’s Day weekend in 2019…just over a year ago. We talked about old times. We talked about how she let us veer from the lesson plan sometimes to give us time to be creative. She sometimes secretly gave clothing and snacks to the students who needed it…but in a way no one else knew it, so the student wouldn’t be embarrassed. We talked about how she became a teacher. We laughed a lot while we reminisced, and we solved some of the world’s problems in that phone call. She reminded me of a few things, and I reminded her of a few things. And she asked me to write down some of my memories of her/her class and send them to her.

She taught my brother two years after she taught me. We are two totally different personalities; frankly, he’s a lot more fun than I am. And I’m sure he was quite the class clown, but this teacher? She had an appreciation for his humor. She found a way to teach him without squashing his spirit. She saw something special behind his twinkling, mischievous eyes, and she loved him. He loved her too.

When I heard about her passing, I was heartbroken. I knew her health had been in decline, but I was surprised to hear she had passed. I was, however, happy I had followed through on my promise to write down some memories and send them to her. It took me a few months to get it done, but I got it done. I emailed it and then sent her a hard copy of it too. A friend was having coffee with me at my house when I got the news, and I told her, “Wow. My fifth grade teacher just died.” I went on to explain to her how special this teacher was to all her students…how she actually cared. And then I said, “I’m so glad I talked to her last year and sent her some memories I had written down for her.” No regrets.

She had long since retired, but she made a difference in the lives of lots of children over the years. She was special. I feel sorry for the ones who didn’t get to be in her class. If you had a beloved teacher during your school days, make his/her day by sending him/her a letter, or even just an email, letting him/her know he/she made a difference in your life.

She was a lovely lady, and “lovely” is high compliment from me…one I don’t throw out lightly. God bless her family, and God bless the soul of Mrs. Stiff.

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!

 

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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Gone But Not Forgotten

Today is the anniversary of the death of a very dear friend. We became friends in 2004, right after my daughter turned one, and her son (her first child) was about six months old. Our lives were intertwined for years. Dynamics changed as our kids got older. My friend took a job. She moved to the west coast. She and her husband divorced. They moved again to the east coast…New England. But we always remained friends. Was our friendship always perfect? No. She was hurt when she took her job and our playgroup didn’t envelope her kids the way we should have. We didn’t always agree with each other’s decisions. But we were friends. We were the kind of friends who would have always been friends…and then she died.

And here’s what I always hear…”Life goes on.” But what exactly does that mean? Her life didn’t go on, but the lives of her children, family, and friends have gone on. Because she had moved away years ago and never answered her phone, she wasn’t a part of our daily lives in Charlotte anymore. But she was a part of my life…and she was a part of the lives of others. I’m not going to say all that sappy stuff like “she lit up a room”…or “she was always good.” People were drawn to her, and I was flattered that she picked me as her friend. But she wasn’t perfect, just like I’m not. But dang it…she was my friend. And she was the mother to two children…now aged 13 and 15. She was the daughter of two wonderful parents who loved her beyond measure, and her sister and brother….well, they adored her too. She loved her family more than anything, and they were always active in her life. But her life stopped on June 4, 2018. Gone too soon. She was just 46, even though the priest at her funeral kept saying she was 47…that actually made me chuckle during the service, thinking of what her response would have been, “Are you kidding me?! Don’t make me older than I am!”

She was active. She exercised all the time and ate really well most of the time…even though we did love eating Doritos together late at night when we vacationed in Maine. She loved red licorice, Zotz candy, and Spree candy. Those were her weaknesses…her guilty pleasures. She didn’t eat them all the time, but she sure enjoyed them when she had them! There was a candy store in Kennebunkport, Maine, that sold the perfect red licorice for her, and we were regulars there. Once, she was going to another store, so I went to stock up on candy. I had forgotten my wallet, so she gave me her credit card and her drivers license. I laughed, saying, “Ummm…if they ask for ID for the credit card, there is no way they are going to believe this!” She was tall, dark, and Irish/Italian. I’m short, fair, and Anglo. She said, “Just take it!” Luckily, they didn’t ask for ID, so I was able to stock up on licorice, Zotz, Spree, and good old-fashioned candy cigarettes for us. Go ahead. Grimace. We didn’t care. Candy cigarettes were old school, and we liked them.

My friend had suffered since she was a teenager with various types of cancer. Lymphoma, breast cancer, leukemia…life wasn’t easy for her, but she kept living it…till she didn’t. I think I always believed she would continue to beat cancer…till she didn’t.

Her children, a boy and a girl, are being raised by their very capable dad. He’s a good dad, exposing them to the world while also making sure their souls are nourished. They go to camp with other children who have lost parents to cancer. They have loving grandparents, and they have aunts and uncles who love them too. But they don’t have their mother. She’s not there every day to encourage them to finish homework. She’s not there to hug them when they need it. She’s not there to guide them, listen to them, help them, parent them.

So yes, life goes on…but it goes on without my friend. For her children, life goes on without their mother. For her parents…without their daughter.

