Thursday, July 31, 2008

Summer Bounty

Sometimes I forget to be thankful for all that I have and just notice what’s missing. When it irritates my husband and he complains about my ungratefulness, my answer is that you don’t make a list of what you have in the fridge, just what’s all gone or needs replacing. I don’t know that that makes him feel any better about my seemingly constant assessments and lists of needs, most of which involve some labor on his part, but that’s just the way I tend to see the situation.

Today, I’m going to try to just look at what’s in the fridge not what’s missing.

We have enough chocolate milk to keep Walker and the grandkids happy and plenty of tomatoes from the small garden in the back yard because the critters have been eating my plants instead of tomatoes this year. We have lots of corn in the freezer, and the mess of preparing it is all over for the season; ditto butterpeas. Note to self…we are out of lettuce, so no BLT’s today. We have assorted leftovers instead!

I have a date with a friend for dinner tonight, so the boys are on their own with those leftovers. Thank goodness, they never complain.

We got some better news on Geoffery today. He began the regimen of oral chemo and seems to be tolerating it well so far. He is described as just seeming better and more like himself. We can all thank God for the medical advances that makes this treatment possible. I just love it when morning brings good news.

Little John and I played a few computer games this morning, making him less unhappy about being babysat as a result. I’m glad I’m savvy enough not to let a five year old beat me too badly at Luigi and Cube Crasher.

We will probably get a little rain in the next twenty four hours, and my plants will be happier.

Somehow, that miserable cold has cleared up at long last, and it took my achy knees with it.

I hope I remember to appreciate what I have and focus less on what’s missing today.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

I was on the phone with Sarah this morning when she commented that she thought they were having an earthquake. I could hear a lot of noise in the background that sounded like a panic to me, but she reassured me that it was just a conversation at an adjacent table in the small restaurant in her neighborhood. During the twenty or thirty seconds or so that I was on the phone with her during this event, I realized how helpless I would be if she were caught in the midst of rubble three thousand miles away.

She and Ned are just fine, and I went on about some errands, but arrived home to a phone call from his mom. She wanted to know whether I knew their status as she had been watching the news coverage and couldn’t get them on the phone. By the time I returned her call, she too was less concerned.

We all wish we could protect our loved ones from whatever harm might come their way. I can’t tell you the number of nights I lay waiting for the sound that the last one of my children had come home safely. I know from experience that natural events and accidents can put any of us in danger at a moment’s notice.

With Walker, my concerns are mainly about the parking lot where he spends much of his day, gathering baskets. He has that confidence that young people have that nothing can happen to him, so he’s not as wary as I wish he were.

After a young teacher in Memphis was struck by lightning in her school parking lot several years ago, I gave Walker a talking to about not going outside in thunderstorms. The issue only presents itself a few times a year, but I wonder whether his bosses would pay attention to a young man with limited intelligence about the dangers presented by lightning. Would Walker be assertive enough to speak up if they told him to go outside? I just don’t know.

I hope that all those we love are safe and well tonight. I know Walker is, he’s sitting on the couch waiting for his dinner, just like his dad.


Monday, July 28, 2008

TIes That Bind 2

The last couple of days have been truly weird. That’s the only word for it. My husband and I have both been recuperating from a particularly nasty summer cold. It’s is miserably hot outside, and yet when you’re sick the super chilled air inside feels wrong too. We basically decided to just give in to the job of getting over it, and did as little as possible. I never put a bra on for a couple of days…what a slothful indulgence.

Saturday, I kind of got a spurt of energy and decided to resume my never ending, but never successful, fight against clutter. As I sorted through the piles of books around the house, several titles on home organization included, I ran across an obviously unused copy of a little book I had given my mother when her first great-grandchild was born. You’ve probably seen these “fill in the blanks about your life” books for grandparents. To cut my mother some slack, I never got mine filled out either.

Then I discovered the envelope. On it was handwriting that was clearly my Mama and Daddy’s. It was a list of Daddy’s lineage. This gold mine of information led Walker and me to the site which he had begun several years ago, and the information that had survived one of many computer crashes.

Unlike my family, there was a lot of information going back many, many generations in Walker’s family. I think someone had done the research in order to get into the DAR. I had a bit of information about my mother’s side, but nothing other than my paternal grandparents names until Saturday. The little envelope opened a whole new world of information for me. As Walker and I sorted through census reports and discovered an obituary online for my great granddaddy Pat, I got more and more excited. Eventually, the search led me back to the 1400’s in England, although those relationships are pretty remote.

I remember only a couple of visits to Daddy Pat before he died when I was about eight years old. He was an elfish little man, wiry and bright eyed with only a cot in a one room shack with an outhouse, which definitely grossed this city child out. He had a fiddle that fascinated me, although I don’t remember any song he played. He was a coal miner, and most certainly died of black lung disease.

I learned this weekend that my grandparents, though dirt poor, knew how to read and write back several generations. I found out how many months Daddy Pat was laid off from the coal mine. I already knew from a cousin of mine that the reason he was laid off was his resistance to organized labor unions. As Cousin Joe told it, “They lak to starved to death!”

