Category Archives: Family

Old Habits Die Hard

As I mentioned in my last post, my father graduated from Mississippi State in 1959. He was a Bulldog fan through and through; so, anytime the Dawgs were on TV, you can bet that he was watching. We would often call each other to make sure we both knew that they were playing and what channel they were on. Neither of us wanted to miss the boys in maroon and white if we could avoid it.

This Fall, it seems like Mississippi State football has been on TV every Saturday in our market. And, every Saturday, I am on the couch yelling for them (and sometimes at them), doing my part as a fan to send winning energy to my team. And, every Saturday, I have to stop myself from calling Daddy to see if he’s watching. During the unbelievable Auburn game yesterday, I nearly called him during the game to see if he could believe that comeback that was going on.

But, he’s not there. And I still weep several times a week because I can’t call him when I’m driving home from work like I used to. I can’t call him about the football games. I can’t call to ask his advice on anything. I can’t call him.

My sister Chele (bless her), my cousin Faith, and Chele’s friend Linda have done all the packing up and moving of Dad’s things. I couldn’t help. I was paralyzed just thinking about it. I feel weak and pretty pathetic admitting that I just couldn’t do it – something so basic – but I couldn’t. When we went over to his house a couple of weeks ago to get the last things out, I started crying two towns over and when I got out of the car, I nearly went down. My knees gave way and grief hit me like a boulder. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t breathe. All I could do was scream. It was horrible.

Dad didn’t have a minister that really knew him well anymore and neither Chele nor I could bear the thought of some stranger standing there eulogizing a man he didn’t know; so, we planned and spoke at Daddy’s funeral ourselves. Chele and Faith chose most of the hymns – all 600 year old plodding Presbyterian hymns that are the songs that stones would sing – and Chele and I both eulogized him. The hymns were heavy, comfortable things that we grew up with, or they would have been if the pianist hadn’t played them in the key of dog whistle. Still, they were songs that we love and that he loved. Then Chele talked about Dad and his Christian faith, about how he loved the Book of Daniel, in particular. I talked about him as my father and my friend. Here is what I wrote to say (although I’m sure I strayed from my script – I always do):

Good afternoon and thank you all so much for coming. Frankly, I don’t know if I can do this, but I don’t want someone who didn’t know my daddy all that well to stand up here and talk about him; so, grab a tissue and bear with me while I do my best to honor this man.

On February 26, 1936, John Larry Doty was born to Luby J and Hazel Doty. That lasted just long enough for one grandfather to find out he’d been named after the other one. Soon after and evermore, he was John David. If you thought his birthday was on the 29th, you’re not alone. He told people that regularly; but, no, his birthday was on the 26th. He grew up in Memphis. Ran track in high school and had the cinders in his knee for the rest of his life to prove it. He finished a pretty ordinary scholastic career and graduated from Central High School in 1954. Afterwards, he went out to California to fight wildfires. He went to college at Mississippi State because they had a School of Forestry and he really wanted to be a forester. Even so, the dean’s secretary, Doris Lee, always said that he never would have graduated if she hadn’t hounded him into it. He would always agree before adding that Dean Doris made the best pecan pies in the world. And he loved pecan pie! Not as much as he loved strawberry shortcake, but he loved pecan pie.

After college, he worked for Mr. Buchanan in Selma, AL, where he and Mother lived when my sister Chele was born. He went back to Memphis to pursue a Master’s Degree at Memphis State and to go into business for himself. That venture was a short-lived one before he got a job with Kopper’s Company and moved the family to Brookhaven, MS, in 1969. He lived there until 1995. In the late 70s, he and some collegues went into business for themselves and formed Monticello Hardwood – a company he worked very hard to help make successful.

I never really understood what he was doing when he would get on the phone after dinner and stay on it, it seemed, until it was time for me to go to bed. I hated that he would do that, but I didn’t understand that he was working so hard for us. Often, I would sit in the hallway, listening even though I had no idea what he was talking about. In those days, when you made a call using your credit card as payment, you told the number to the operator. I listened to him so much that I could recite that credit card number myself – I still can. I was an adult myself before I truly appreciated the work that he did on those calls and his efforts to be home every night for dinner. Some days he would leave before we left for school, but often, he was there for that and he was nearly always home by 7 o’clock for supper. I was an adult before I realized that he would often drive 3 hours and more after breakfast, walk a few miles cruising a stand of timber, then drive all the way home just so he could be home at supper. 

