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.

 

 

 

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Once Upon A Time…

Television made quite an impression on me when I was growing up. I like to think I wasn’t staring at the TV screen all the time, but back then, families watched TV together. These days, my husband mostly watches the news or business channels. Our daughter and I don’t watch much TV, but sometimes, she and I watch something together…a rerun of Zoey 101 or Drake and Josh…or maybe a new episode of Henry Danger.

But when I was growing up, the big three networks were the bomb. I remember going to school on Wednesday mornings in third grade, and everyone would be talking about Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, because those popular shows came on ABC on Tuesday nights. I remember pretending to be Laverne and Shirley with a friend, and  I remember how we all imitated Pinky Tuscadero, Fonzie’s brief love on Happy Days. She had this catchy snap and point thing she did with her hands. Her sister, Leather Tuscadero, who appeared later, didn’t impress us so much.

Those shows were great, but I didn’t really want to be Laverne and Shirley or Pinky and Leather. They weren’t living my dream. I didn’t dream of living in a basement apartment with a roommate and having Lenny and Squiggy around all the time. And I didn’t dream of riding in a demolition derby like Pinky did.

My very favorite shows were shows that had women as the lead characters, and they were living good lives. I wanted to be those ladies. The shows that had characters I wanted to be were The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bewitched, and Charlie’s Angels.

I still love those shows, in fact. I rarely see any of them, but occasionally, I watch on Amazon Prime.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show is one I remember from early childhood. Mary Richards, played by Mary Tyler Moore, worked at a TV station…glamorous. She was single and living by herself…exciting stuff! Sometimes, she wore leotards and did 1970s-style exercises in her living room. And often, her cool friend, Rhoda, would stop by. Mary was spunky, but sometimes got herself in trouble at work. I can still hear her saying, “Oh, Mr. Grant!” In the show’s opening sequence, Mary stands in the street and throws her hat up into the wind…I’ve always wanted to do that in a city. And Mary had great hair.09-mary-tyler-moore-show.w1200.h630

 Bewitched. Who didn’t want to be Bewitched?!?!? Heck, I still find myself thinking sometimes, “I wish I could just twitch my nose like Samantha Stephens.” In a traffic jam?   Twitch my nose and arrive at my destination! Someone gets hurt? Twitch my nose and rewind time. My team is losing? Twitch my nose and change the outcome! I loved Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens.  Samantha got herself into jams lots of times when her husband, Darrin, would bring his boss, Larry Tate, for dinner. And when she did, she would say, “Oh, my stars!” She also had a great wardrobe. She wasn’t fancy, but she had some groovy outfits. Plus, if she were sick, all she had to do was say, “Calling Dr. Bombay! Calling Dr. Bombay!” He would pop right in! And she could clean up messes just by snapping her fingers! Did I mention she had great hair? I’m starting to see a theme here. It’s likely I remember this mostly from reruns, because it ran from 1964 to 1972, meaning I was five when the series ended. I’m sure I was watching it in first run, but I probably remember more from reruns.https---s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com-nine-tvmg-images-prod-63-16-83-631683_p183952_b_h3_aq

And then Charlie’s Angels came along in 1976. I remember it vividly…sitting in my big yellow beanbag chair in the family den to watch it…right in front of the TV. The three original leading characters were Sabrina, Kelly, and Jill.  Lots of women who were little girls during the show’s run from 1976 to 1981 can spontaneously recite the show’s opening monologue by John Forsythe: “Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy. And they were each assigned very hazardous duties. But I took them away from all that, and now they work for me. My name is Charlie.” They were the three most gorgeous private detectives ever, and I wanted to be them. Lots of women my age have at least one photo of themselves with their friends posing like the silhouette from the show’s logo. They were young, single, smart, brave, tough, and beautiful…and they had great hair. Last July, when I was in New York, Jaclyn Smith, who played Kelly Garrett, walked right past me on the sidewalk in front of the Sherry Netherland Hotel. I was speechless. She was talking on her cell phone, so I didn’t say anything, but she is still beautiful. I saw a real live Charlie’s Angel!

