Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Christmas Letter

I’ve had a lot of things knocking around in my head this morning that led me to the conclusion that I shouldn’t let my last post be the final one of the year. 
What got it all started was an article in the New York Times about divorce being the last taboo on Facebook.
 Now I’m definitely not contemplating divorce, but in that last post I did do something that nice girls usually don’t do, I aired a bit of dirty linen.  My husband and I occasionally have a spat.  Mind you, they are not nearly as frequent as they were when we were younger and there were a lot more stressors, but sometimes, just sometimes, we get on each other’s nerves and one or the other of us blows up.  The package wrapping incident was one of those, and one that probably didn’t deserve as much ink as it got…and is still getting…but for some reason sometimes something is just all it takes to cause a blow up.  A stupid piece of tape was that something that particular day.
But, as we were riding to church today, I was thinking about what a really great year we’ve had, and feeling all happy about virtually every month of the year, and it dawned on me…actually during the service…mea culpa…that I don’t send those year-end Christmas letters out with our cards anymore.
During the holidays I’ve been sorting through all our Christmases past in preparing a scrapbook, and have really enjoyed looking at all the cards and letters and group photos of us in various stages of posed perfection and candid imperfection during the Christmases beginning with our first one together in 1966.  Somewhere along the way, as our card list got longer, I started sending out summaries of the year that I had copied at Kinkos rather than hand-writing notes.  Then I began seeing letters to Ann Landers and Dear Abby ridiculing the practice and at some point, probably after my daughters were old enough to be sending their own cards, I quit writing them.
Those letters were always a sanitized version of our life…much like the posts on Facebook.  The darker stuff remained in the shadows, but the kids accomplishments, and a few of our own, were fun to share, and I tried to make them funny and clever, but I’m sure they made some friends want to gag…I’m sure we seemed way more perfect than we actually were. 
We only get one Christmas letter every year that seems to approximate reality, and the guy that writes it may or may not be trying to be humorous, but if his kids are unemployed or struggling with demons, he mentions that along with the good news.  He’s a brave soul…
What I missed this year was that in not compiling that letter, I had lost sight of the fact of just how wonderful the year really was.
I got to be with Sarah and Ned for the birth of Baby Beau…our seventh and last grandchild, and a long awaited second granddaughter to boot!   I had some precious time spent with Molly and her family at Groton while Robert was not well and needed family nearby.  I had a fabulous trip of a lifetime to New York City with Katie and Becket.  I got to see Walker III discover the joy of communicating over the internet with his new iphone and Facebook account... I honestly never knew he had so much to say!  We had time to spend having fun with out of town friends at football games and at the beach and at the lake.  I had the pleasure of teaching about forty women to play Mah Jongg, giving them a new set of skills and a new set of friends in the process.  I learned to operate in a recording studio and take great delight in reading on the radio once a week and recording novels in between time.  Walker got to see the fruits of his efforts in quail habitat restoration yield more coveys of quail.  Our home garden was a bit of a bust due to weather issues, but you know what, the Farmer’s Market had plenty for everyone.  It was a very good year, and I needed to write about it to appreciate just how good it was. Writing seems to be what I do...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