Like my granddaddy, I’m not much for organized anything. I’m sure that the right research might entitle me to membership in the DAR, but that’s definitely not my cup of tea. Actually, I prefer my tea iced, and in my own house.

I hope to flesh out my vague memories of my ancestors and hope my children and grandchildren will find them interesting, because I feel strongly that they influence who we are today. I hope that I persevere as successfully as those people who had only a fraction of the privileges I possess.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ties That Bind

Unless you are part of a close big family, it’s hard to imagine how the illness of a cousin could be quite so significant. Yesterday Molly and her family stopped in Birmingham on their way to Florida and visited with Geoffery and his family. This was different from the huge family reunion visits every couple of years. This was one little boy and his family reaching out to another to help.

Imagine how pleased I was to read the comment on Geoffrey’s Caring Bridge Journal today and share in Nancy’s pleasure at Robert and Geoffrey getting to know each other in a whole new way.

Sometimes when I’m feeling especially mystical I think about all the seemingly random connections that have bound us together with others. Sometimes it’s an old classmate of one of the girls that has a child born with a birth defect or perhaps a grandmother that knew me back in the day that has just received the news that her grandchild has Down Syndrome. Our connection with Steffen and the mentally ill would have never happened had Walker not met Steffen on the bus in Collierville.

The summer that Steffen ended up in the county jail might have ended differently if he had called someone else seeking help. We had the time and expertise and resources to rescue him from a system that had failed him. The great idea of civil rights and freedom for the mentally ill sounds good in theory, but failure to fund the idea and provide them with the services they needed to live outside of institutions just wasn’t working.

Jail is no place for a nineteen year old boy whose only crime seemed to be not getting along with his mother. I managed to get him a spot in a severely overstressed system, and he got good training in independent living skills and a case manager.

Geoffery having a cousin who exemplifies surviving and thriving with “liver problems” is probably important to him and his family. Geoffery has hope that after his problems are cured he can be a regular kid again, perhaps an even stronger kid than before.

I hope Geoffery is less afraid after his visit from Robert. I hope we are always part of a large web of family and friends tied together by love and caring.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Morning Has Broken

I read an interesting non-fiction book last year called “How the Irish Saved Civilization” by Frank Cahill. I learned a lot of things about Ireland and the Celts that helped me understand myself and my own Christianity better. According to Cahill, after the fall of the Roman Empire, some learned men slipped into Ireland to escape persecution and brought with them some of the scriptures. They didn't force their beliefs on the Celts, who were considered pagans, but simply lived an exemplary life that inspired the Celts to want to be more like them. Cahill says that Ireland was the only country converted to Christianity without violence.

Ever since my favorite dog, Lilly, died, I’ve had a small Celtic cross in my little garden and enjoy catching my breath among the flowers… and lately the weeds too. Celtic crosses differ from Roman crosses in that there is a circle in the center of the cross. From what I understand this was introduced in order to convert the Celts who were “sun worshipers” to Christianity.

While I don’t worship the sun, I do get a thrill from the simple fact that it is there every single day. Even during the worst months of winter, the sun is there somewhere just waiting to brighten my day. There is a bit of the Celt in me.

When you have a sick child, or maybe even if you don’t, there is a tendency to think that today will be the day. The day your child takes a few bites of real food or asks for his video games. The day the doctors will stop by your room with some better news. If you’re jobless, it helps to look forward to something better today than yesterday. If you’re caring for an elderly parent, you might hope that today their mood won’t be quite so bad. In each new day, there’s always something to hope for.

Although I never really was a fan of Oral Roberts through the years, occasionally my TV would be tuned to the station carrying his program. Every time I heard the opening notes of “Something Good is Going to Happen to You”, I would freeze and watch for the duration of that lovely affirmation. It became a part of my core beliefs, and I think it's that excitement that gets me out of bed every day.

Today, I looked up another hymn that was rattling around in my head, “Morning Has Broken”. I discovered from my handy dandy Wikipedia that it was written by Cat Stephens, again, not someone I really follow. After surfing around a little more, I found a couple of lovely rendition on YouTube. I just love computer magic! Perhaps you’d like to take a few minutes to listen to it. or (In my typically indecisive mode, I couldn't decide which version to include, so put both.)

I hope I’ll remember to stop and enjoy the morning and be thankful for it every day for as long as I live. I hope that today will bring something good and that I recognize it.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

God and Santa

I’ve been talking about the Santa Claus God for years, but was surprised when the wonderful piece by Tony Snow about facing terminal cancer used the same phrase. I thought I made it up! Goes to show that there is some sort of universal “thing” that is more than six degrees of separation away helping us to figure out the things that happen in our lives and to accept the ones we can't figure out.

When my kids were small, especially the younger ones. I was a pretty inept Santa. I left packages they could peek into, and Sarah wasn't much over three when she called me out. "You buy us all that stuff Santa brings us, don't you."

We kept up the pretense, as most families in the United States do, but it never was quite the same again. Reality had taken away the magical part, and it was up to real humans to find special gifts of love.

