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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Granddaddy's Garage (Nana's House)

Last week, I was at my grandparent's house spending time with my grandparents, cousins and aunt before we all headed out to LongHorn for my cousin, Chris' birthday. I ended up going outside to read. I walked out to the two-car garage that my grandfather built and found a stepping stool chair to sit on. I was struck by the comfortableness of the garage and it brought back so many memories.

He would clear out the car and truck from the garage on sunny and rainy days, alike, so that we could roller skate or bike ride on the concrete. We would turn on the little radio that he had sitting at his work table, tuned to 98.7 WMZQ. We would dance and sing along to the music, while my Nana and Granddaddy watched us and laughed. Most of the time Granddaddy was working on a project or something in his work area and never failed to ask me who I was thinking about, when a love song came on the radio :)

The familiar scents of the garage brought back memories too. The scent is a mixture of woodchips, motor oil and depending on the time of year you can smell wood smoke from the furnace he uses to keep it warm. Hanging around various points in the garage are our old bikes, roller skates, sleds, and past science projects that belong to my cousin. The garage just screams pieces of my life.

Even the chair I sat on is part of it. Its a tall stool that has steps underneath that you can pull out for either a footrest or ladder, depending on how you are using it. Its all metal and I was surprised to find only a little rust on it. The stool used to be in the kitchen in my Nana's house, ironically, right next to the radio. We would sit on the stool, while listening to music, and help Nana bake her famous chocolate chip cookies. When my sister's were small they would stand on the stool and help with the baking.

I realized that so much of my past is wrapped in a neat little package called Nana and Granddaddy's farm. We spent alot of our childhood there. We loved sleeping over because my uncle would make us milkshakes by hand. (It was the only time we knew he liked us, lol, otherwise he was always affectionately calling us "bad kids").

When we spent the night, I would sleep in my uncle's old room and my sister's would sleep in Nana's room. She had two double beds and then put a cot in the middle of them, so Julie would have someplace to sleep. When it came time for bed, she would scoot Jody and Julie into bed and kiss me goodnight before joining them.

When the house was quiet, I would gently take the headphones off the old receiver and plug it in, turning it on (careful not to let it make too much of a popping sound in the old speakers). I would tune it to my favorite radio station at the time and listen to music on the floor until I got too tired and then laid back in bed. Most of the time, my Nana would wake me up by taking the headphones off in the late morning.

I just loved those snippets of my childhood. The garage has new cars in it. The work area has now kind of been taken over by my cousin and his projects and the radio is tuned to classic rock instead of country; but never was there a time when I felt more safe, comforted and loved. We still make cookies with Nana and dance to the music on the radio. It seemed so fitting that Jman and I stay with my Nana, while my dad was sick; because I knew that I would be ok there, and I was right!

The Pedestal

For some reason, I've been thinking about the past a lot lately. I'm sure we all have some things that we would change if we could. Maybe its saying what was left unsaid, or reconfiguring a course of events, or maybe taking back something that you said that was hurtful. In my case, I've realized that I've placed a select number of people in my life up on a pedestal. Nothing but pain can come from that.

I'm thinking specifically of a guy that, for all intents and purposes, used to be my world. From the time I was eight years old (to his 15) I thought he hung the moon. He is one of the four men in my life that I believe had a direct hand into making me who I am today. For years after our first meeting, I thought about him - not really knowing much more about him other then the week we had together at a vacation bible school.

It wasn't until I was 15 that we got back in touch. He came back into my life at a time when I was dating someone that really wasn't good for me. He wanted to protect me and I think it was a huge ego boost for him, when I pulled out the lone picture I had of us together, when I was eight. From that point on, we were almost inseparably close. He was there for my sweet 16, I was there when he joined the Marines, and ultimately he was the first one I called when I had the news that I was engaged. I didn't even have to tell him - he knew.

The problem was, I spent YEARS praying and hoping and wishing that someday he would see me as more then that little eight year old girl. Myself, along with his grandmother, were the two people that he could count on receiving mail from when he was stationed elsewhere, nearly every week. Ugh! The novels I would write to him - I think I would be embarrassed to read them now - but I always tried to be so encouraging of him. I even told him, when I was 18, how I felt about him; but nothing ever changed on his end.

