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.

Sweet Sixteen!

Our daughter is a high school sophomore, and she and lots of her friends are turning 16. No one is more excited than she is. In fact, if I asked her right now how long till her birthday, she could likely tell me how many days and how many hours. More importantly, if I asked her how many days till she can test for her drivers license (a few days after her birthday), she might know down to the minute.

Lots of friends have told me stories about watching their kids drive away on their own for the first time. For some, it’s scary and nerve-wracking. Others say it’s exciting, knowing their children are gaining more independence. One friend has told me how upset she was when her son drove to school by himself for the first time, because it hadn’t occurred to her that the last time she drove him was the last time.

While we are excited for our daughter, there is a little apprehension. She’s 16, and her brain still works like a 16-yr-old. Driving is a big responsibility. We have done everything we can to prepare her for this moment. While North Carolina requires young drivers to log 60 driving hours while they have their learner’s permits, we have required her to log 120 hours. It gives me a little peace of mind to know she has logged double the required number of hours. We have reviewed different situations in driving:

  • Always STOP before turning right on red when clear.
  • When the light turns green, look to make sure cars aren’t coming before driving into the intersection.
  • Plan your route before you leave home.
  • Avoid difficult left turns.
  • At a certain shopping center in Charlotte, never use a particular entrance/exit.
  • When coming around a bus in said shopping center, be aware that cars might not see you and will turn in front of you.
  • Slower traffic keep right.
  • When brake lights come on in front of you, immediately put your foot on the brake…and watch for brake lights two or three cars in front of you.
  • Don’t follow closely.
  • Avoid high traffic areas when possible…and high traffic times too.
  • Don’t play loud music; you need to be able to hear what’s going on around you.
  • Pay extra close attention in roundabouts. You might know what you’re doing, but it’s difficult for lots of people.
  • If you’re not sure you can fit into a parking space easily, just drive farther out in the parking lot. You’re healthy. You can walk.
  • No cell phone usage or other distracted driving.
  • Be smart/use good judgment.
  • Pay attention to road signs!

There are so many things to know/learn when driving. I remember when she was younger, she once asked me if driving is difficult. I explained to her that no, the act of driving is not difficult; it’s the other drivers/cars on the road that make it difficult. Anyone who can drive will know that is true. You never know when someone will follow you too closely or stop unexpectedly in front of you. You never know when a car will turn in front of you or change lanes on top of you. And we all make mistakes while drivingwe just have to hope we don’t make big mistakes. And if you’re wondering…yes, I’ve taught her all about the courtesy wave…when someone lets you into traffic…when you make a mistake that affects another car…courtesy wave.

So here we go…in a few days, if she passes the test, she will be driving by herself. Several of her friends have failed the driving test the first go-round, so we aren’t counting on it being a sure thing. My husband will take her to the DMV, and they will call me afterward. He navigates government offices better than I do. He also navigates cell phone stores better, but I’ll save that for another day.

The bad news is that I won’t have that car time to chat with her. Now, when I bring her home from school or sports practice, that drive time is a little decompression time. We catch up. She likely won’t be a passenger in my car very often for the rest of her life.

The good news? I won’t have to drop everything to pick her up somewhere. She can drive herself to and from school and sports practices. She is excited. She is gaining some independence, and I can have a cocktail on the patio in the afternoon!

Don’t we all remember when we got our driver’s licenses? Don’t we all remember how it felt like forever till we had them? It’s a milestone. It’s a big deal. It’s what makes the sixteenth birthday a special one. And I’m excited for her to spread her wings!

Now, she just has to pass the test.

My Nephews Are 21 Today

My nephews are 21 today. Obviously, they are twins, but they are two very different people…more on that later. I simply cannot believe they are 21 today. Come on…21 is an age that is easy for me to remember, even though it was 30 years ago. So it’s very difficult for me to believe these two young gentlemen are full-fledged adults…full-fledged adults.