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You know what else all those shows had in common? Great openings. If you’re close to my age, you can likely hum the Bewitched theme song while remembering the animated witch on a broom in the opening credits. See it here. Surely, you can sing the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Hear/see it here. And everybody remembers Charlie’s speech in the opening credits of Charlie’s Angels…see/hear it here.

Television made quite an impression on me. Now, if I could just twitch my nose like Bewitched and be dressed for the day with great hair before starting my private investigator work like Charlie’s Angels, I could end the day with some exercises while wearing a leotard in my living room like The Mary Tyler Moore Show!

 

 

 

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Mother/Daughter Fun

I was talking with a friend in carpool today about my recent vacation with my 15-yr-old daughter. We met my friend, Jennifer, and her 15-yr-old daughter in Los Angeles for several days. Jennifer and her daughter used to live in Charlotte, but they moved to Ohio about 11 years ago. Luckily, we still get to see them at least once a year, when we go on a mother/daughter vacation with them.

While I was talking with my friend in carpool today, she said she had never gone on a vacation with just her daughter, and she didn’t know how her husband would feel about it. I said, “Call it a mother/daughter vacation, and it takes on new meaning!” And it’s true! There’s nothing wrong with a little special mother/daughter bonding time, right? My husband never seems to mind. Of course, he is probably grateful for some peace and quiet around the house. He’s probably thinking, “Don’t let the door hit ya in the …”

We’ve been lots of places on mother/daughter vacations…Los Angeles, New York, Upstate New York, Vermont, Maine, Puerto Rico, and more. Every trip is different, but my goal is always to have lots of opportunity for us to share some fun and chat too! For example, it’s fun to shop in Los Angeles, and it becomes a shared experience. On our last trip there,  Jennifer and her daughter introduced us to a new store, and it turned into an all-morning shopping experience! My daughter found a few things before heading to the fitting room, and I just kept finding more stuff for her to try on! We chatted as we shopped, and then we went to a nice, leisurely lunch…another good chat opportunity. When we’re home, going out to dinner or lunch with me doesn’t sound so appealing to my daughter, but on vacation, it’s fun, because we can try new restaurants and new cuisines.

In Puerto Rico in the summer of 2017, we bonded over climbing a waterfall and exploring a bioluminescent bay. At night, we always played games together…Scattergories, Spot It, Pictionary, etc. Great fun…and we made some awesome memories together.

But sometimes a vacation isn’t possible. Maybe there are time constraints, or it’s just not in the family budget. Maybe you need to have some mother/daughter bonding time near home, and that’s fun too. There are some things we can do without having to go on “vacation”:

