A Weekend to Remember

Wow! I turned 52 on Memorial Day. While I have always loved my birthday, this one was extra special…and most memorable.

On Saturday, I flew to Los Angeles with a friend. She was my “plus one” for another friend’s wedding on Monday, because my husband needed to stay home to make sure our teenage daughter prepared for final exams at school.

We flew home Tuesday, but we still haven’t stopped talking about the wedding reception!  The bride is someone I met in LA a couple of years ago, and she is gorgeous on a regular day, but she was positively radiant on her wedding day, which also happened to be her birthday too! And I’m sure she will remember it for the rest of her life as well.

I remember when she got engaged. I remember she said these words to me, “I hope you’re ready for a big African wedding!” And honestly, I was flattered to be invited. She is a special lady who loves looking out for others and making other people happy. She is Nigerian, and her new husband is as well. Have you ever been to a Nigerian wedding? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. I can’t believe it took me 52 years to have that fabulous experience! There was so much to take in: the incredible handmade dresses of fine fabrics and beautiful colors; the culinary delights of the food; the African music we had never heard, but all the Nigerians knew every beat and every word; the exciting processions of both families and different groups associated with the bride and groom; the DJ who worked the crowd; the love of the families; the dancing! I could never write a description that would do it all justice, but I can say we met some lovely people and had an incredibly memorable experience. And I got to see my sweet friend get married. She and her new husband look so peacefully happy with each other.

Before the reception, I had wondered what food would be served. I was hoping I would get to have some Nigerian food, and I was not disappointed! For first course, we were offered an option of Peppered Goat Soup or Yam Porridge. I consulted with the bride’s cousin, who was seated next to me, and she steered us toward the Yam Porridge…spicy and mellow all in one bowl. It was fantastic, but I wanted to make sure I had room for the other courses, so I ate about 3/4 of the bowl. For the entree, we had a choice of five different things, and the cousin recommended the Fried Rice, Moi Moi, Assorted Meats and Plantains. I think Meg (my plus one) and I surprised the cousins by eating so well! The fried rice had a little kick to it, while the plantains added a little sweetness. And the meats…chicken and I think, goat ribs…incredible spices. We dined like queens!

If you ever watched The Wonder Years, you might remember the episode titled Birthday Boy, in which Paul (the main character’s best friend and neighbor) has his Bar Mitzvah on Kevin’s (the main character) birthday. I don’t remember everything about the episode, but I do remember Kevin was a little envious of Paul’s family traditions and history. Listening to Paul’s grandfather talk about his own Bar Mitzvah had Kevin wondering about his own family history…and I get it. Being at my friend’s big Nigerian wedding made me think of that episode of The Wonder Years. I found myself looking on in awe at how these lovely people had managed to hang on to Nigerian traditions in the United States. The people are American, but they remember their African heritage…and I loved every minute of it.

I will likely never have another experience like it. If it took me 52 years to be able to experience it once, it’s not likely I will get to do it again. But I will always remember it. I wish my daughter could have gone. I wish she could have experienced it. I learned a lot, and the bride’s cousins answered all my questions, even though it had to be difficult to hear me, since I can’t talk above a whisper with laryngitis. They were so kind and patient while I tried to ask my questions about details.

So yes, I had a happy birthday…it was fantastic. Most of all, I am grateful to my friend for inviting me to celebrate her new marriage with her…a happy birthday, indeed!

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My Favorite Rescue Story (1 year later)

***I first wrote this story on February 10, 2018, but today, January 30, 2019, is the first anniversary of “the homecoming,” so I’m sharing it again. It makes me happy.***

Eight years ago, when my mother lost her Jack Russell Terrier, Sissy, to heart failure, she needed rescuing. I mean my mother needed rescuing. Daddy had died three years earlier, and Mother missed him terribly. So now, she was missing Sissy too. She needed company, so after a few months, she went to the local animal shelter.

FullSizeRender-28On that fateful day, it happened there was a young female Jack Russell Terrier who had been picked up and brought in by animal control. There was a hitch: she had only been there a couple days, so they had to hold her for two weeks to see if anyone claimed her. Mother waited. She called me and told me about the cute, little, white terrier with brown spots. Mother said she was a muscular little dog with lots of energy. She told the people at the shelter she would take the little terrier if no one claimed her. She was excited, and secretly, she was praying no one would claim that cute little terrier. She waited two weeks.

September 14th rolled around, and Mother went back to the shelter. The cute little terrier was still there, and since no one had claimed her, she was available for adoption. It seemed fitting that the cute little terrier, which Mother would name Sam, went home with Mother on Daddy’s birthday. Mother gave Sam a home, but really, Sam rescued Mother.