And he loved his job. He loved walking around in the woods, figuring the worth of the timber, but enjoying the peace of it all as much as anything. Most days he took what he called his “jungle food” with him and ate his lunch of Vienna sausages, sardines, cheese and crackers, or (his favorite) a peanut butter and mustard sandwich wherever he happened to be. Often, he would take a .22 with him to do a little squirrel hunting while he was out.

And, man, did he love to hunt! He hunted deer in Claiborne county for decades. He took friends, business acquaintences and even missionaries visiting the church out for a hunt. He taught both my sister and me to hunt (he was more successful with her) and frequently reminded us that you don’t kill what you don’t plan to eat, and you don’t shoot unless you can kill it. You don’t kill for sport alone and you don’t make an animal suffer. He enjoyed hunting at his own camp as well as joining friends at theirs. His annual trip to Pennsylvania was a tradition for him, as well as trips to Kansas with Malcolm Carr, and trips to Utica with Steve Rochelle and Joe Foster. He sure did love you guys. And he loved those trips even after he had progressed from being one of the hunters to being one of the old men who cooks and sits around the fire telling lies. And he could do that, too!

I could always count on Daddy to answer any question that I had. One year, while looking for a perfect Christmas tree to cut, I asked him why some pine trees lose their apial dominance faster than others. Mistake. I got a full-on lecture on soil tables. Another time, I asked him why it was called wolmanized lumber. He said it was because the cells were impregnated with preservatives. And I believed him. Of course, he forgot all about that until he heard me repeat it some years later. He laughed at me! Then I remembered that I had believed him – the same man who had handed me several thistles as a child, telling me to take the pretty flowers inside to mama for the table. 

I say that, but I honestly believe that he did not have a malicious bone in his body. He was a generous man – taking firewood and food to widows in town, inviting friends for dinner, as a deacon in the church, he would go to the store with people who showed up at the church for help on Sundays when he was an usher. He would buy them groceries, diapers and put gasoline in their cars. He was that kind of man. He didn’t talk about it. He did it. He was a good man and a really great father.

Mother was sick after the births of both my sister and me; so, Daddy took care of us. There were times when both of us disappointed him, I know, but he loved us and we never doubted it. He wasn’t quick to say that he was proud of us so it really meant the world when he did say it. And when we told him that we loved him, he just said, “thank you.” Still, we always knew. 

When I was 26, my best friend was killed in a car wreck. Although he lived about an hour and 15 minutes from my house, he was there with breakfast 45 minutes after I called him. I was devastated so he stayed with me for two weeks. Several months after Joey died, I went to the phone to call him for some reason. When I realized that he wasn’t there, I dropped the phone and asked my dad when I would stop doing that. When was it going to get better?! He said then that his father had been his best friend and that, even then, more than 20 years after Pop died, on bad days, he sometimes thought that if he could just talk to his dad, he would know what to do. I can tell you that I suspect that if you ask me that same question 20 years from now, you’ll get the same answer. He was a wonderful man, a great father and a true friend. He is missed already.

Dad on the back row in the far right. The first Fellow of the College of Forest Resources

I don’t think I got those last two sentences out before my tears overwhelmed the Valium.

We went to the graveside, toasted him with a great single malt Scotch that he would have loved – The McAllan 12-Year-Old Double Cask – put our tiny red solo cups in the crypt with him (won’t a future archeologist have fun with that!), and left him there beside his grandmother.

Only we didn’t leave him. He is with me every single day – in my heart, in my thoughts, and in my tears. He was a wonderful man and I miss him.

Losing the First Man I Ever Loved

Twice before I’ve buried men I loved – one was my best friend and one was a man I really thought I might marry. Both events were awful, soul-splitting times in my life that still hurt, years later. But, on June 19th, I attended a funeral that made those look like a skinned knee. That day, I buried the very first man I ever loved.

He was a handsome man – I always though so. Maybe he wasn’t handsome in a matinee idol kind of way, but he had a ready smile and these powdery blue eyes that sparkled. He had dark brown hair that would sometimes glint red in the sun and he wore an epic beard trimmed Just So that made him look distinguished. He smelled like forests and breath mints. He was a wonderful cook and I loved him completely. I loved him so much that I didn’t even mind that I had to share him.