When I was little, my prayers to God and Santa were offered in the same breath. Please, please, please bring/give me.... I'm sure Mama reminded us to be thankful, and the only spiritual lesson I ever got from my daddy was that I shouldn't eat a meal without saying Grace. I learned a lot of prayers in Confirmation class, and could identify Prayers of Petition and Prayers of Contrition, and Prayers of Thanksgiving when I saw them. That was pretty much the extent of my prayer life until Walker was born.

It's sometimes difficult to get past the childish images we have of God, especially when something bad happens in life that we can’t understand at all. I’m talking about the really big things that you just know you didn’t deserve.

Of course, none of us are good enough, or bad enough, to deserve the life we get. The idea of God having a list and checking it twice to see who was worthy of His Grace is replaced for most Christians by the idea that Christ died for us. Some other cultures and religions have a more basic philosophy which you hear voiced often today, "What is, is." I have come to believe that whatever we believe that makes the bad times easier must be sent from God.

Soon after Walker was born, I attended a kind of ecumenical revival meeting called “Faith Alive.” The guy who led the group encouraged us to pray for what we really want, and said that if we had “faith” God would give it to us. He had prayed to be rich and successful, and he was.

I went home that night and put my faith in God on the shelf for a long time. I was no good at faith.

I read books that I thought might help me understand, but really didn’t. I had visits with a couple of priests that maybe helped me understand a bit better, but not really. I knew that I couldn't pray enough to fix my little baby, and that's definitely what I really wanted. I didn't need for anyone to tell me that sometimes God's answer is no. All the information I had read on Down Syndrome told me that.

I didn’t realize it when it happened, but gradually, a new image of God’s Grace became a part of me. It was hand delivered through the all the people who worked with Walker, and especially through our friends and family who showed their concern by simply being there with us. It shone forth in his first smile and in the love his sisters showed to him. It comes when he progresses to a new level of achievement in his speech and when I see him through the window of the store, diligently sacking groceries without complaint.

I know that I’ve never been good enough to get enough gold stars to deserve all the great gifts God has bestowed on me,or have I been evil enough to earn the heartaches that have come my way. Through all the good and bad, though, God has been with me through loved ones.

I hope I’ll show God’s Grace to someone today. I hope I’ll not blame God for the bad things and will remember that He brings all good gifts, even if they aren’t in the packaging we expect.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Deal With the Devil

As some of you know, my second daughter, Katie, had a long and successful career as a ballerina before she retired to be a mom and teach Pilates. Katie’s experience as a dancer led us along paths I could have never imagined, including introducing me to some of the famous “story ballets” that I’d never even heard of. I remember one story being “The Red Shoes”. Loosely interpreted, a poor young girl longed for a pair of ballet slippers she saw in a store window. She made a deal with the devil to get them, but unknown to her, the Devil’s deal included a clinker. The shoes were bewitched. When she put them on, she not only became a beautiful ballerina, but they so drove her to dance herself to death.

During the process of Robert’s liver failure and subsequent transplant, many people came forth wanting to volunteer to be the donor. The most unlikely, however, was my mother who was over eighty years old. I called her several times a day and passed on news of Robert’s increasingly dire situation and kept her up to date on the search for a donor. During one of these calls, she proposed with a solution. “Let me do it. I’ve lived a good life. I’m ready to go.”

In the self-righteous way that only daughters can talk to their mothers, I put her idea in the trash bin. “Mama, don’t be ridiculous. Even I’m too old. They only want young, healthy donors.” Mama didn’t say much more, but went back to doing the only thing any of us could do at the time, worry and pray. She was pretty good at both.

As the story goes, John emerged as the donor, and Robert’s life was saved on September 27th.

Mama came for Thanksgiving that year, and what a Thanksgiving there was. All the families and extended families of John and Robert gathered together. Mama didn’t feel all that well for much of the visit, though. By Christmas, she was too ill to join my brother and his family for Christmas dinner. By New Years, Mama had been diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. Her liver was eaten up with it.

With the grace that true believers seem to possess, she recuperated from the bowel resection and awaited her death with amazing good cheer, at least when we were around. My brother and his wife lived in Montgomery and had been at her beck and call for years, but my sister and I both lived far away. If it hadn’t been for her “other daughter”, Eleanor, who spent every night with her that one of us couldn’t be there, I don’t know what we would have done during her seven week illness.

On one of my visits home during those last few weeks we talked about where she wanted to pass her last days. Mama decided that she thought she’d probably want to die at the hospital, like Daddy did. I know that in the back of her mind, she was weighing our obligations at home, and knew that would be easier on us if she were in a care facility.

Before her first visit to the oncologist, she had already told me that she had no intention of undergoing any extreme treatments. As he examined her, the doctor found that her continuing weakness following the surgery was caused by blood clots in her lungs and admitted her to the hospital immediately. I’ll have to confess that I was relieved to see Mama happily set up in a place that could care for her so I could go home without feeling so guilty about not staying with her full time. Eleanor took better care of her than I did, anyway.