  • Have a staycation together.  There’s something special about staying in a hotel and ordering room service. There are some great hotels for that in the Charlotte area. Our two favorites are the Ballantyne Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte, but there are lots of options out there. Most cities and towns have relatively inexpensive places nearby, if that’s what you’re looking for. Maybe you don’t want room service. Maybe you want to order takeout through PostMates or bring in your own food? When we go for a staycation, we check in as early as possible. Sometimes we just hang out in the room and watch movies or football games together. Sometimes, we go down to the pool or spa. Sometimes we go out for dinner. But we always order breakfast through room service. Even a one-night staycation is a great opportunity to spend some quality time with my daughter.
  • Thrift store shopping together. This is a total bonding experience, because thrift store shopping is no fun alone. It’s a lot more fun to dig through all the merchandise with someone else. And when you find something absurd or interesting, it’s fun to turn to your daughter and say, “Oh my! Did you see this?” We love thrift store shopping. My daughter has purchased some of her very favorite t-shirts at thrift stores in the Charlotte area, and you know how teens love t-shirts. At the Salvation Army Family Store, located at 1011 Central Avenue, we have found some great items. Also, one of my very favorite pairs of pants, some cute stretch cotton camouflage jeans, came from Buffalo Exchange, located just down the street at 1521 Central Avenue. I get more compliments on those camouflage jeans, and I paid about $9 for them.
  • Binge watch a series together. Different people enjoy different series, but I have friends who have loved watching Gilmore Girls with their daughters. I will propose it to mine, but I’m not sure how much interest she will have. We used to watch iCarly, Zoey 101, and Drake & Josh together. And later, we would watch Pretty Little Liars together. Neither of us watches a lot of TV these days, but maybe we should schedule a TV marathon. Lots of series are offered on Amazon and Netflix. Find one you will both enjoy. Maybe we should revisit some of those old shows! My husband occasionally leaves town, so next time, I’ll let my daughter pick a series, and we can watch that and eat popcorn and Sour Patch Kids to our hearts’ content!
  • Spend time outdoors together. In Charlotte, we are fortunate to have the US National Whitewater Center nearby, but most cities have some sort of outdoor activities. Atlanta has Stone Mountain. Find an activity that would be fun as a mother/daughter duo or with another mother/daughter. We’ve done the Whitewater Center with friends several times, and it’s always fun! We love zip lines and ropes courses, so this is right up our alley. If you’re anywhere in the southeast, it’s pretty easy to get to Abingdon/Damascus, Virginia…bike the 17-mile (downhill) Virginia Creeper Trail together. It’s a little over three hours from Charlotte, but easily done with a one-night hotel stay in the area. And there are lots of inexpensive hotel options in and around Abingdon and Damascus. Or spend a night in Asheville, NC, and visit the Biltmore!
  • Take a class together. I have friends who have taken cooking classes or exercise classes with their daughters, and they loved it. If you live anywhere near a Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, it’s likely they offer one-day cooking events or classes. Just taking a quick look at the Sur La Table website (click on the name of the highlighted business), I see several upcoming opportunities, but you must sign up in advance. Same with Williams-Sonoma…check the website. Learn to cook a new dish or set a beautiful table! Cooking’s not your thing? Maybe try a spin class at Cycle Bar or Flywheel. Or learn how to knit together at a local yarn store. In Charlotte, my favorite is Charlotte Yarn on East Boulevard. If you don’t want to take a class together, maybe you take an afternoon to teach your daughter a skill you have or teach her how to cook a favorite family recipe.

So, if you can do a mother/daughter vacation, I highly recommend it. If not, maybe you just find some bonding activities to do. I love knowing I’m making memories with my daughter. She will be leaving for college in just 3 1/2 years, and I want to make sure we’ve done as much as possible before she flies the coop!

 

 

 

 

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The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

Who Told Me Who He Was?!?!

Last week, I posted a picture on my Facebook and Instagram accounts of me and NBA Hall of Famer, Dominique Wilkins. I ran into him at a restaurant in Uptown Charlotte when I was having lunch with a friend. Soon after posting the photo, I received a phone call.

It was my friend, Mary Ann.

  • Me: Hello?
  • Mary Ann: I saw that picture. Who told you who he was?
  • Me: What?!?!?!
  • Mary Ann: Who told you who that basketball player was?

And here’s where you hear that sound like brakes screeching. What?!?!?

Who told me who he was?!?!

Mary Ann should know better, but I guess she had a momentary lapse. She has been with me when I’ve spotted celebrities. She knows I have a keen eye. She knows I’m a crazy sports fan.

       Did she really think someone had to tell me who he was?!?!

My friend and I had just ordered our lunch when I saw a tall gentleman walk into the restaurant. I took one look at his face and said to my friend, “That’s Dominique Wilkins! He just walked in!”

Years ago, when I first got out of college, I was a flight attendant and lived in Atlanta. It was the late 80s/early 90s. Wilkins was a superstar for the Atlanta Hawks; he was a favored celebrity. Also known as The Human Highlight Reel, he was famous for good reason…highest scorer in NBA, slam dunk champ, All-Pro, and lots more…plus, he had played at the University of Georgia, so everyone in Atlanta loved him. He also owned a popular nightclub near my apartment, and folks were always talking about that. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2006.

One morning, on an early flight out of Milwaukee, the Atlanta Hawks walked onto my flight. That team had lots of great players: Wilkins, Spud Webb, Moses Malone, John Koncak… and I got to spend a couple of hours with them! For the record, they were all very gracious…Moses Malone didn’t even flinch when I stepped on his foot, and when I apologized, he smiled and said, “No problem.”