After all, my sister was born five years before me and he was her daddy first.

Dad was sick last Fall and came to live with me, my sister and my “damned cats” for about six months. We got him all patched up and strong again. Although we wanted him to stay here, Daddy wanted to go home to his own house; but, we were worried. We found a lady that would come spend five hours a day with him, make sure he took his meds, ate well, hadn’t fallen and had survived the night. You see, he wanted to die at home “with his boots on.” We didn’t want him to die alone. He was 85 in February, older than anyone in his family has ever been, and he knew his body was wearing out.

In May, his helper Jennifer began to raise alerts that his health was deteriorating and that he was losing weight. My sister went over to check on him and, sure enough, things were not looking good. Dad was going downhill fast although he was still talking about going to Omaha again (he went to 2018 and 2019) to attend the College World Series if the Mississippi State University Bulldogs made it to the tournament. Dad graduated from MSU in 1959 and LOVED Mississippi State Baseball.

Dad had been with us during Thanksgiving, but because of his frailty and the pandemic, the planned extended family gathering was postponed to the summer. At the end of May, we agreed it could be postponed no longer; so, we set a date of June 12th.

On June 5th, some guy chalked up his 4th DUI by driving up my driveway, totaling my car, destroying my home air conditioning unit and spraying the property with shattered auto glass, but we were full steam ahead for Thanksgiving 2020.5! I invited friends and relatives from near and far. I got Thanksgiving themed placemats, napkins and decorations that we put on tables in my yard. And we ate ham, turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, butter beans, bacon wrapped shrimp, smoked pork, fresh garden salad, desserts by the pound, and drank soft drinks, iced tea, pina coladas, and, of course, traditional Thanksgiving margaritas. (We declared them to be traditional, anyway.) We put our feet in the wading pool and played corn hole, but mostly we just talked, visited, shared love and stories with one another about our lives and about Dad. He wasn’t strong enough to come down into the yard, but he sat on the porch where I joined him to eat lunch. He was quietly looking over the mob when I asked, “That’s a pretty good view, isn’t it?”

“It’s a wonderful view,” he responded.

Eventually, he came back into the cool house (a miracle worker had replaced my air conditioning unit the day before) where everyone rotated in and out to talk with him for a few minutes and where he could watch the Mississippi State vs Notre Dame baseball game that was on television. (Mississippi State needed to win that game and one more to make it to the College World Series.)

As I was helping him get ready for bed that night, I asked him if he had enjoyed the day. (He never liked to be the center of attention and I was anxious about him feeling overwhelmed.) He said that he had enjoyed it very much but that he had been surprised that so many people had come from such long distances. That statement crushed me. I turned to look at him and said, “Dad, why would that surprise you? You are a remarkable man who has had a tremendous, positive effect on the lives of more people that you can imagine. Of course, people came!” He looked skeptical as I tucked him in.

Sunday, we were all exhausted and slept most of the day. Monday, he refused all food and drink, but he, my sister Chele and I still all watched the last game of the Super Regional Tournament to see if Mississippi State would make it to the College World Series. We watched the game like normal, sitting on the couch, holding hands, questioning the elastic strike zone, and cheering on our Bulldogs. From time to time Chele and I would have to leave the room to collect ourselves because we knew this would be our last game with Daddy.

Outfielder Tanner Allen clinched the game for the Bulldogs with a three-run homer. I was in the kitchen at the time, but walked back in the living room to see what all the cheering was about. When I walked around the corner, I saw Dad, who could barely make a sound, with his hand in the shape of a megaphone around his mouth cheering. It was a sweet sight and one of the last sounds he made.

On Tuesday, Chele and I got him home and into his own bed where he went to sleep and did not wake up. I climbed into the bed with him, put my forehead to his and shared memories of family vacations we took, the time he took me to work with him when I was five or six, rafting trips, him playing with my young son, memories of everything.

Sometimes as people are in their last moments, they will struggle to breathe; but, Daddy didn’t. He was very peaceful. His breathing got slower and slower until it just stopped, his spirit quietly left and we all got what we wanted. He died at home with his boots on, he didn’t die alone, and the Bulldogs went to the College World Series.

The Growing Cold

“She can’t breathe, John!”