During this time a planned visit to my youngest daughter in California had already been postponed twice, but a trip with Robert and his family to celebrate his recovery was finally scheduled. We all needed a little Disneyland at that point.

My family, especially Mama, convinced me that I really should go ahead and go, and her doctor assured me that she was in absolutely no imminent danger. Then, I did something that it’s really difficult for oldest children to do. I ran away for a little fun.

We had booked rooms on the premesis, and Molly had planned our itinerary. Unfortunately, the plans hadn't included a rain plan, and we all slogged around in the most miserable weather that California has to offer in February. It wasn't nearly as much fun as I had thought it might be. It was cold and wet and miserable. We had been at Anaheim less than twenty four hours when I got the call from my brother. Mama was failing fast.

The only prospect of my getting out of LA that night was going standby on a flight at midnight and I just didn’t have it in me to do it. When I called back to tell them of my plan to wait till morning when there was a guaranteed seat available my sister took the phone. She told me that if I wasn’t going to make it, I had to talk to Mama and give her permission to die or she would linger awaiting my arrival. (I’ll have to say that I’ve often wondered if she might still be alive had I declined to do that…But my sister was there, and I was not, so I gave Mama my permission.)

“It’s all going to be fine,” she comforted me. I’m ready to go be with Mother and Daddy and your Daddy…I hope he’ll take me back, he was pretty annoyed with me just before he died.”

Mama’s vision of Daddy and Mamo and Popo awaiting her with open arms, and Daddy still holding a grudge, was absolutely clear. She wasn’t afraid at all except of Daddy' gruff temprament. So Mama went to heaven, and Robert is still with us. I often wonder just what kind of a deal she had to make, and with whom, but I really know the answer to that one.

A couple of weeks after she died, I was driving Little Walker to work on a yukky, dreary day, when the sun broke through lining the clouds with gold. “Mom, look! I saw Nana…right up there!”

I hope I’ll have as clear a vision of heaven as my mother and Walker when my time comes. I’m eternally grateful for the deal Mama made, even though I feel her loss every day. I know she’ll be waiting for me, perhaps with a homecooked meal, if I ever make it that far. Now that’s my idea of heaven.


Miscellaneous Sharing

I'm not feeling remotely creative or clever today, but wanted to touch base.

For those of you who are interested in little Geoffrey's progress, or want to leave a word of encouragement for him, there is now a Caringbridge web page. He does not know his diagnosis, yet, so just encouraging words and prayers, please.

Another link arrived on my desk recently that you might like to read. I've received it several times, but don't do forwards, so I found a nice link to it. It was written by Tony Snow not long after his cancer recurred. It's a wonderfully written word of faith and hope in the light of disappointment.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

No Fair!

I don’t think anyone makes it past nursery school without somehow learning that phrase. I've heard it at least three times today from my grandchildren. We use it for all kinds of injustices, big and small. Somehow it crosses all cultures and religions, and becomes one of the great mysteries...or at least it does to me.

How can a house of decent people be blown away by a tornado that left the clothes hanging on the line a few feet away at the home of their neighbors who are definitely not model citizens? How can those who give their life to benefit others find out that their own lives will be cut short? How can someone who pillages the hard earnings of innocent victims lead a long and comfortable life? How can terrible parents end up with a house full of children, while the ones who would have much more love to give end up childless?

My struggle with these questions came to a great crechendo when Walker was born. In the support group for Early Intervention “Why me?” was a subject of much discussion. There was a girl who belonged to a religious group that forbade women to cut their hair. Some of her older relatives surmised that she was born with a “dee-formed” child because she wore her hair short. The rest of us questioned our diets, our ages, our vitamins, but none of us seemed to have much in common in our history. I wondered if God thought I was being greedy for wanting a third child when I already had two beautiful little girls.

Somehow, most of the Bible verses I seemed to remember back then had to do with doing right and being rewarded, or being so evil that God sent some flood or pestilence to punish. Most of us in the group could think of some transgressions in our past, but none of us had ever done much of anything even remotely approaching criminal. Well, perhaps my taking my mother’s car on a joy ride at fourteen was criminal, but I got it back home in one piece with my little brother safely in the front seat beside me.

In the Fall of 1975, though, my whole concept of God’s being fair was blown to smithereens.

The news today that our beautiful little cousin, Geoffery, and his family will be forced to fight mightily to keep what they so deserve only adds to the mystery. I can’t imagine more loving, caring parents than Geoffery’s. There may be more loving aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents than his, but I can’t imagine that either. If ever any family did things right, this one did.

I hope I’ll someday come to a peace with what I can’t understand. Today just isn’t that day.



This will be very brief, because I have three of my grandsons visiting for the weekend while their mom and dad catch a much needed breather with grown up friends.

The news on Geoffrey is not quite as positive as most of us had hoped. The tumor in his liver is malignant. While he was asleep yesterday, the docs performed several procedures. In addition to the biopsy, a port was inserted so that chemotherapy might begin soon. We don't yet have information on the type of tumor he is fighting, but I know he will be a fighter. It runs in the family. Please continue your prayers for Geoffrey and for his family, especially Chris and Nancy.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Are You Saved?