How did we get here so fast?

I remember when they were born. I remember when they were afraid of Santa…and Cookie Monster. Their mother and I took them to see Cookie Monster when they were about three, and they were so excited on the way to Uptown Charlotte. They were even excited when we got there. But when it was their turn to sit on Cookie Monster’s lap…wow. Just wow. They freaked out. I have a photo somewhere, but I wouldn’t embarrass them by sharing it. You just have to trust me when I say it’s hilarious.

I remember how my brother would call me and tell me about their accomplishments…in fact, he still calls and tells me about their accomplishments. He calls me to tell me about nice things they have done for other people. They’re good boys.

My parents were crazy about them, but my daddy was insane over them. When we were growing up, he traveled with work, and he worked hard, so he wasn’t around as much as he might have liked. But he retired when the boys were little, so he was able to enjoy them. He loved playing ball with them. He loved having Easter egg hunts with them. He loved placing orders with them when they played waiter. He loved how they loved to run to the trunk of his car, because they knew he would have surprises for them. Of course, Mother helped him get the surprises, but he got full credit, and Mother was OK with that. She enjoyed watching him enjoy them. And Daddy always loved leaving them with WAM (walking around money) after visiting with them.

They were crazy over Daddy too. They were heartbroken when he died in 2006. He was larger than life to them, and they knew he loved them dearly. He would be proud of the young men they have become.

One has mad artistic skills. He was blessed with great athletic skill, but that was not what he wanted to do. Now that he is in college, he is pursuing art, and we couldn’t be more proud of him. He is smart. He is handsome. Sure, I wish he would get a haircut, so everybody can see how handsome he is, but I accept the hair (even though, the last time I saw him, I jokingly threatened to cut it in his sleep). And here’s why: he is one of the most genuinely kind people I know. He and a friend were in Charlotte a few months ago, and they were looking to rent some scooters in Uptown. They finally found some, but before they could get to them, a homeless gentleman struck up a conversation with my nephew. Instead of rushing off to the available scooters, he stood and talked with him…and missed out on the scooters. He also “adopted” my mothers’s dog, who loves him dearly. That’s who he is.

As much as that nephew has mad artistic skills, his brother has mad speaking skills and mad writing skills. This nephew has cerebral palsy, but he doesn’t let it stop him from doing what he loves. He’s also handsome and kind. As a little boy, he loved baseball, but he realized his love for baseball would not manifest itself in playing the sport. He knows more about baseball than anyone else I know. I was at a Pittsburgh Pirates/Chicago Cubs game, and I started texting him about the game. He knew about each player, warning me the third baseman for one team would likely make an error soon. And he was right! He took that love for baseball to the press box and earns money announcing baseball and softball games. He writes sports pieces for a local online publication and works in publications for the city. 

I love them them both, and I love the men they are becoming. They survived childhood, the teenage years, and some hiccups along the way, but they’re going to be OK. They’re going to be great. My mother died last December, but she was so proud of them, and she’d be even more proud now. And Daddy…well, he would be bursting with pride.

And he would still be giving them WAM every time he saw them.

Happy Birthday to my nephews…you’re full-fledged adults.

Alabama Theatre and Faye Dunaway

My daddy had a great sense of humor. He also loved wordplay. He was a great storyteller. He had vivid memories of his childhood, and we loved hearing his stories.

When I was a teenager, something came up in a family conversation about Faye Dunaway, the Academy Award-winning actress. Daddy said, “Faye Dunaway went to my school.” I must have looked at him like he had fourteen eyes, because he reiterated that she had gone to his elementary school in Florida.

Because he was a jokester, I thought, “Oh, I get it. He went to school with someone named Faye Dunaway, but not the real Faye Dunaway.” For YEARS, I thought it was a joke. I don’t remember talking about it a lot…just that once or maybe twice.