I remembering hearing my mother say that to my father as I sat coughing, watching television one night. (No doubt we were watching Gunsmoke or something.) Anyway, I remember her sounding alarmed and me thinking that it was just a cold. Well, my dad picked me up and took me, wearing my flannel nightgown covered in Pirouette-style clowns, to the hospital where I was admitted with pneumonia. The doctor tried comforting me by telling me that he was building me a playhouse. (What fun!) I told him that it wasn’t a playhouse, that it was an oxygen tent. Who was he trying to kid? I watched Medical Center and I told him so. I was between three and four years old.

(The whole experience was humiliating! They made me sleep in a baby bed, for crying out loud! AND, big girl that I was, they made me wear diapers. Ugh!)

My next experience with the illness was about eight years ago when, while splitting firewood (something I well and truly suck at) I began to cough up blood. On account of I’m so smart and junk, I knowed right off something was wrong. (Okay, I didn’t. I totally called my dad to see what he thought. You can guess what he thought.) This time I wasn’t admitted to the hospital, but spent the next week recovering on my sofa snuggling with Trey. I highly recommend big, black dog snuggles to cure what ails you.

As breathing became a greater and greater challenge last week, I began to wonder if I was up for round three with it. So, I dragged myself to a doc in the box on Saturday who diagnosed acute bronchitis and infected ears. Ugly, but not pneumonia. So, I’ve got my steroids, my antibiotics, my inhaler, my sorbet (better than sherbet, methinks), my Powerade Zero, cough drops, and vegetarian soups. I’ve got books to read; but, sadly, no coloring books to color. Maybe when I feel a little better I’ll go on a hunt for those.

As I recall, they were a pretty good curative, too…not as good as a sweet, black Labrador, but, then, few things are.

Snowbound

During the worst part of my recent illness, my father came to stay with me a few days. As it happened, we had a good deal of snow and ice during that time and the poor man couldn’t have left if he had wanted to! We were snowbound.

And it was wonderful.

The amount of precipitation we had in Middle Tennessee that caused a panic and empty bread shelves at the Food Lion wouldn’t have even caused a school delay when my son and I lived in Latrobe, PA; but, they have the proper removal equipment there and we just don’t have it here. We don’t get that kind of precipitation often enough to make it economically feasible to have snow plows all over town. And, frankly, a snow plow doesn’t do much good with ice anyway; so, Dad and I were stuck in the house where we talked, rested and read in front of a fire we kept going for almost the whole week.

As I’ve told you, I adore my father. There are a great many things this imperfect man and I disagree about, but that just makes for interesting conversation. Mother nearly died giving birth to my sister and she was very, very ill after having me, as well. So, with both of us, Dad was the one who took care of us early on – and he still does it. I remember him running across the yard and swooping me up out of the fire ant bed I had climbed into, and him carrying me into the hospital when I had pneumonia as a toddler. More recently he insisted on coming to take care of me a few years ago when I had my tonsils removed and couldn’t swallow even the pain meds. (Incidentally, I certainly hope the stories are true and that it hurts worse as an adult than it does as a child. That was worse than labor!) Those are just three of the countless times Dad has been there to help me. My father is not a man who often expresses love verbally; however, he never lets me forget that he loves me and that he worries about me. Even with his expansive vocabulary, he is a man of deed more than a man of word. Words lie. Deeds don’t.

A friend at work lost her father last week in a house fire. We have all grieved for this sweet woman in her loss; but, I have to admit that part of my grief is not for her. It’s for myself. I know that the day will come when Dad won’t be there when I’m unwell. I won’t be able to call to “check his pulse.” He won’t read us ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. He won’t be peppering conversations with stories of his years in the forest and with Southern idioms like “useless as hip pockets on a hog.” Someday he won’t be here and I will be devastated at the loss of my father and, again, at the loss of my friend. But, until that awful day comes, I will treasure every chance I get to be with him and, after, I will treasure the memories of being snowbound.