I had intended this to be a celebratory message announcing that Robert had won two gold medals at the Transplant Games…which he did, and we are so proud of him!

Robert is a perfect example of the miracles of modern medicine and old fashioned prayer and the generosity of his uncle, John. As we approach the eighth anniversary of his liver transplant, he is literally a poster child for organ donation. (His picture was on a huge billboard for months!) He has been invited to throw out the first pitch at the Memphis Redbird’s game on Tuesday night, and we will all be going to cheer him on.

Our joy is tempered by the news yesterday that one of our cousins, Geoffrey, age nine, is in the hospital with liver problems. He will undergo a liver biopsy tomorrow morning.

Geoffrey is the only child of wonderful parents, just as Robert was when his liver failed. He has loving grandparents and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins scattered all over the United States. Many will gather to volunteer as donors should he need a transplant.

I can’t help but recall those days when we first knew that Robert was ill and unlikely to improve without a new liver. Since he was only four, the requirements for a cadaver donor limited the available possibilities seriously. There were nearly twenty volunteers, some of them mere acquaintances of the family.

On the afternoon of the meeting to select a living donor for Robert, there were so many of us that the hospital opened a second waiting area, and the people remaining in ours were mostly our family and close friends all anxiously awaiting the announcement of who the donor would be. As I squirmed on the straight back plastic chairs I chatted a bit with Katie’s mother-in-law. My attention span was all over the place, listening in on several conversations at once, hoping someone had some information from the meeting. When I looked back to John’s mother, she was crying. John, had been chosen to be Robert’s donor from among all the volunteers. None of the volunteers were blood relatives, because those of us with the right type blood were too old or infirm to qualify, and Katie was pregnant. Robert’s parents were not a match. John was “it”.

I don’t know who I thought might be brave enough to donate a portion of their liver after hearing the doctor’s presentation of the risks involved. John had told us he was going to volunteer, but with a wife in her seventh month of her first pregnancy, I didn’t really consider the possibility of John being the donor. I was stunned, but not nearly as stunned as his family must have been. His mother was about to witness her son offering up his life to save that of my grandchild. She and Katie and his dad would nurse him through the difficult recovery.

Until John started dating Katie, we hadn't seen him for almost a decade after high school. He was a Mel Gibson look-alike, fun-loving, athletic, and socially adept. Religious? Not so much. During their engagement, John kept us all in stitches citing some of the biblical attitudes he picked up on in pre-marital counseling. He loved the verses about wives obeying husbands, and teased Katie about following that particular part of The Bible. She was not amused. We had never discussed any other particulars of John’s faith, but I kind of assumed that, like John, his faith might not fit the usual mold.

When Molly was about eight, I sent her off to a Christian Camp. Now, we are Episcopalians, and definitely consider ourselves to be Christians, but to some more conservative Christians, we’re totally not in their league in the salvation department. Molly's counselor that year took her counseling duties very seriously. On one of the first nights at camp, she had her small charges get into their bunks and close their eyes in prayer. Molly, being the obedient child that she was, complied, but being the curious child that she is, when the counselor asked them to raise their hands if they were “saved”, Molly peeked.

Molly and another little girl from our church were the only ones without their hands raised. They were not saved. “Well, would you like to be,” the earnest counselor inquired. I don’t think Molly had a clue as to what they were talking about, but whatever it was, she wanted to be like the other girls in her group. She nodded, and accepted Our Lord, Jesus Christ, as her personal Lord and Savior on the top bunk of a camp in Mississippi. Apparently that experience took.

During Robert's illness, Molly exhibited a faith that was like the rock that all religions are based upon. Shortly after I totally fell apart at the prospect of losing my only grandchild, she gave me a little tile with a verse from Joshua. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified' do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 And she meant for me to obey God, and her, and be brave, so I was...kind of.

Up till that point in my life, I would have called myself more of a searcher than a believer, but I think that most of us were believers during those days when we were praying for Robert, and then for John. It seemed that we had no other choice but to believe.

But, John… I just don’t know. He was curious about religion in an intellectual kind of way, all religions,but “saved”…who knows.

I came to realize later, though, that John knew all about salvation. John knew that Robert’s life needed salvation on a blood and guts level, and he was ready to offer it to him in a heartbeat.

That night as John was being poked and prodded and tested, he was relaxed. He had a sure confidence that he was meant to do this thing. I know that Molly and her husband, the hospital staff, and surely his family had tried to get him to step back and really think about his momentous decision more carefully. John had already thought about the decision as much as he was likely to, and his mind was made up. I don’t know whether he prayed before deciding to donate a portion of his liver, because there was very little time. Robert wasn’t going to survive the night without a transplant. A cadaver liver had been located, but rejected because it was too large for the tiny body. If John matched, Robert would live. If he didn’t…the alternative was unthinkable.