An Imperfect Christmas

Strangely enough today started off really well. I woke up ready to finish up some wrapping that needed to be done to get last minute packages in the mail.  I was feeling pretty good about all the holiday preparations.  I had gotten the house decorated, at least as decorated as it needed to be, early enough to schedule three small gatherings with friends.  I had had time to make some of my favorite recipes and then to enjoy those events with people I really love, even if family meals were rather strange on those days.  Yesterday some last minute shopping both on line and in person had finally filled in some blank spots on my gift list, and I had the whole day today to wrap and tidy up before going to hear three of my grandsons in their Christmas program tonight, one of my absolute favorite events every Christmas season.
I wrapped away and got my husband to scour the attic for boxes for mailing, and then printed out address labels which I’d been wise enough to store on my computer through the years.  I was feeling pretty good about myself.
Then the Grinch crept into the breakfast room.  “You know you should print these with a bold font to make it easier to read.” 
“Mmmm Hmmm.”
“And if you wouldn’t skip a line between each line on the address, I’d only need one piece of tape to stick them on the package.”
Just two sentences, and then I lost it. “So what if it takes two pieces of tape!!!!  I’m sick of you finding fault with me!”
As I noted in an entry a while back, I discovered that I wasn’t perfect way back in 1948 when the photo of the Christmas pageant arrived and I realized that my hands were crooked. (See picture below.) This alarming fact distressed me mightily then, and actually I got some pretty severe corrections to my imperfections throughout my life.  My hair wasn’t curly like Shirley Temples, so I endured Tonettes to fix that problem, beginning at age two.  I made some “B’s” on my report card, and actually some “U’s” (in conduct…always my most difficult subject!)  One of those was in Kindergarten, and the note said that it was because I sat on my foot instead of with both feet on the floor like a proper child.  It wasn’t until I was in second grade and Mrs. Williams noticed that my feet didn’t TOUCH the floor and made a cigar box to go under my desk that that little problem got fixed. 
A lot of my imperfections never got fixed.  I always had so much to say that I couldn’t wait my turn.  I was more prone to go off alone and read a book than to socialize with playmates at times.  I didn’t have a “sweet disposition”….something highly prized by the adults in my world.  I just couldn’t do too much about that…I spoke out when I shouldn’t about things I had opinions about.  I still do, and it annoys some people, and often embarrasses my family and sometimes even me.
After seventy years, I’ve pretty well made peace with my imperfection.  I’m so sorry when I say something that I shouldn’t and causes someone pain…I truly never mean to be cruel…I just have an innate inability to lie very well.  But other than that, I’m okay with my imperfections.  In general I think imperfect things are a bit more interesting.  I like the Impressionists way better than painters whose works look more like a photo.  I like designers who do unlikely combinations….I finally kind of like ME!
So why do I still react to the people in my life who are trying to fix my imperfections?  I’m not exactly sure.  I know from some of my studies that their comments are usually perceived immediately as criticism, and not the helpful kind.  Their comments seem to me to ignore all the things I’ve actually done right, and zero in on the ones I’ve missed. I feel like I should be able to say to myself, “So what?” and just move on.  And most of the time I do, but today I didn’t.  Today I had done so many things right that going back and correcting the one or two I hadn’t was just too much.
I’ll calm down by this evening and I’ll be swept away by the sound of several hundred little boys singing Christmas Carols.  I'll probably apologize for my outburst.  Tomorrow will be a better day.  I’d be willing to bet I won’t be perfect tomorrow either, but I'll be pretty good, and that's okay with me.  To my knowledge the only perfect human was born in a stable a long time ago, and even he got cranky once or twice.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thirty-Nine Forever?

Thirty-Nine Forever?

Walker had a birthday this week…a fact he begins reminding everyone he comes in contact with about a month ahead of time, which is kind of strange, because his material wants are so few, but that’s not really the point for him.  It’s his big day, and it’s anticipated with glee for quite some time.  He had specific ideas about his cake (lemon with a rainbow) and got lots of gift cards, his preferred gift, conserving his cash, and invited his best friend Caroline over for a swim and dinner with the family.  He was a happy man.

This has been quite a year for Walker in terms of growing up.  His speech therapist has been working on improving his communication skills for about ten years now, and it’s still a struggle for him to give simple, straightforward answers to simple questions like, “What kind of ice cream do you want?”  The answer is likely to be clever, but in the form of a riddle…”You know, the kind you bought last May.”  There is a standing bet among the kids that the one who can get a yes or no answer gets a dollar…it’s rarely collected.  This year, I’m seeing a lot more direct answers, although a nudge is often required, and he has turned into a regular chatterbox on car trips.  Sometimes it’s silly, he’s a master of puns and plays on words, but he’s initiating conversation and asking questions about things he’s wondering about, and gathering useful information.  On one car trip he asked about the huge machinery that they use to load containers at a facility near the airport, and of course I launched into a diatribe about Memphis being a transportation hub and how those containers are on the trains that pass by our house, then moved onto trucks that bring boxes of groceries to the store where he works, and then the stockers unload them and put them on the shelves, and he actually listened fairly attentively without too much eye rolling.

