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Scorcher of a day! Despite the miserable heat and the children’s occasional whining, we had a memorable afternoon.
We were in the bookstore across the road from the temple, Nephi’s Books, when Colton spied a small ceramic tree with a couple of bluebirds resting beneath it. As I stood beside him, he sounded out all the words and then looked at me with a smile. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of the message was, “I’m so happy to be perched on this family tree.”
We stood in the aisle talking about what perched meant, and then I pointed out a limb where he was possibly located. That led to a discussion about families and their many members, some past and some present, some here and others “there,” in California, Virginia, South Carolina, and Utah.
“Just because you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they’re not on the tree,” I said as he stared at the bluebirds and pondered my statement.
“In fact,” I continued, “In a few minutes we’re going to ride over to a different part of Columbia so we can visit Sarah Beth, one of your cousins.”
“Have I ever met her?” he asked.
“Sure, plenty of times.”
“Have we played with her?” he asked, glancing at his siblings.
“I don’t think so. She’s older. And really, she’s your second cousin.”
Realizing that was more information that he needed, I said, “Come on, let’s go find Mama and go see Sarah Beth’s new house.”
Twenty-five minutes later we seven, Carrie’s crew and I, tumbled out of the van and rang the doorbell. Sarah Beth took us on the grand tour, including a visit to the backyard. There in the far right corner stood a structure, a garage without doors, much like the one that had stood in my parents’ backyard. I knew Carrie would notice and remark on it. She didn’t disappoint. Sarah Beth said it was the first thing she’d noticed too
We walked back inside and checked out the layout of SB’s house, her huge laundry room, the itty-bitty closet in the guest bedroom, and the screened-in front porch. While we were standing in her dining room filled with unpacked boxes and a vibrant orange chair, one of the grandchildren said he wanted to have Thanksgiving there. Sarah Beth laughed that cool laugh of hers and said she had to find a table first.
We sauntered outside, and one of SB’s friends who happened to be visiting agreed to take our picture. Hot and bedraggled but happy to have shared some special moments together, we all smiled. Except for Seth, that is. We said our goodbyes, and moments later we were in the van headed towards Trotter Road.
Once there, the girls and I lazily walked over to some rocks and sat down to enjoy the scenery, including some beautiful trees flowing in the gentle breeze. Two loud helicopters buzzed over, momentarily disturbing the peace.
Beep, beep, beep I looked at my iPhone to see a message from my sister. “It’s official. We will have a new son-in-law soon.” I shared the message with Carrie and told her how auspicious it seemed to get the news while together in the temple parking lot.
A scorcher, yes, but what a day! One niece showed her cousins and aunt a new house, and another niece became engaged. Braden gave me a book, Brooke experimented with some light pink lipstick, Emma climbed a tree, Colton became better acquainted with his family tree, and Seth in his five-year-old wisdom instructed me on how to fasten his shoes.
We ate sweet vanilla ice cream, took turns sitting in Sarah Beth’s blue velvet chair, and said Cheese for the camera. But the activity on, between, and within the branches on the family tree is what sustained us.
One of my pieces in Serving Up Memory is entitled “Hats and Cornbread,” and it begins by telling of the Thanksgiving after my mother’s passing. My father had predeceased her by two years, and so we were, her children and grandchildren, trying our darnedest to make this holiday festive. By golly, we were not going to let the grim reaper steal our joy.
A number of us, including two of my siblings and I, gathered on Chesnut Street with a “take-in” meal. I don’t recall the victuals, but I do remember that we ate in the kitchen and not the dining room and that we felt strange and happy at the same time—strange because our parents weren’t there in their own home and happy that we were together. At some point, we rummaged through our parents’ (and grandparents’) hats, and we each selected the one we wanted to wear. My nieces picked up pocketbooks of my mother’s, remembering that she always made sure her purse matched her shoes.
When I submitted that story to the group for critiquing, I wasn’t expecting the feedback that I received. I expected every person to make recommendations for improvement, and I even wondered if a couple of writers might think the story too sappy. Boy was I surprised!