The two of them were together almost every single day for eight years. As long as she was able, Mother would throw the ball in the backyard for Sam. They “talked” to each other. They sat out on the back porch together. When company came over, sometimes Sam would run and hide under the bed, but she didn’t realize only her head was under the bed, and the rest of her wasn’t…just like  a two-year-old, “I can’t see you, so you can’t see me.” She made Mother laugh. She rescued Mother.

Mother died December 30. She fell on Christmas Eve. I’m sure Sam saw her fall. I’m sure Sam saw the EMTs carry her out. I’m sure she was confused. Heck, I’m still confused; I wish Sam could talk and tell me exactly what happened. For a few days, Mother’s friend/caretaker, Lois, would go feed Sam and visit with her some. When we realized Mother wasn’t going to make it, my aunt and cousin were with me at the hospital, and they offered to take Sam from Alabama to Florida to another aunt. (I would have loved to keep her, but we have three non-shedding dogs at my house, and my husband’s allergies can’t handle shedding.)

Sam is ornery, doesn’t adapt well to change, and she must have been scared and confused. She couldn’t get along with the aunt’s dog. My cousin, Patti, found her another home…and another. She was loved at the last home, but because of her shedding and her running into the road (a lot of acreage but no fenced yard), after a month, the lady couldn’t keep her.

Patti called me and told me she was looking for another home for Sam. I immediately texted my brother, whom I affectionally call “Brother,” and said, “We need to bring Sam back to Mother’s house.”   Because he lives near Mother’s house and would be responsible for her, I held my breath, thinking he might text back a firm “no.’

To my surprise, his first response was, “Maybe.” I knew, if Sam went back to Mother’s, she would have lots of company and be loved, because my brother stays there sometimes, my nephew was planning to move into the house, and friends visit all the time. Most of all, Sam would be comfortable. I typed back, “We can pay someone to come clean the house once a week.” Brother typed back, “Yes.”

Next, I texted, “I think Sam would be so happy.” He immediately responded, “OK.” Yippee! I promptly called Patti to start arranging Sam’s homecoming. I relayed messages between Patti and Brother, and they made it happen.

Patti called me after picking up Sam from her most recent temporary home, and said, “Sam went absolutely wild when she saw me!” Patti used to visit Mother and Sam a lot, and Sam is crazy about her. I could hardly wait for Sam to see Brother. A week ago, Brother met Patti at the halfway point between their cities and picked up Sam.IMG_8703.JPG

Sam was as excited to see Brother as she had been to see Patti. She and Brother’s dog, Amos, don’t always see eye to eye, but when she saw Amos in the car, she was even excited to see him! The three of them drove back to Mother’s house.

Brother called me after he got Sam home and said, “She was so excited. She ran into the house, and then she ran and ran and ran around the backyard.” He said, after a little while in the house, things got too quiet. He thought Sam had escaped. (She loves to slip out the door and go for a run if she can.) He looked in the bedroom, and there was Sam, piled up on the bed, sound asleep. It was probably the best sleep she’d had since December.

Mother would be happy to know, this time, we rescued Sam. She’s home. She’s comfortable, and she’s happy. I haven’t even seen her since her return(I live 400 miles away), but every time I think about her homecoming, I cry. I’m crying now.

We rescued Sam. I engineered it, and Brother and Patti made it happen.

Give your dog an extra treat today.

***One year later, Sam is living a happy life with my nephews in my mother’s old home, and she is enjoying lots of love and exercise.***

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If Only I Could Call Them

When Daddy was dying, it seemed the thing he hated most about dying was thinking about what he was going to miss. He said he wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him, but he was sad he would miss his family, and he would miss some of the big moments.

I think, we, the ones left behind, often feel the same thing. There are lots of times I think, “I wish Daddy were here to see this.” And since December, I often think, “I wish I could call Mother and tell her about this.”

In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself wishing they were here more than usual. I always miss them, but situations arise that I would love to share with them, and that’s when I really wish they were here.

In May, I wrote a piece titled Behind That White Picket Fence (click here to see it) about how we never know what’s going on in someone’s private life. A friend from college commented on my post, making me think of Mother and something that happened twenty years ago.

When I was about 30, a friend was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her name is Susan, and I think she was 28 or 29 at the time. She was/is married (in fact, I introduced her to her husband) and while her husband was supportive, her parents jumped right in to help. Her husband needed to work and couldn’t be there all the time, so her parents took turns spending the night at the hospital with her and stayed during the day, as well. She had  complications after surgery, but they were there to advocate for her. If I remember correctly, she was in the hospital for months.