 

Time to Say Good-Bye

It’s a beautiful song, but often a terrible thing to do. Today, I will say good-bye to Trey. While I am destroyed over it, it’s time. He has stopped eating and drinking more than a couple of mouthsful – except for last night when he got a plain double cheeseburger and cheese curds from Dairy Queen. (We’re not going to discuss what I had.) He doesn’t wag his tail and the sparkle is gone from his sweet eyes. Even with medication he is in constant pain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy tireless sister has found a vet that will come to my house this afternoon. Trey will be in his home, comfortable and unafraid when he makes his journey across the rainbow bridge. My friend Sean and my niece will be here with me. My niece will take his body for cremation. I know. I know. I used to think that was ridiculous, too – cremating a pet. I don’t anymore and, frankly, I don’t care if anyone else still does. I’ve lived a highly transient life and don’t see me staying here forever either. I don’t want to leave him here. Maybe if I were living in the house I planned to retire in, I’d feel differently; but, I’m not and I don’t.

It’s been a highly emotional couple of days for me and there have been several times when I’ve wondered if I could actually dehydrate by crying. There have been times when a tiny voice in my head called me silly for grieving so over a dog; but, another voice stands up and says that he’s more than a dog – he’s a friend. My other dog Ellie is not the brightest bulb on the circuit – beautiful, sweet and lethal for squirrels, but not all that smart. She doesn’t seem to know that anything is wrong; however, she will grieve for the loss of her playmate, the one who taught her to play when she was a terrified stray. Although I will let her see and smell his body, I expect her to look for him for awhile. At this point, only the cat Bodhi seems to know something is wrong. He’s stuck very close to me and has even been snuggly with Trey.

It has been emotional here and will continue to be for awhile yet as we learn to adjust to life without the old man.

So, remember yesterday when I said that I wouldn’t always make the right nutritional choice? Well, I won’t be making it this afternoon. My sweet friend Katie has already announced that she’s coming by after work with the comfort food of my choice – ice cream, any flavor but mint chocolate chip (I really hate that one). So, I don’t know what flavor she’s bringing and I don’t care. I’m going to eat whatever she brings.

Helping my old friend across the bridge is the right thing to do and it’s time; but, I don’t know that I could do it without the help of my other friends. My most sincere and heartbroken thanks to you all.

Toilet Paper, Towels and Tears

After weeks of anticipation, my son was home for Christmas! Know how I knew? I walked into the bathroom and saw that empty roll. And, um, that doesn’t happen when it’s just me and the horde.

I had to laugh at this thing that drove me nuts when he was growing up, but which was such a welcome sight on the night of the 22nd. I knew that in short order there would also be no clean towels and that all of the used ones would be in his bedroom, somehow having made it completely under the bed. It’s Y chromosome towel sorcery, I’m sure of it. And, let me just make this clear – I loved it. Then again, he was here for only eleven days. After about 14 days of it, I’d probably have been ready to box some ears!

I’ve never been married or even lived with a romantic partner; so, my son is my only experience in dealing with the irritations that come with sharing space with someone you love every day for many years. I’ve had roommates, of course, some of whom drove me batty, others of whom I drove batty (that’s for you, Jeannie Kay). Now that my son has been away for a couple of years, I’ve gotten used to doing things my way, in my time. Having him home reminded me of dealing with another’s way and another’s time – a conversation I had with him some months ago regarding a minor dispute with one of his roommates.

At the time, he was working four jobs and, honestly, I don’t know when he slept! One night, he had cooked his dinner, but not washed up his dishes. One of his roommates was annoyed about this and said something to him about it. He was, in turn, annoyed at having been taken to task over something he would have gotten to in his own time. I don’t recall having this specific incident with any of my roommates; but, given my rather, um, freeform housekeeping style, it’s likely that I did. Being WAAAAAY on the other side of this conflict now, I asked him if the dishes that he didn’t wash were his or if they belonged to the house. “They belong to the house,” he said. “So,” I said, “when another person wanted to use these dishes, they had to come find you and get you to wash them before they could cook their own food. Is that about right?” “Well, when you put it that way….” he said.

As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder and, sometimes, that’s true. Without him here, I forget all the little, really petty things about him that irritate me over time. And, hopefully, he forgets the little, petty things about me that irritate him, as well! So, after a year without his sweet little face in my house, I just looked at the empty roll, laughed and replaced it. Then, after the fastest eleven days in the history of time, I had to take him back to the airport and put him back on a plane that would return him to the adventure that is the life he is building.

But, unlike last year, this time, I left him with only a few tears and a giant hollow place in my chest. He returned to his adventure and I returned to the disappointment of toilet paper on the roll and a cabinet full of clean towels.