Sure, there were some recommendations, but the consensus was that the events of that Thanksgiving afternoon had universal meaning. Although it was a personal story, “Hats and Cornbread” has implications for every family who has suffered loss or change, whether by death, divorce, remarriage, relocation, or any other reason. People leave us, and we are left to rebuild the structure of not just holidays, but of everyday life.
Back to that Thanksgiving afternoon, here’s the passage about it from Serving Up Memory:
We wore our hats hoping to keep that holiday spirit alive. Did it work? Not really. The picture snapped by my son-in-law late that afternoon looks like everyone is having a good old time, but looks can be deceiving. Despite our fake smiles, we were all still heartbroken, our psyches raw with fresh grief.
It probably hit me for the first time that evening: My family holidays with kith and kin in the manner I had known all of my life were over. Sure, I’d share turkey and dressing, red velvet cake, and other seasonal fare with various relatives each year, but my mother’s passing on October 20, 2000, marked the end of gatherings in the family home. Marjorie Ann was the heart of it all. It was never the same after her passing.
As the season creeps nearer each day, thoughts of earlier gatherings and traditions fill my mind. John and Margie’s children have all moved on, yet we hold those memories of love and good cheer in our hearts. I have other families on my mind today, and I hope that they’ll all find their way into and through the holidays without stumbling or experiencing crippling heartache.
The death of a loved one, regardless of age or status, changes everything. You can’t ignore the loss, the empty place at the dining room table. And yet you must not succumb to grief. As I write this, I’m thinking of dozens of people whose holiday season has been unalterably changed, some just within the last few days. I’m hoping they’ll all find a way to feel peace.
My son and his family left Myrtle Beach this afternoon. It was marvelous to see them again…and heart wrenching to tell them good-bye last night. Atlanta, GA is a long way from here, and although I know I’ll see them at least once before Ethan Paul makes his debut in March, it was still hard to watch them drive away last night.
Still, if I’ve learned one thing in my life it’s that it (life) goes on. Despite separation, trials, loss, and pain, it goes on. Whining and feeling sorry for myself won’t bring the young family back. Nor will it bring back my parents and grandparents who no longer walk the earth. I’ve known people so sick or discouraged or miserable that they simply didn’t want to go on anymore. Fortunately, so far they’ve had the fortitude to keep on keeping on.
Here’s another thing I’ve learned: those whom you’ve loved never really leave you. They’re always in your heart and mind, and sweet memories of them can be conjured up at a moment’s notice. Hundreds of these recollections have flooded my mind during this special season, thus making it challenging to spotlight just one. Many of them sort of flow into each other, like the dozens of Christmas Eves at my grandmother’s house when all of my cousins were there. Invariably, one of the adults would look out the window and declare that he had seen lights circling the area, a sure sign that Santa wanted to land. If I had to choose just one Christmas memory, I’d go with the one in which my grandmother read me an article from the newspaper about a little girl named Virginia who wanted to know if there was a Santa Claus. Spellbound, I listened to MaMa Padgett as she read Virginia’s letter and the editor’s response, thrilled to know that indeed Santa existed.
My sweet daughter-in-law seemed to have a case of the doldrums when I saw her yesterday, and I suspect it’s because she and I were feeling some of the same emotions. She’s on her way back to Atlanta now and probably won’t see her parents for several months. They’re serving a mission for the LDS church and only came home for a couple of weeks at this special season. They’ll be back in June. By then, Amanda and Paul will have another baby, Ethan. Hmmm. That brings me to a third thing I’ve learned: The only constant is change! Seriously, you can count on that one. Nothing ever stays the same. For better or worse, things (people, events, circumstances) are always in a state of flux. All I have to do is look at my grandchildren to see that!
I think of my sweet mama every day, and naturally she’s in most of my Christmas memories. Of the many, many lessons I learned from her, one is that a person always needs something to look forward to. Whether it’s a visit from a friend, a favorite television show, or a shopping excursion, having something to look forward to can give us momentum and buoy up our spirits. Having a hopeful expectation that something good is going to happen can make the crucial difference between happiness and misery.
As 2011 comes to a close, I realize the truth of the above even more. Life goes on, people never really leave you, change is constant, and hope is important. I’m looking forward to 2012 and all of the changes that it will surely bring. I hope that we can all adapt to whatever lies in store for us and, all the while keeping our loved ones in our hearts.