During this time, my maternal grandmother and a friend of hers were breezing through Mobile on a trip and stopped in to visit Mother. We will call the friend Gladys. Mother had never met Gladys and frankly, found her to be rather harsh. They were there for a few hours, so Mother didn’t jump to that conclusion quickly.

While they were there, insurance became the topic of conversation. Gladys, at some point, complained about her insurance agent, saying he had not been responsive over recent months. When she mentioned his name, Mother knew she had to say something. She responded, “Well, I’m sure you don’t know, but his young daughter has colon cancer. She’s had surgery and complications, and he has been spending days and nights at the hospital with her. If he hasn’t been responsive, that’s a good reason. God bless him.”

That evening, Mother called me to tell me what had happened, and she was a little hot under the collar. Of course, I reminded her Gladys probably had no idea, and while Mother realized that, she was miffed Gladys wasn’t giving Susan’s dad, her insurance agent for 30 years, the benefit of the doubt.

So, after Susan commented on Behind That Picket Fence, I sent her a message telling her about the exchange. She responded by telling me she was happy to hear my mother had interceded. She reminded me her daddy had stayed with her in the hospital and had even devised a way to wash her hair, simply because he knew it was something he could do that would make her feel a little better. He made some sort of “contraption” that made it possible for him to wash her hair while she was lying in bed. The nurses didn’t want him to do it, but he did, and Susan immediately felt better. Afterward, the nurses started started using the same contraption and method to wash the hair of other patients.

That exchange with my friend was one of those moments I wish Mother were here. I wanted to call and tell her I had shared the story with Susan, and in response, she told me what great things her daddy did for her. In fact, Susan told me her daddy was retired by the time she was diagnosed, so no wonder he wasn’t responsive! He was no longer the agent!

But I couldn’t call Mother. She would have loved that story.

There are also things I’d love to share with my daddy. Just this week, I had lunch with my cousin, Ardrue, who lives in Cherryville, North Carolina, about an hour away. Ardrue and I started getting together over the past couple of years. We had never met until early 2016, but I had heard about Ardrue my entire life. She is my daddy’s first cousin. Their mothers were sisters.

When I say I’d heard about Ardrue my entire life, I mean it. I remember, as a little girl, hearing Daddy and Aunt Katie talk about Ardrue. I don’t remember the stories, but who can forget a name like Ardrue? I’ve told her this, so it’s OK…I remember asking daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I remember seeing pictures of a little girl/teenage Ardrue when I would go through old pictures. Her name appeared on the backs of several pictures.  In fact, I can hardly wait to get back to Alabama to go through pictures and find some to bring back to show her.

Ardrue has told me stories about my daddy as a young man, and she has shared stories about the family, as well. When we are talking, I love when she mentions a familiar name in one of her stories. Sometimes she is even surprised I recognize a name. Most of the times, I recognize the names from stories Daddy used to tell…he was a good storyteller. She is a charming lady with a great sense of humor. I’ll have to ask her if a sense of humor runs in the family. It’s hard to tell, because in all the old pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents, they all look so serious.

And this is one of those times I wish Daddy were here. He would be thrilled Ardrue and I  get together. Not only that, but we enjoy each other’s company! He would want to sit right there with us, laughing and talking. The two of them would be able to reminisce and remind each other of things that happened when they were children.

But I can’t call Daddy. He can’t join us for lunch. He would have loved spending time with Ardrue.

And recently, when our daughter was away for two weeks on a group trip to Iceland and not allowed to use her phone to call home, Mother and Daddy would have commiserated with me. They likely would have been calling me three times a day to ask if there had been any email updates from the group leaders.

While it’s painful immediately following the loss of a parent, there are other times that are difficult too. Interestingly, for me, it’s usually the happy times that I miss them. I wish they could see my daughter play lacrosse and field hockey. Daddy would have loved watching her play basketball too. I used to always call Mother from my car after I dropped off my daughter somewhere, and I would call her after any of my daughter’s games and give her the post-game wrap-up. That was a habit that was hard to break after Mother passed.  I wish I could just pick up the phone and call both of them to tell them funny stories, talk about trivial stuff, and brag about my daughter. They would love knowing my brother and I talk almost every day, and we still call each other to get answers to trivial questions. And they would be so happy to know we have been vacationing together.

But I can’t call them.

If only I could call them…

Cousins

Cousins.

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen the posts about cousins. Most of them say something along the lines of “cousins are our first friends.” Or “no one will understand your crazy family like your cousins do.” There’s some truth to that.