Things happen all the time that make me think of her. Every time I go to Dunkin’ Donuts and order an iced coffee with extra cream, I think of her. Every time I drive past her old house in Charlotte…at least twice a week (I do it intentionally)…I think of her. Every time I think of summer on the beach in Maine…I think of her. Or summers at the pool…all our friends had memberships at different clubs, so we would alternate the pools we visited during the summer. Every time I eat Spree or Zotz, I think of her. I even saw a Santander Bank in Cancun and thought of her…she had worked for them at one time. I was talking with someone last week about Mike’s Pastries in Boston…thought of my friend; she introduced my daughter to cannolis at Mike’s Pastries. Every time someone mentions the Virginia Creeper bike trail, I think of her and the time we took our children…it turned into a comedy of errors, but we survived. Every time I pass the hospital, I think of her, because we actually spent quality time there together, when she was having chemo. Mention California Pizza Kitchen, and I think of the time she almost died from an anaphylactic reaction when we were having lunch there. When I think of my daddy’s cancer diagnosis, I think of her too, because I was on my way to dinner with her when I found out Daddy had pancreatic cancer. And every time I hear about a young person who has cancer, I think of her and how long she fought.

My friend hasn’t been forgotten. She is still a part of our lives and our regular conversations. She taught us a lot about friendship. Tonight, our playgroup friends will gather for dinner, sans kids, to drink a toast to our friend who is no longer with us…one year gone. Life goes on…but it goes on differently.

 

 

 

Poking The Bear

animal animal photography bear big

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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My Top Ten Reasons (Excuses) To Stay In Bed

I don’t consider myself a low energy person. I like to be busy. I like to have things to do. But sometimes, I like to have nothing to do. In fact, one of my hobbies is doing nothing, and sometimes, I look for any reason (excuse) to stay in bed.

How did I marry a man who hates to sleep in? I love sleeping in! I remember when “sleeping in” meant 10am or 11am, but now it means 8:30am, and it’s rare. My husband is a morning person. Every morning at 6:00, he jumps out of bed, opens all the drapes, and starts his day. He usually asks when I want to get up, and rarely I say, “Now.” And when I’m awake, he  brings me a cup of coffee in bed (yes, he does!). Lots of times, though, I say I’m not ready to get up yet, and I feel the need to give him a reason (excuse) for me to stay in bed. Some of my reasons (excuses) for staying in bed are good, and some are lame, but here they are:

  • “I was up late last night picking up teenagers from friends’ houses while you were sleeping.” I’m really a night owl, so I don’t mind driving kids around at night, but I use it to my advantage the next day, if I can. Sometimes it buys me an extra hour in bed.
  • “It’s raining.” Or snowing…either would apply. Yes, I’ve actually used this lots of times. Who wants to get out of bed when it’s rainy and gloomy outside?!? You can either let that rain ruin your weekend, or you can use it to your advantage…be happy you get to catch some extra  Zzzzzz’s.
  • “We’re out of coffee.” This one is pretty lame. I admit it. But it worked. When I told my husband I didn’t want to get out of bed one Saturday morning, because we were out of coffee, it bought me another 45 minutes of sleep. He actually went to the grocery store and bought more Keurig cups, and on the way home he stopped at Dunkin Donuts and picked up an Iced Coffee for me.
  • “We don’t have anywhere to be.” Fortunately, our daughter gave up club soccer a few years ago, so we don’t have to get up at 5:00am to drive three hours for a soccer game on weekends anymore. There have been lots of Saturdays my husband has jumped out of bed and started to open the drapes, but I’ve interrupted him by saying, “Don’t bring my coffee till 9:00, please. We don’t have anywhere to be.” He sighs, but he hears me.
  • “I’ve gotten up early five days in a row…no more.” Yes, there’s a limit on how many days in a row I’m willing to get out of bed early…five days. I do it because I have to, but don’t ask for more than five early mornings in a row. I might cut you.
  • “It’s cold out there, but it’s warm in bed.” I’ve honestly quoted Wham!’s song, Wake Me Up Before You GoGo, as my reason (excuse) to stay in bed. It’s my favorite line in the song: “It’s cold out there, but it’s warm in bed. They can dance; we’ll stay home instead!” I love sleep, but I don’t do it very well anymore…despite the fact that I used to be a professional sleeper. If it’s really cold outside, for some reason, it’s easier for me to sleep. Thus…the line from the song.
  • “I didn’t sleep well last night.” This one is a good one. Lots of times, it’s legit. I rarely sleep well, since I usually wake up at least three or four times a night. Most people would consider my average sleep night a terrible night’s sleep. For me, waking up several times is normal. A bad night is when I wake up and can’t go back to sleep, or when I am awake more than I’m asleep. A good night is when I wake up two times or fewer. So, I could use, “I didn’t sleep well last night,” as a reason to sleep in on almost any given day…legitimately.
  • “The Barometric pressure is off.” Lol! This means absolutely nothing to my husband, but it totally sounds good. In reality, barometric pressure changes can trigger migraines, but for me to use this line is a total ruse. Yet, I’ve used it on more than one occasion. Like I said, I enjoy a little extra sleep.
  • “I spent the whole weekend at our daughter’s sports tournament.” This one goes a long way, because there is no way he wants to be the parent who has to go to the out-of town sports tournament. He knows if he lets me stay in bed a little longer after a weekend in Rocky Mount, NC, for a lacrosse tournament, he won’t have to go to the next one either.

If you’re like me, and you consider sleep a hobby, you might want to keep this list next to your bed. Or maybe you have your own reasons (excuses) to stay in bed?

Happy sleeping!

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!