My place in his life seemed to be that of the cheerleader and admirer. It wasn't until last year, when I tried to contact him via snail mail, that I realized that I was probably just a blip on his life radar. See, the thing is, he never responded. We were close for over 10 years and he couldn't even acknowledge my letter. I felt like someone punched me in my gut. I wasn't so naive that I thought we could pick up where we left off in our friendship; but I did expect him to have the courtesy to let me know that he received my letter in some way.

I knew he was married - I am too. I wasn't looking for a romantic connection. I have a son, I have no idea if he has children or not; but I hope he does - he would make a great father. What I wanted was that connection to my past. It was something I desperately needed when my father passed away. I needed to connect to the people that I felt knew the real me and loved me anyway. Who knows, maybe I hurt him along the way, not realizing it. Maybe his wife is the jealous sort. I really don't know; but I can tell you that I felt the strongest sense of rejection that I think I've ever felt in my life.

This is what I mean by The Pedestal. There are people in our life, that knowingly or not, we give power over our emotions to. When they do not react how we thought they would or when they don't react at all, it hurts us. We hold them in such high esteem, that when they actually do fall short of our expectations, we don't know what to do with that information. The lesson I learned is that he is human. It really put things in perspective for me.

I've learned over the last 3 years, going through the pain of watching my father deal with his cancer, and later burying the only man in my life that still held my hand; there really are people who are in your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I found out who my true friends were during that stressful time and its something that I will never take for granted. It was eye-opening though, to find out how few friends I had. I think that is how life is though. When we are in high school we surround ourselves with groups to belong to. As we get older, some of those people might drift away and new people might come into your life.

My father always said that if I had one true friend, I was blessed. Well I now realize how true that really is and I'm all the more thankful that I have more then one true friend. I don't have to rely on the past, I have all I need in the here and now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

37 Days: Intensity: Say Yes

In Patti Digh's book 37 Days, she encourages us to live life more aware, remember the little things, keep your heart open. The first step being Intensity - Say Yes. She writes, "It is Stuff that keeps us from participating fully, from saying yes." We get too bogged down in the details - the what ifs, the stuff that clutters our life to the point of suffocation sometimes.

She encourages us to live more freely - without judgement of ourselves or others. "We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance." - Japanese Proverb We need to "practice being curious, not judgemental."

This got me thinking. I'm a pretty eclectic person. I don't find judging others to be a pleasant or enriching activity, so I don't do it often (and I don't want to do it at all - but sometimes it happens). I'm sure that alot of people, who don't know me, might judge me for wearing my pajamas (comfy pants and sometimes my ladybug slippers) to the grocery store. Some people might judge me because I don't feel the need to wear makeup 24/7 (if I wear it at all its usually for a special occasion - so watch for it :).)

For instance, I just recently bought the new New Kids on The Block CD. I loves it! My son and I have listened to it for the last few days, dancing in our car - dancing around the house. It makes me smile. When I told my youngest sister that I bought it and I was rocking out to it, her response was, "Haha, You would." For whatever reason, that response made me smile and laugh. It made me happy to know that my sillyness and quirks are recognized and appreciated and yes, even laughed at.

There is a saying, "You laugh because I'm different. I laugh because you are all the same." That pretty much sums up my thoughts about it. I take pride in being different. I take pride in the fact that I really don't care what other's think of my preferences and quirks. Take me or leave me; but I am who I am. Those that understand and appreciate that are rewarded with a caring, loving and compassionate friend.

Another part of saying yes is finding wonder and happiness in the oddest of places. Digh calls this "Carry a Small Grape". I have my own version of a small grape. January of this year I was finally able to meet, in person, a wonderful woman who I'd built an online friendship with for about a year and a half. I'll call her Eeyore :) (I would call her Grumpy, another one of her favorites, but deep down I know she is just a flower ready to bloom). Anyway, I met her at the hotel she was staying at in Richmond, VA. I was going to be her date for her office Holiday party.

Seeing her for the first time and that first hug, was like I'd known this woman all my life. It wasn't awkward at all. We got signed in and went up to our room. We had been exchanging gifts for each other and the kids for a while at this point, but she had some leftover gifts for me. She ended up giving me a few books, a ladybug bag (loved it!), and some trinkets.