John and a group of doctors of many faiths and ethnicities saved Robert’s life. I don’t know exactly how many of them were practicing Christians, probably a small minority, but that didn’t matter. They all worked together as if they knew that they were part of God’s perfect plan during that time. After the surgery, one of the doctors made the first reference I had heard from them about faith. He told us that the team had done their part, and now God must do His. He didn’t name his God or discuss with us what god we prayed to. That didn’t really matter at all at that point. We had no control, God did.

I will be praying for Geoffrey and his family tonight and I hope you will too. I know that that precious child too will be saved.



Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bump in the Night

I headed to bed early last night because I have either a cold or allergies and felt crummy.

About 9:15, I sensed that Walker was present. Since he rarely wears shoes in the house, it’s easy for him to kind of slip around unnoticed, which suits him fine. My ears detected a subtle clearing of his throat, and I asked him what was up.

This inquiry led to an hour long search for a picture he remembered my having of him and his preschool class. Preschool for Walker was from age five weeks to age five years, but he was very specific about this picture. It had pictures of the team that taught him everything he knew before going on to big school and also some of his classmates.

He named them all. There was Eddie, the huge black man who looked like he missed a good opportunity to play pro ball, and Corky who drove an old VW Beetle. We all still call them “Corky Cars” which was Walker’s name for them at age three. There was Jenny Gates who taught self-help skills and let me know when it was time for potty training, and accomplished the task, for the most part, in one week of intentional monitoring. There was Debby, oft married, but bright and enthusiastic who was the principal at Harwood Center. It was a golden time for us.

Walker could tell me the exact location the picture was taken, in a gymnasium that I barely remember. He cited the names of all those wonderful teachers. He probably could have told me the day of the week it was taken on, but I couldn’t find the picture in any of the logical places it should be. As I fretted, hoping to find it and go back to bed, I realized again not only how much Walker remembers of what has gone on in his life, practically from birth, but that he treasures those memories in a way that most folks don’t appreciate until they reach old age.

As Walker has become more confident about taking part in the family when we are all gathered together, it has become evident that his memories of his childhood exceed those of any of the rest of us. Once he begins citing details, one or the other of us will remember them too, and realize that he never errs in his memory. The same can’t be said for the rest of us.

The genetic mix up that has made Walker limited in so many ways has also blessed him and all of us in other ways. Our family memories are safe with him, in rich detail. He remembers some of the bad times, like getting off the plane, on a Monday night, returning from Mexico, and promptly throwing up. Mostly, though, he remembers the closeness he had with his sisters and the fun times when we were all together.

I hope all of us will treasure our family being close, even if it is sometimes really annoying. I hope we will take time to listen to each other’s stories and Walker’s too. I hope he continues to want to share his memories with the rest of us.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

I Beg Your Pardon

I know, he never promised me a rose garden, but I kind of have one anyway. Not one like my friend Joye’s that gets TLC on a consistent basis, but mine gets watered and fed, and cut back to provide new blooms every few weeks, and sprayed if I remember to remind Walker.

Today, the weather turned a bit cooler, although the humidity is so high that I’d almost rather have the 100° heat that we usually expect in July without the humidity. We had some help today. Our friend, Mr. Freeman who landed on our doorstep looking for work two weeks after arriving from Africa almost nine years ago, came to help Walker, my husband, not my son, who doesn’t do outdoor labor, do some heavy digging out front in preparation for replanting in August.

I headed out back to do one of my least favorite tasks, cutting back the impatience and other flowers. A few years ago, I learned from our newspaper that doing this would mean a fresh flush of flowering plants in August. It has worked for me in the past, but it really takes a leap of faith on my part to lop off the heads of plants that are looking pretty good, even if a bit bug gnawed, and trust that they'll look presentable again before too long.

I have enjoyed a few weeks off from planting and fertilizing and have just pulled a stray weed here and there for a while. If I stick with it and finish the trimming today, I can go back to that for a month or so, just keeping things tidy, or as tidy as I am capable of, and have an abundance of beauty in a few weeks.

My garden chores and some inside organizing, inspired by visiting the MOST organized house imaginable last week, serve to remind me that we can’t just sit back and enjoy what we’ve created. We have to keep working at it, or the forces of nature will end our enjoyment by destroying all our hard work. It’s the same whether it’s gardening or exercise or housekeeping or child rearing or making and maintaining friendships. Sometimes doing the hard stuff isn’t fun at all, but the rewards of even minimal effort can be great.

I am realizing more and more that the life stages I learned about in grad school are truly a birth to death proposition. I can stand back and see the people I love hitting the predictable tough spots, and as I do the same thing, I can relax, knowing that there will be smoother times ahead after the rough ones. The litle ones will go from being tyrant toddlers to civilized school children to independent adults. We older ones will face various challenges, but we'll learn to accept that change is necessary for growth.

I hope I'll get better at maintaining the things I treasure, especially my family relationships and my friendships. I hope I'll be brave when it's time to do some more lopping off.