So, of course I would recognize Dominique! Even almost 30 years later, when he was wearing a beanie to shield him from the cold, and glasses because we’re all 30 years older now, I recognized him immediately. I was going to wait a little while to approach him, but my friend pretty quickly asked him if we could get photos, and he very graciously agreed. I told him I had met him before, and I went through the story from almost 30 years ago. I also told him I remembered his nightclub, and he chuckled and said several times, “Now you’re taking me waaaay back!” He was one of the sweetest celebrities I’ve ever met (and I’ve met more than a few), and he even came by our table on his way out to tell us goodbye and wish us a good afternoon. I was so excited…still am!

Who told me who he was?!?! Oh, Mary AnnBahahahahahaha!

Were You Afraid of Santa?

When I was a little girl in Brewton, Alabama, I sat on Santa’s lap…once.

I was a fan of Santa, but I preferred to write him letters. I preferred not to sit on his lap. I was not a fan of strangers. Plus, I was stubborn. The more folks pushed me to talk with him, the more I resisted. There were lots of times I wondered, “Can’t I just write him a letter?” I never cried, though.

Ahhh…how many kids have pictures of themselves screaming in Santa’s lap?

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, folks loved to ask kids if they had sat on Santa’s lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas…even implying that if they didn’t sit on Santa’s lap, they’d wake up on Christmas morning to nothing.

My brother didn’t mind visiting with Santa. His whole life, he has had no fear. I guess I got all the fear, and he got none. And I’m sure my brother wanted Santa to know exactly what to bring…Tonka trucks (the real metal kind), Evel Kneivel Stunt Cycle, Evel Knievel Canyon Sky Cycle (you know, the toy version of the one he used in his attempt to jump Snake River Canyon), GI Joe stuff, football jerseys, and yes, BB guns…typical rough neck little boy stuff. Unlike Ralphie on A Christmas Story, though, he never even almost “put his eye out” with a BB gun, but a boy down the street did.

As for Santa, I only remember sitting on his lap once…on the bench outside The Fair Store in downtown Brewton. I wasn’t the kid who screamed and ran from Santa. I just quietly refused to sit in his lap. But that day, I not only sat on his lap, I actually conversed with him. I don’t remember the conversation, but I do remember sitting there talking.

On that day, I made the decision to talk to him. No one tried to push me into it. I think they had given up on me at that point. That, plus they knew if they pushed, I would just dig in my heels. I remember walking out of the store, seeing Santa on the bench, and walking over to him without even discussing it with my mother. She just stood there, smiling and waiting.

I don’t remember what I asked him to bring me…Baby Alive? A treehouse? A Miss American bicycle? Ventriloquist dolls? Easy Bake Oven? Fisher Price Little People house…the one with a real doorbell that rings? Probably all of the above, but I was completely and utterly obsessed with the Fisher Price Little People house with a doorbell that really rings.

Later, when I was 10 or 11, I would sit on Santa’s lap just for the pictures with my friends, but by then, I knew Santa wasn’t real.

Fortunately, my daughter never feared him. She went for her first visit with Santa in November after she turned one in October. I sat her on his lap, and she didn’t fuss at all…whew! When she was two, she wanted to visit with him every chance she got, so we spent many afternoons at Southpark Mall, visiting Santa. When we went to Winterfest at Carowinds that year, she talked with Santa so long that the folks in line got antsy. Santa didn’t care…she was his favorite visitor that night, because she talked and talked. It’s a great memory, because she had to walk up some steps to get to him. She climbed the steps and climbed up into his lap in a sleigh. When she was finished talking, he motioned for me to come up and get her, and he went on and on about how he’d never had a two year old talk so much to him. And the people in line got more antsy.

She doesn’t remember the Santa from Winterfest. She remembers a few later visits with Santa at Southpark Mall and at some local restaurants. But she knows she had some fun times at Christmas every year. We’ll have some more fun times this holiday season, but they’ll be different. We’ll go out to dinner with friends and still drive around looking at lights. I’ll even force her to go to Winterfest at Carowinds, but she’ll take a friend, because when you’re 15, nothing’s fun without friends. And that’s OK, because we’ll still be making memories together.

I wonder if I can get them to get a picture with Santa?

 

 

 

 

 

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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.