One of those trinkets was a small round pewter-looking disc. On one side was a red heart. On the other side the words "Thinking of You". Of all the gifts she gave me - that one touched me the most. I still carry it with me everywhere. When I'm sad - I just look at it and know that at any given time, at least one person is thinking of me and it makes me feel better.

The night couldn't have ended any better - we came back to the room, got into our comfy jammies, glasses on and read in bed. We were like two women 3x our actual age; but it was comfortable. There weren't any need for words. We were doing what we'd always talked about doing all those months before that would make us happy. Just being near each other - reading our books. I couldn't have imagined a better end to the perfect first face-to-face meeting.

Another facet of saying yes is that life is too short to always be safe. After all "the death rate for people who play it safe and for the people who live boldly is the same: 100 percent." How true is that?! That one line said it all. We sometimes, as a culture, are so worried about the next thing, that we can't enjoy the here and now. We shouldn't just be living life - we should be making choices that make the journey memorable. We get so wrapped up in successes or the lack thereof, that we forget to celebrate the little things.

When my son was born, we used to have monthly birthday parties for him. I think at times my husband felt it was a bit excessive; but this was my first child (who knows maybe my only child). I wanted to celebrate the little achievements. As parents, sometimes I think we like to highlight a job well done only when its done to perfection. What about when your child is struggling. Can we not celebrate their tenacity to learn and master something that may not come as easy to them as others?

Saying yes also means that we take back control of our happiness. Many times we put our happiness in the hands of others - "we give up our power to the very people that took it from us in the first place." Why do we do this? I know this is more common then any of us care to admit, but why or rather how do we get to that point? Ghandi said, "Nobody can hurt you without your permission." If we stop giving away our power, if we stop giving others license to hurt us - it will stop happening and we will become more empowered. Who knows what we could achieve then!

As children, we don't have the knowledge of the world that makes us feel like we are limited. Children feel they can do anything - and they can. Why is this taken from us as adults? We somehow learn to downplay our strengths, even if they aren't perfected. What we have to realize is we are perfect, whether its by the world's standards or not, simply because we are individuals.

So far this book has given me a lot to think about. Its also prompted me to start a project I've wanted to start since my son was born, which has resulted in my other blog under my profile called "Letters to my Son". From here on out, any entry tagged "37 days" will address my thoughts on what I've read along with excerpts from the book itself.

My diary is called "Constantly Evolving" for a reason - I never want to be static or stagnant in my life. I always want to be learning and growing and evolving into the best person I can be. Life isn't a destination, after all - its a journey!

My first glimpse of Love

My father loved my mother. He had not had great relationships up to the point of meeting my mother, but my Elvis-look-alike father met my hot momma and they got married. They had my two sisters and I and I won't lie and say everyday was perfect - but I remember more of the good then the bad (though they both shaped who I am today). My father always thought of my mother first. If she was not feeling well - he would make sure that we knew so that we could let her rest. Sometimes he would make dinner (watered down spaghetti) so that mom didn't have to make dinner when she got home from work.

Sometimes, when he was feeling silly, he would smack her butt or hug and kiss her in the kitchen. One of my more humorous memories of my mom and dad is when we were living in the duplex in Columbia. My dad was tickling my mother on the bed and she was screaming and laughing. She begged him to stop and he didn't listen - so she scratched his hand - HARD! From that day on, he had about and inch and a half scar on his left hand. He would go on and on about how mom attacked him and that was his battle scar. They were able to be silly.

Sure they had their more unhappy moments - who doesn't, but even after getting through nearly 33 years of marriage - mom was still his first priority. He always made their anniversary special - even moreso, once most of us were out of the house. On their 30th anniversary I believe, they finally took out their cake topper - my dad even tasted the old thing. His marriage to my mom is what made him happy.

He taught me the importance of family. He taught me that if I only had one good friend, I was blessed. He made sure we had memories that we could share with our children. He held our hand, even as teenagers and we didn't want to be seen holding our dad's hand. When my father loved - he did so intensely. We are alike in that way.

I know that at times it can be extremely lonely without dad, but if we would only just take a minute to think back to the good times - the good lessons he taught us - I think our hearts would feel a little warmer and the ache wouldn't be as pronounced. Mom, dad loves you very much and even if he can't physically be here, I still feel him around us. He lives in each one of his daughters - and even moreso at times in his grandson.