The biggest break through this year, though, was our trading in his old flip phone for an i-phone…something that I expected to be met with great resistance.  He and his driver had done some shopping though and by the time he and his dad actually went to complete the transaction, he was really excited about it.  His niece and nephews have been helpful in helping him learn about apps and use the camera functions and I’ve struggled through getting itunes music on it for him. Soon he discovered texting and was running up the bill on our family plan just like any young person would.  I was astounded that he would actually take time to type on that teeny tiny keyboard, but I’m realizing that he has been spending a lot of time alone, and that he was ready to reach out to people he loves and trusts, just on his own terms.  We’ve had to lay down some rules to keep him from driving people crazy, especially his favorite frienemy, Brother-in-Law John, but he’s a rule-follower, and he’s to be trusted once he understands what the rules are.

Then came Facebook, and much to my amazement, he was soon posting photos of his favorite things (snowglobes and his award for running the 5K) and shouting out to the world about being the “best Believer”, whatever that means in his world.  He loves when people “friend” him, and has asked some folks to be friends, although it really confused him that relatives could also be “friends” on Facebook.  It’s a learning curve, but he’s catching up to it.

When we talked about his birthday, and the fact that the next one would be a big one…FORTY…he basically freaked out, pretty much like most of us did once upon a time.  “Oh no, I’m not ever turning forty…Oh no…”  And that was the end of the discussion.  So here’s to Walker, thirty-nine forever.  It’s a pretty great age to be.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Theology with Walker

Walker has never been much for asking questions, and when he does, I’m never sure whether my answers are going to be what he’s looking for.  I never thought that at age thirty eight, he and I would be discussing theology.
 Last night after we got home from the lake he was finishing up a slice of pizza and playing with the pictures on his iPhone, when he showed me a picture his favorite brother in law John had sent him of the Dossal hanging of Jesus from our former church.  The hanging shows a stylized Jesus with open bleeding hands and feet, and it always really kind of creeped me out, but Walker seemed to be delighted with it.

“When did I first become a believer?” he asked.
“Well, you’ve been going to Young Life for a couple of years now, I guess,” dating my response to the first time he started talking about being the “World’s Greatest Believer”. 

“No, I mean before that.”
“Well, I suppose you’ve always been a Believer, since you were baptized when you were a little baby and we promised to teach you about Jesus being raised from the dead to save us from our sins.  We promise that every time we baptize someone.” 

Dead silence for a bit.
“Is our church American?”

“Well, it’s in America, so I guess so.”
“No, I mean…Oh forget it.”

“Our church is a Christian Church, because we believe that Jesus was resurrected.  There are a lot of churches that believe that all over the world, and ours is in America.”
“How did it get here?”

“Well, after Jesus died his disciples told the Good News of his resurrection to more and more people around where they lived, and as more and more people knew about him, some of them eventually came to America.  Some of them are Episcopalians like us, some are Presbyterians like the ones where the boys go to school, and others are Catholic like where you went to school….”

“What are the ones at Hutchison?” (The school where the girls attended.)
“It’s not part of a church…it’s just a school.”

I can’t imagine how impossibly difficult the world must seem to Walker as his eyes are gradually opening beyond his family and friends.  I’m not sure he gets the picture I tried to paint for him, and I may have to answer more questions from time to time, but I’m truly fascinated to see his faith developing and his curiosity expanding beyond the boundaries of family and friends.  His questions lead me along paths I never expected to wander.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

You Might Mess it Up

I’ve gotten used to seeing my daughters’ competence levels surpass mine as they grow and mature and I age and frankly just don’t give a damn a good deal of the time, but this morning Walker kind of brought me up short.  I was getting ready for a family dinner tonight, and really needed to get the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, which he had not quite finished unloading when his breakfast dinged that it was ready.  While he served his plate, I asked if he’d be sure to get the rest of the dishes after he ate, or…”I guess I could do them for you, “ I offered.

“Well, I guess you could…but you might mess them up.”

Apparently my dish placement isn’t up to his standards.  As he ate and I unloaded, he watched me intently, and as I was about to close the dishwasher and turn to the handwashing, he yelped, “Mom…you forgot a glass.”

I glanced down, didn’t see it, and once again tried to close the dishwasher.  “MOM!...there on the rack!”

Sure enough, I was about to leave a small , clean juice glass on the dishwasher rack.