Years later, when I was in my late 20s, I was reading People Magazine one evening after work, and there was an article about Faye Dunaway. I started reading it, and there, in the second paragraph, it said she went to school in Bascom, Florida. That’s where Daddy went to elementary school! I picked up the phone and called him.

I said to him, “I’m reading an article about Faye Dunaway, and she really did go to school in Bascom!” He responded, “I’ve been saying that for years.” “Well, I know, Daddy, but I always thought you were kidding, saying someone NAMED Faye Dunaway went to your school.” We shared a good laugh at the confusion.

By the same token, I had some confusion with something Mother said for years too.

Mother grew up in the Birmingham, Alabama, area. When I was a little girl, she told me she used to go to the Alabama Theatre in downtown Birmingham for the Mickey Mouse Club on Saturdays. She made a big deal in telling me about the giant organ that would rise up out of the floor of the theatre.

auditorium

Interior of Alabama Theatre. Photo from Alabamatheatre.com. The theatre was home to the country’s largest Saturday morning Mickey Mouse Club at one time. It was also the first air-conditioned public building in Birmingham.

I didn’t tell Mother at the time, but when she said that about the organ rising from the floor, I thought she must have been mistaken. I honestly thought her memory must have been playing tricks on her, because who ever heard of an organ rising up out of the floor?

It just didn’t make sense to me, but I didn’t argue with her. I just thought her little girl brain had been tricked into thinking the organ came out of the floor…some sort of optical illusion or something.

Then, in my late 20s, I read Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. Well, since Fannie Flagg is from Alabama, I’m guessing she must have visited the Alabama Theatre, because in the book, she mentions the organ. She mentions how the organ rises up from the floor!

So Mother’s memory wasn’t playing tricks on her, after all! I promptly called her to tell her what I’d read. She said, “I’ve been telling you about that organ for years!” I confessed, “Well, I know, Mother, but I thought your memory was playing tricks on you!” We had a good laugh over it.

wurlitzer-2

Photo of Big Bertha, The Mighty Wurlitzer, from Alabamatheatre.com

To see more about the Alabama Theatre and the organ they call Big Bertha, The Mighty Wurlitzer, click here. The theatre has an interesting history, and the organ was one of only 25 of its type ever built.

It makes me wonder what I’ve told my daughter that she questions. Maybe she keeps it to herself that she thinks I’m talking out of my mind when I talk about a childhood memory.

Let’s take, for example, the time I caught a really big catfish in the neighborhood lake. When I was a little girl, we would go cane-pole fishing down at the lake at the bottom of the hill in our neighborhood. Sometimes we would catch catfish and take them home for Mother to clean them and fry them up, and sometimes, we had no luck at all. One time, I caught the record catfish…a record for us, anyway. It might have been five pounds. As soon as I caught it, we took it home. My brother and I had catfish for dinner that night.

Maybe my daughter thinks I was confused about how big that fish was.

Maybe she thinks I’m crazy when I tell her otters lived in that neighborhood pond. They did. I saw them from the school bus window one morning. Everybody had been talking about them for weeks, and finally, I saw them surface.

Maybe my daughter thinks I saw a dog swimming through the pond and thought it was an otter.

I didn’t go to school with anybody famous. None of my friends have become famous (yet), so I don’t have any stories to tell my child about “I knew him when.” I don’t remember anything like The Mighty Wurlitzer from my childhood, so all I have is the pond with the catfish and the otter.

I haven’t even been to see The Mighty Wurlitzer rise up out of the floor at the Alabama Theater. But in December, I plan to make a trip to Birmingham. Every year, the Alabama Theater shows classic holiday movies on the big screen. I’ll go, and when I see The Mighty Wurlitzer come up out of the floor, I’ll think of my mother and laugh about how I thought she was confused…just like I think of my daddy every time I think of that famous photo of Faye Dunaway (click here to see the iconic photo taken the morning after she won the Academy Award) at the Beverly Hills Hotel.