Monday, October 27, 2008

View Dad's Memorial Page

One really unique and wonderful thing that the funeral home did for our family was create a video memory of our father for us. I watched it numerous times a day those first few months. Now I watch it every other day, and most times can get through it without crying. Let me know what you think.

End of Traditions?

I can't believe its been over a month since I posted here. I've felt like a chicken with its head cut off - not really sure what direction I'm going, or where I'm trying to get to. I've been concerned about my youngest sister and my mom. Sometimes I forget to think about me. A couple things have hit me the wrong way lately and I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with it.

I suggested to my Nana the other day, that we should go to one of our favorite resturaunts before her knee replacement surgery. I asked her if she would want to go to Cozy's. She said "No, it was too far to go now." Then my other sister whispered, "I don't think we've been there since dad passed away. Have we?" The whole thing just made me want to scream. Its as if the traditions we've had for the last 30 years have now been thrown out the window, or we now feel like we need to talk in hushed tones about dad and the things that remind us of him. Who cares if we haven't been since dad passed? Why should that stop us from going now? He wouldn't have wanted us to just stop everything that we've always done, since many of those traditions he helped create.

We also haven't set foot in Lancaster, PA in a few years - namely, Willow Valley. I asked last year if we could go as a family - no one seemed to be on board. We have spent every summer there for the last 25+ years. Why should that change because it would remind us of dad? Isn't that a good thing?! I guess I'm falling prey to the "oldest mentality" that my father and I both seemed to share. We want to keep things together - keep family close - create memories together - carry on traditions. Yet, no one seems ready or able to get on board with me. Its just frustrating and sad to me.

I know we all grieve our own ways. There is no time limit on grief; but I know for a fact that dad would NOT have wanted us to feel like we couldn't be happy anymore. He would want us to do the things we've always done as a family - and remember him! I feel like, sometimes, we are just supposed to forget. No one seems to want to share good times, good memories - everything is hush, hush. He wasn't part of the mob - he didn't die under mysterious or shameful circumstances. He had cancer. He fought hard; but this time we all lost.

I am so tired of feeling like my family feels like they are ashamed of their grief. My family, as a whole, are not big talkers; but I think that is exactly what we need in order to get through these awful times with our sanity somewhat intact. We are not all fragile pieces of china. We shouldn't be afraid to talk about things - for fear of someone not being able to handle it. If they can't handle it, they can voice it; but that doesn't mean that others can't discuss things. I feel like my mom is very sad, maybe even feeling alone and I don't really know how or if she would want me to help. Mom is a fairly private person, and I can appreciate that, but we are family. We should be able to call each other and say, "you know what, this really sucks! I'm pretty angry!" Or whatever he/she wants to say about it. There are no censors here! There shouldn't be anyway.

I don't know - it just hurts and it hits me at more odd times then others. The final straw was this afternoon. I looked inside the trunk of my car, that had been at my mom's for months. I was going to take some things to goodwill and thought I might have had some things in the trunk ready to take before. When I opened it, I saw bags, labeled - all dad's things. I wanted to scream. Not because I felt mom shouldn't have cleaned out her closet; but more because I didn't want to give away these things. I just shut the trunk - I will go through bags this week and pull out things I want to keep. I hope some of them still smell like him.

The feeling was similar to what I felt when mom finally was able to disconnect dad's cellphone. I had been calling my dad's phone nearly every other day, just to hear his voice. One day I called it and got a recording about the phone number being disconnected. I cursed, I screamed, I cried. I just wanted him back. In my memory, I can still hear the goofy message he left me on my birthday the year before he passed. He sang 'Happy Birthday' and told me he loved me and was proud of me. A couple years before that, on Valentine's Day, he came to my work and brought me a dozen red roses.

Why...I don't think I will ever understand why he isn't still here; but I will be damned if I stop talking about him. Remembering him. Loving him and wanting to keep the traditions going.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Music from The Last Year

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77ge-e-7P_I BarlowGirl "Never Alone"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTpLD6pzNGo Jodee Messina "You Were Just Here"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bo2nJr7JHsI Casting Crowns "Praise You In This Storm"