My Favorite Guys

I’ve been off the grid for a little over a month now and: 1. I can’t believe it’s been a whole month already!, 2. I hope you noticed, and 3. I hope you missed our visits as much as I have. While I haven’t sat down and written with my laptop, I’ve continued our visits by writing in my head. However, now that both peak season at work and my annual after-peak cold are done, I’m ready to sit down and type again.

794_37696208196_8125_nAs I shared with you in November, I was eagerly awaiting my son’s Christmas visit in December. He arrived home on the 22nd and I was so thrilled I could hardly stand it! My father was in Nashville that day for the funeral of a friend’s wife. As you know from our chats in July, my father has had a really rough year; so, he followed that really sad event with two happier ones: lunch with me and my cousin Laurie, and coming to the airport to welcome home the grandson he adores.

Dad and I waited at the seating area at Starbucks near the Terminal B concourse exit. Now, normally when I pick my son up, I wait in my car at the cell lot. He texts when he has his luggage and I drive up to the terminal, scooping him up from the Arrivals area. I hadn’t told him that this trip was going to be any different; so, I was excited to surprise him by being inside the airport and by having Papa with me. In fact, I was practically vibrating with the excitement.

Wouldn’t you know it, his plane was five minutes late. Curses!

Papa sat patiently at a table while I bounced on my cowboy booted toes looking down the concourse. Also waiting were a man, a woman and four children. That arrival party had signs and balloons, which was both sweet and adorable. I imagine that their people were touched by the welcome. Still, all I could think was, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re cute. You’re also in my way. So, move it. I’m waiting on my boy and you’re blocking my view.” I was considering how many of the group I could move with a few well-placed elbows when their people arrived and they moved of their own accord. Incident averted!

I continued to bounce on my toes for several minutes before I saw the tall, thin, ginger man coming towards me. He expected me to be outside; so, I got to watch and appreciate the man my son has become for a few minutes before he noticed me. He is thinner, taller and more adult than ever. My baby is solidly grown. I was wistful for that instant; but, when he finally saw me bouncing there, I saw that my baby still loves his mama and all was right with the world again.  After I finally let go of him, I told him that I’d left something at my table – Papa.

Watching the two of them embrace, I thought of all their adventures together. Over the years, there have been many: fishing, hunting, building, caving, rafting, other chest-thumping-guy-stuff and just talking. We had no fanfare; but, right there, I had a welcome far better than poster board and balloons – my two favorite guys.

Friends Happen, Too

Having worked in aviation for well over two decades, I’ve been around aircraft hangars for so long that I don’t really appreciate how huge they are. They were always just everyday items that I didn’t really think much about – kind of like spoons, albeit really big spoons. Then, in Seattle visiting my son, we drove by the Boeing hangars. Holy cow! These things are so massive that although my eyes saw them and knew them as familiar objects, my mind could not wrap itself around the massive buildings. I looked into familiar looking doors, but rather than seeing eight-passenger Lear jets, I saw village-capacity 777s. I couldn’t process what I was seeing. They were just too big.

Kind of like realizing that people who don’t have to, love you anyway.

When my father told me that he wanted my son home for Christmas and that he would buy the ticket, I was way too excited to keep it to myself. I went to work glowing and told a couple of people what my father was doing. I told a couple of people.

Throughout the night, way more than a couple of people came up to me and said that they had heard that my son was going to be able to come home for Christmas, after all. I accepted their congratulations, but thought it was a little weird that so many people that I hadn’t told knew about it anyway. Well, then, one of them told me why so many of them knew.

It seems that one of them had decided to take up a collection to buy the ticket and that several others had already contributed or were planning to at payday.

Wow.

I found out about this over a week ago and it still stuns me. Like the hangar, my mind is struggling to process the information it has received. I really do love so many of those young people I work with. It was overwhelming to find out that they love me, as well. It’s just too big for my brain to process.

You know, love sneaks up on you sometimes. When I first showed up to work, I was nervous, knew no one and was resentful that my life was not going the way I wanted it to. I had bills to pay and this was how I was going to do it. I wasn’t looking for friends. I was just there to do a job. Days passed and I settled in to do the tasks before me as best I could. In my position as peer coach, I spoke directly with many of my coworkers, learning about them, how they came to be there, what they wanted out of the job and some of their aspirations. I heard stories of people out to earn a little Christmas cash, of people who (like me) had hit a hiccup in their careers, of people whose retirement funds were not lasting the way they needed, of people working their ways through school, and of people who don’t plan that far ahead. They lived one day at a time. I heard stories from people whose life experiences were similar to my own and from people whose lives I could not even imagine. I grew to admire and love many of them. They (like me and my beloved son) are not perfect, but I do love my work children and they love me back – warts and all.