“Just be more careful next time.” 

Between us, the dishes got put away and all is quiet and calm once more. 



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I'm Not Here!

By popular demand, I'm going to resume some vignettes of Life with Walker...or Walker Stories as I've called them through the years.

  Day to day, life with Walker is pretty routine now.  He behaves like an older adolescent, mostly cooperative, diligent about his chores almost to obsession...we must not stay out too late on Sunday nights because he has to get home to get the garbage out.  He's  increasingly more interactive with the family without too many outbursts or frustrations. He knows I'm compulsively on time, and after getting left behind for not being ready a time or two, he's always on time too.  He prefers fixing his own breakfast on weekdays, but occasionally requests for me to cook an egg if I'm not busy. (Our attempts to teach him to use the stove top haven't been totally successful, although he's good with the oven or microwave.)  He prefers breakfast  treats on the weekends and dinner that doesn't include leftovers two nights in a row.

Walker's  independence  is both a blessing and a curse.  He sometimes tries to solve problems beyond his abilities and is often  reluctant to ask directly for help when he really needs it.  We're working on that.  For a number of years now we have felt comfortable leaving him home for periods of time now extending up to six or seven days at a time.  This requires a good bit of planning.  He has a paid Personal Attendant (your tax dollars at work) who takes him to and from work and on outings on weekends which usually involve shopping, movies, bowling, or Young Life or other Special Needs activities.  As long as the attendant is a reliable sort things work smoothly...but there's always the worry that he'll oversleep or even forget...and the guy we have right now is  actually not as reliable as Walker.  Walker's sisters are generally on call to pick up the slack. I leave microwavable meals for him, and he can pick up food at the grocery where he works or on the way home if he gets sick of what I've left...It mostly works fine.

My biggest concern for his safety is a major or wind storms, a fire, or, heaven forbid, a home invasion.  We have gone over plans, but I honestly don't know how confident I am that he would follow through with them in a real emergency.  In my nightmares I see him confronting an intruder with a toy gun and getting shot.  That's the reality of life in the city with a developmentally delayed adult.  As long as everything goes smoothly, he's totally okay...but do things ever always go smoothly?

Last week while we were in California, the weather turned single digit frigid.  My son-in-law John was drafted to help out with the hunting dogs in the kennel to make sure the heaters were working and make sure Walker braved the drizzle for the nighttime feeding.  One morning John stopped by and thought he'd give the dogs some extra rations because of the extreme cold, and in the process set off the burglar alarm.  John went to the foot of the stairs and called up to Walker while the siren was blasting.


"I'm  not here."


"I'm not here!"

"Walker, What's the Alarm code?"

Walker appears on the balcony in his boxers, "I told you, I'M NOT HERE!

"Walker, I can see you..."


"Okay..."and he gave John the code, but not in time to ward off the alarm company sending the police, so John waited around and talked his way out of getting hauled off as an intruder...but that's how it goes with Walker sometimes.

I'm sure some of you wonder why in the world I don't just let the state pay for a sitter to be with him when we travel, and believe me, I have considered it.  But truthfully, Walker doesn't want anyone else here, and I'm confident  that the odds of him being safe are good enough that I don't think it's worth the hassle of having someone else in the house.I'm truly grateful that he's as independent as he can possibly be, and he has folks who love and watch over him.   I hope and pray I'm right.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Lost and Found

A period of feeling pretty good and regaining some mobility after surgeries and accidents found me anxious to try my wings and I persuaded husband Walker that we should go to Pasadena for the BCS National Championship game where our alma mater, Auburn University, was one of the two teams in contention for the national title.  It was a whim, and Walker probably would have preferred watching the game on TV, which he did yesterday while I caught up on some housekeeping chores, but I saw it as a last ditch effort to have a little fun, do something we both would enjoy,  and it turned out to be a mini-reunion with some of our favorite college friends.

This event wasn't as well coordinated as my high school reunion, but it was absolutely delightful to reunite with old friends, share stories from our shared past, see how everybody is doing, and make new memories.  Most of us are in a surprisingly good place for seventyish, and although dinner conversation did veer toward medical coverage and procedures a bit, we still found time to laugh at ourselves and look forward as much as back.  There was a new wife to get to know and love, several spouses that didn't know each other, relationships that had been tethered by not much more than Christmas Cards or not at all, but underneath it all, we were still pretty much the same people we knew and loved back in the '60s.  I probably smiled more in that forty eight hour period than I normally do in an entire month.