Thanks to Facebook, in recent years, my cousins and I have started keeping in touch better than we did before. All my first cousins are on social media, and even some aunts and other family members. Interestingly, with cousins, we often have similar physical traits, but I think personality traits are familial too. I never lived near any of my aunts/uncles/cousins growing up, but every time my Aunt Katie and I are together, people around us talk about how we have similar mannerisms.

All my first cousins live in Florida. My part of the family was the part of the family that moved away, so we didn’t see them as often as they saw each other, but I adored my cousins. In fact, it was my cousin, Cindy, who took me to Padgett’s Jewelry, in Chattahoochee, Florida, to get my ears pierced when I was eight years old. I can still remember sitting up on the jewelry counter in the middle of the store. Cindy held my hand while the lady used the piercing gun to put those first gold studs in my earlobes. I’ve said before that emotions lock events into long term memory, so I must have been really nervous or really excited…or both…that day.

While I have fond memories of each of my first cousins, I think it’s only natural I have more memories of the ones who are closest in age to me. Patti and Tara used to come spend a week in the summer with us when we were kids, and any time the whole family got together, they were the ones I was usually with. But we lived several hours away, and as an adult, I live even farther away, but thanks to Facebook, I think we are all closer than ever now.

In fact, because of Facebook (and some intervention from my Aunt Katie), I am now friends with my only North Carolina cousin, Ardrue. She is my daddy’s first cousin…their mothers were sisters. While I had met her mother when I was a little girl, I had never met Ardrue. I remember hearing her name my whole life from my daddy and from my Aunt Katie. Daddy was crazy about her, and Katie still is. She fell between them in age. I also remember asking Daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I’m sure I asked it many times, but I don’t remember ever getting an answer.

A couple years ago, Ardrue and I became Facebook friends, and she very graciously reached out. As it turns out, she lives in a town that’s just about an hour away from Charlotte. We made plans to meet for lunch in Gastonia, North Carolina, which is about the halfway point between us.

As soon as I saw her, I knew she was my cousin. She has a very familiar look…like my grandmother’s side of the family. I’m not sure how long we visited at that first lunch, but we were there a while. We got acquainted. She told me stories about my daddy as a young person, and I told her stories about him as an adult. She told me some family history, and we laughed and cried. I also found out the answer to that question. You know…”what kind of name is Ardrue?” Well, it seems her mother had met a young girl named Ardrue at a revival service in Florida once and decided she would name her first daughter the same name. So that’s what kind of name Ardrue is.

Since then, Ardrue and I have become great friends in addition to being first cousins, once removed. We try to meet occasionally for lunch, but of course, real life gets in the way sometimes.

Once, her sister came down from up north for a visit, and I was fortunate to get to meet her too…another cousin! Ardrue set it up, and we met in a park in downtown Belmont, North Carolina. I arrived a little early and sat down at a picnic table to wait. I noticed people were setting up lawn chairs along side of the railroad track. Ardrue and Lu walked up behind me just as I was wondering aloud, “What are they doing?” We had a good laugh about the fact that I was talking to myself, and then we figured out that the good people of Belmont set up their lawn chairs to watch the trains go by. Pretty cool, actually.

Most recently, when I saw Ardrue, she mentioned the fact that I’m her cousin who lives the closest…and vice versa. We’ve met a couple of times at Spindle City Cafe in downtown Gastonia, and that’s where we met that day. We usually have lunch and laugh…a lot. We talk about serious stuff too, but we laugh a lot. She has a great sense of humor. To see the menu at Spindle City Cafe in Gastonia, click here. It’s worth the drive.

On that day, she brought me a gift. Ardrue has been a loyal reader of my blog (and she does some beautiful writing herself), and she remembered my post about the Bluebird of Happiness (see post here). After her husband passed away, she started taking art classes, and she had devoted a recent class to drawing a bluebird for me…something to remember my mother’s and grandfather’s fondness for bluebirds…but now, I also think of Ardrue when I look at the beautiful drawing. I have it displayed in my kitchen, so I can see it every morning. She’s quite talented, and she’s a great example of how we can all continue to learn throughout our lives. I was grateful for the time she put into it and for the gift itself.

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But the best gift I’ve received from my newfound cousin is the gift of her friendship. She wasn’t my “first friend,” as they say cousins are, but she is a dear friend, and I’m grateful to finally know her. I wish Daddy could get together with us too, because he would be thrilled to know we get together. He would have loved to sit with us over lunch, and I’m sure he would have been able to remind her of some stories from their shared childhood.  Since he’s not here, I’m urging his sister, Aunt Katie, to get up here to NC for a visit. Or maybe we all need to meet in Florida. All cousins welcome.

Whatever we do, we will laugh and cry a lot, and I’m guaranteed to hear some good family stories I’ve never heard before.

Thank God for cousins.