P. S. If you happened on this blog looking for Down Syndrome or Special Needs articles, please read some previous posts. I'll resume on that track before too long.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Give Life

I went to a funeral of a friend with my oldest daughter, Molly, this morning. It was the perfect kind of funeral, a true celebration of Beverly’s life. I tend to get pretty emotional at funerals, and this was no exception. The fact that Beverly was only a couple of years older than I and left behind children and grandchildren who are my children’s contemporaries made it very real to me. Molly, of course, had Kleenex for me.

Molly and her family will leave tomorrow for the Transplant Games in Pittsburg, PA. Robert, now twelve, will compete against transplant survivors from all over the United States, perhaps the world. He is certain that he’ll bring home gold medals in tennis and swimming with the kind of cockiness that twelve year olds have when they don’t have any idea what the competition might be like. He truly is an excellent swimmer and tennis player, and I won’t be surprised to see him do really well.

Robert’s life is the gift of not only his biological parents, but also of his uncle, John, who is married to Molly’s sister, Katie. When he was four, he became really, really sick, really, really fast. He went from being a toddler with a tummy ache to a dying child on life support in less than a week. On the night before he was to receive his liver transplant, I was certain that if I left his side I might not feel his chubby little hands again till they were cold.

I walked over to the hospital where John was being prepped for surgery, just to touch base with him and let him know that we were praying for his safety. I confess, though, that my heart was still at the hospital with Robert, my first, and only, grandchild at the time. I was certainly much less certain than his mother, and John, that Robert was going to survive the surgery. That was before I got to John’s bedside.

I’ve known John since he was in grade school, a classmate of Molly’s. He was always cute, full of energy, and often in trouble, sometimes even serious trouble. Now he was married to Molly’s younger sister, Katie. I’m sure some eyebrows were raised when they became engaged, questioning the ability of this rebel to settle down and be a family man. I never really had those thoughts, though, because I knew that he loved Katie. The signs were all there. From the time they met, he drove back and forth to Louisville almost every weekend until she moved back to Memphis. He had fit into our family gatherings and brought me to tears laughing at myself and my family on many occasions.

Now, John and Katie were expecting their first baby in a matter of weeks, and John was lying on a gurney joking with the hospital staff like they were family.

The transplant doctor had told us that he selected John partly for his fit body and robust health, but more for his daring, no-big-deal attitude. John told Dr. Grewald that “the kid will never make it to an Ivy League school without my liver”, and that sealed the deal. Now we were just waiting for the results of blood tests to tell us what diseases John might have dormant in his body that could be potentially fatal to my grandson. When I mulled over his former rather wild lifestyle, I wondered whether he would be cleared.

John’s bloodwork was pristine, even if his reputation was not. He had never had ANY diseases, not even ones that Robert had had at age four. When I left John’s bedside, I went home to the first peaceful night’s sleep I’d had in a week. It was all going to be fine. He had enough vitality to share with Robert, and with all of us.

Robert’s recovery was a textbook case. He was the first child recipient of a portion of an adult living liver in Memphis, and within twenty-four hours, he was up in a rocker, albeit with many, many tubes coming out of his small body, and asking for a sip of Grammy’s iced tea.

John struggled a bit more. After emerging from a hellacious dose of sedation for the long surgery, he began bleeding, and had to undergo a similar experience all over again. Through it all, John’s parents and a very pregnant Katie were right there with him, while the rest of us reveled in the miracle of Robert’s recovery. A few weeks later, John and Katie’s precious baby girl arrived. Other than fussing a bit about some stitches working their way through, John has never seemed to be anything other than gracious and modest about this greatest gift. He is still “Peck’s Bad Boy” at times, teasing and playing with all of us, but he is the most generous person I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Robert’s confidence in his potential for winning may come from John’s liver.

I like to hope that I could be as brave as John, but in my heart, I know I would have been too terrified even to offer to undergo the surgery. I kind of secretly thanked my lucky stars that I was too old. John had been a multi-gallon blood donor for many years before he volunteered to be Robert's liver donor, and who knows how many others are out there because of his gift of life. His generosity has influenced many others to sign those driver’s licenses or donor cards in his honor.

I wish we were going to be at the games this week. The sight of a stadium full of organ recipients is unlike any other. I know Robert will honor John with a note, and perhaps a gold medal. I honor and bless him along with Robert today.



Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Bad Seed

One of the most difficult jobs in our family is running interference for Walker at work from time to time. If there is a pay problem or schedule problem or a personnel problem, I generally turn it over to his dad and his more laid back nature.

A while back, we got a call from Walker's boss that they were going to send him home because he had been rude to a customer, had called her a name. I sent Big Walker to deal with it, because I was afraid I'd get either angry or emotional if they fired him, and this sounded pretty serious. While I stayed home and worried myself sick, Walker handled the whole incident calmly, and they let Little Walker finish the work day after all, much to my relief.