Amazing. Humbling. And still bigger than my head can wrap itself around.

Dads Happen

Last week I shared with you my extreme sorrow that I could not bring my son home for Christmas. In addition to telling you about it, I also had to tell my father. Dad’s response was both quick and direct, “Nope. Not this year. I want to hug that boy’s neck.” So, it’s Papa to the rescue once again.

And my heart sings! 😀

Those two have been thick as thieves right from the get-go. My father has this wonderfully resonant voice that rumbles when he talks. I think that all babies love the sound of it. I KNOW that my baby did. On the rare occasions when the baby was fussy, Papa could calm him just by talking to him. As soon as he was mobile, Jaegar became my father’s shadow at any and every opportunity. If Papa was on the couch watching baseball eating chips and salsa, then so was a diapered toddler. I had never seen a small child eat salsa like that before. If it was pickled herring in cream sauce for Papa while watching the news, then it was absolutely the same for Jaegar. (He’s still a monster salsa eater, but not so much on the herring anymore.) They built things. They fixed things. They went fishing. They went hunting. They went camping, canoeing, and just did all kinds of chest-thumping-guy-stuff. They were – and are – buddies.

And the buddies will be together again for Christmas.

So, just as I told you some things that Children Don’t Know last week, I learned something that this child had forgotten: wonderful fathers hurt for even their grown children and those fathers will do all within their power to make the hurt go away. And, yes, with a doubt, I have a wonderful father.

Forward Ho!

(But don’t call me Ho.)

I’ve been on a reading kick for a few months now and have annihilated my library’s Robert Crais collection. I just love his main two characters: Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. I was truly upset when I read the last of the books. I will miss those two friends until Crais publishes another one. (Psst! Mr. Crais, if you’re reading this – do a woman a solid and write faster, huh? I miss the guys and the black cat.) Elvis is verbose and irreverent while Joe is silent and unreadable. Joe has distinctive red arrow tattoos on his deltoids. The arrows point forward and are a testament to his belief that the only thing to do is to keep going and that the only way to go is forward.

In addition to what I shared with you yesterday, during our text conversation on Tuesday, my son also said to me, “We’ll make it Mother dear. There is only direction and it is forward.” My boy – Joe Pike.

If you’ve been with me through this blog’s journey, you know that the last couple of years have been very difficult for me and, really, for much of my family. I’ve tried to be honest with you throughout everything without oversharing. I’m pretty sure that sometimes I still overshare; however, I have come to believe that even that “error” is a good thing. While most of you don’t comment in the section here (ahem), many of you send messages to me behind the scenes. Overwhelmingly, the common theme to those messages is: I thought I was the only one.

No, you’re not the only one.

wagon-train-walter-colvinWe share a common human condition even if we try to put a brave face on it. I believe that a sense of humor is absolutely crucial for enduring difficulties. However, as you know, I lose mine from time to time.  I begin to feel overwhelmed by my current trials or by the trials of those I love and cannot help. Sometimes, it just seems like too much to bear. And it would be, if we had to bear it alone.

But we don’t.

We are more superficially connected than ever before in the history of mankind; however, we simultaneously often feel more isolated than ever. We post the highlights of our lives on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and, and, and. We know that we are showing a highly edited version of our lives where checkbooks always balance, dogs never poop in the floor, alarm clocks always go off and socks never go missing in the wash. But, we see the red ink in our checkbooks and  know that we are presenting only a partial truth. Yet, we see the posts of others and assume that their posts are the Whole Truth, the Real Truth. We see our friends in Pleasantville while we struggle in Amityville. And we feel worse. Somewhere in our minds we know that they live just down the street in Amityville, too, but we are still more apt to believe the Pleasantville fiction.

Well, I’m going to sit right here and tell you that I’m in Amityville and that I’ve seen your mailbox on my street. I’m not alone and neither are you. There is only one option for us and that is to continue to work through our difficulties. There is only one direction for us and that is forward. So, forward ho!

Surely, we can do this if we help each other. (But, don’t call me Shirley, either.)