I'm getting more

used to stepping outside my comfort zone now, and am not nearly so anxious when I do, and the afterglow lasts and lasts.  Our team didn't win...but we did!  War Eagle!!!

For previous thoughts on a similar subject go to


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Not so Bleak Almost Mid-Winter

Still browsing through old posts which mostly never got read by anyone but my family and a few close friends, and I found this one that seems particularly apt today. .

 The advice for coping with Winter doesn't include spending a ridiculous amount of money to fly to California for a long overdue reunion with some of my favorite friends from college, but that's exactly what's going to happen.  Auburn is once again going to the National Championship Game...and this time we'll be there in all our Orange and Blue glory.

The trip kind of fits with my mantra of doing things outside my comfort zone as often as possible.  Not that visiting my wonderful baby girl and her sweet little family as they await the arrival of the new baby is uncomfortable...far from it.  We'll have a deluxe garage apartment, and lots of hugs and kisses from Emmett for sure, but reuniting with  folks you haven't seen in fifty years is always a little disconcerting for me.

There have been e-mails and phone calls to firm up arrangements and the good natured banter has convinced me that this is going to be a time to remember. I suspect  we're all not just  older but  wiser, and mostly more accepting of whatever comes our way.  I absolutely can't wait!

Please feel free to add your favorite way to cope with Winter's easy now, and can be anonymous if you like!


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Small Changes....Big Dreams

The new year means a different kind of beginning for me than it did when I was younger.  I'm afraid I've given up on the illusion that short list of things to do would be adhered to and actually change my life.  Experience has told me that those lists don't have much hold over me...I suppose I'm just not disciplined enough.

I do get an urge to do things a little better or at least a little differently this time of year, though.

 As I put away the Christmas things, I have an urge to cull out the unnecessary...and there's an increasing amount of unnecessary...and preserve more carefully the important. 

I have few treasures of a tangible sort, and I've reconciled myself to the fact that time takes it's toll on all things...especially my body and my Christmas breakables, but I pack more carefully and handle those I really do treasure with more respect.

I'm always a bit sick of yummy, rich food after the holidays, and healthier veggies and fruits seem to call my name in January.  Molly even re-introduced me to brussel sprouts for the umpteenth time in my life, and this time it took...I LOVED them.  That's not to say that Mama's caramel cake won't always have my name on a slice, but sometimes healthier just seems right, and right now is one of those times.

I treated myself to a new pair of walking shoes last week...basically because walking at all was misery.... and voila! I am walking again with almost no discomfort.  Yes, they were expensive, and worth it at ten times the cost. 

I'm seeing some projects come to a close, in particular my Education for Ministry class, and finishing things always feels good. I'll graduate in May, and, no, I won't become a "minister" as such, but I feel much more comfortable in my understanding of my faith, and will continue to pursue it in ways that are meaningful.

I've found that I treasure time spent with my girlfriends this year.  I'm not a great girlfriend type person.  I'm much more of a loner, don't care that much about fashion and other girly kind of things, and hate talking on the phone, but I've found great pleasure in my Mah Jongg group and book group and a study group and I want to explore my female friendships further.

My relationship with my family has changed somehow this year.  The grandchildren in Memphis are outgrowing their need for childcare, and I don't see them as much.  My time with them is less involved with caregiving and more focused on events.  This shift has thrown me off kilter a bit, and I'm looking forward to some time with my California "babies", but am realizing that I'm more free to fill my time with reading and friends too.

I'm allowing myself to dream a bit.  As a young girl I dreamed all the time.  I dreamed of Prince Charming, of being Debbie Reynolds, of having the most and cutest outfits in my class, but I never much dreamed beyond having a home and family.  Exploring art a bit has given me a glimpse of a me that might have been had I dreamed a little longer.  My blog is one way of dreaming.  I ran across an old entry this morning with a link to you tube clip that I'm going to play more frequently this year.  Happy New Year to all!