By the time they got home after work, I had calmed down enough to ask the magic questions and figure out what had happened, one thing I'm much better at doing. Something just didn't add up. Walker gave up curse words many, many years ago after a mouthful of our favorite cursing remedy, a drop of Ivory Liquid on the tongue. About the worst thing he ever called anyone was when he announced that Sister Judy was a pig when he was about five years old. He might get angry, and he had even fired his boss a couple of times when he was unhappy, but cursing just wasn't in his repertoire

Even my son-in-law, John, who has initiated Walker into the kind of guy repartee that he never learned at Catholic School, had never aggravated him enough to get him to curse. He just doesn't do that. Not that he doesn't occasionally hear an expletive from his dad or me, but he knows better than to use one. Or so I thought.

Now he had called a customer a bitch. He had apologized, somewhat under duress, and wasn't going to lose his job, but I couldn't let it rest.

"Walker, could you just tell me exactly what happened today at work," I asked as he sat uncomfortably on the couch, shifting around and avoiding eye-contact.
"Well, this is really embarrassing...." Long pause.
"That's okay. You're not going to get in trouble. I just need to know what happened. Did you call a customer a name?" Another very long pause. He knew I knew.
"Well, yeah, I'm really sorry...I did...but she was really rude to me...I just can't tell you..." Tears welled up in his eyes.
"It's okay. Just tell me what you called her." Tears welled in my eyes too.
"Well...I called her a Bad Seed...She really was...She said she wanted paper instead of plastic, and I didn't hear her, and when I started loading plastic she yelled at me so I called her a Bad Seed. I promise it won't happen again. I know I might lose my job."

Now this made sense in Walkerese...almost. He talks in movie talk a lot, but most of the movies are Disney and at the most PG rated. I was kind of bewildered that he might have seen "The Bad Seed", a movie about a wicked little girl that came out in the '50's and one that I didn't remember from his shelf last time I had cleaned and sorted out. Turns out, there was a reference to the old movie in one of his newer favorites.

The customer, the cashier and his boss had heard what they expected, and probably knew deep down. They heard him call her a bitch, when he really called her a Bad Seed.

After some lecturing about the customer always being right, the matter was put to rest. In my heart, I knew who the Bad Seed was, though. I think Walker's boss did too.

I hope I'm not a Bad Seed too often. I hope people hear what I really mean to say, and not what they think I say.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Back to Normal

Sarah will leave this afternoon to join Ned and the other Rooney guys on the road. Molly and her three little ones will drive to Little Rock with her and Robert will get to go to the event with SaySay. Ned will probably let him hang out backstage if he wants to. It's nice to have connections! I'm sure the band bus will be a bit different when Sarah and the gang descend on it. All those mop topped blonds definitely bring a bit of color to the group.

Walker didn't realize that Sarah would be gone by the time he gets home from work. I'm afraid he'll miss her just as much as the rest of us. When she's home he hangs around the family much more than usual, even if it's just on the fringes of the main group. I've noticed that he has been more apt to wear his cool clothes, mainly the Rooney shirt, when she's around. She brought him a jacket given to her by the producers of a movie she had a small part in this summer. It was a bit too tight on Walker, and he didn't recognize the title (Seven Pounds) but he was more excited about it when she explained that it was a Will Smith movie. Walker is a trove of movie trivia, and can cite obscure factoids about directors and producers and other cast members of an unbelievable number of movies. He rolled off Will Smith's resume in a hurry.

Last Fall, we took Walker with us to LA and we got to visit the set of Brothers and Sisters. It was on the Disney lot (very cool in Walkerland) but once inside it was a rather businesslike building until we got to the set. Walker didn't like it that he wasn't allowed to roam freely and had to be quiet, and got a bit annoyed with me. Sarah was preparing for an interview, and he opted to go with her to get her hair and makeup done rather than staying with us to watch a scene with Ken Olin, Patricia Wettig and Emily Van Camp. We were engrossed in watching the many takes of the same scene when someone came to get us. My heart kind of sank when the guy mentioned with a smile that Sarah was almost ready, and a little birdie had told him that Walker was in the hall talking to Chevy Chase and Rob Lowe. Knowing that she was in the stylist's chair, and Walker was wandering around made me exceptionally anxious until the elevator door opened, and there he was with his new friends, Chevy and Rob, telling them all about every movie they had ever done.

I knew that Rob Lowe had done some work for Best Buddies, and suspected he would be kind, but to me he was definitely one of those unapproachable mega stars. Big Walker and I had been deliberately trying to be invisible while at the studio, knowing that just being allowed to be on set was a real priviledge, and one we didn't want to abuse. Walker had no such inhibitions. These were his buddies from Modern Problems and Vacation. The next day Rob Lowe told Sarah that her brother just blew him away. We don't have a picture of that event, because we were too shy to ask, but getting off the elevator to that scene is forever emblazoned in my memory.

Sarah probably won't be home again for a while. She goes back to work on Brothers and Sisters the first of August and will be reconnecting with Ned after his long tour until then. Having her here is like all those songs about having sunshine in your life. We'll all miss her terribly, but we'll go back to eating dinner in our regular spots and doing the things normal people do while she lives on the bus with the band for a couple of weeks.

I hope Sarah knows how much our visits mean to all of us, and that her thoughtfulness of her siblings and nephews and niece and her dad and me are treasured. I hope each of you has some sunshine in your life from time to time just like we do.