The Sounds (and Sights) of Summer

Growing up in a small town on the eastern shore of Maryland had a lot of advantages I never really appreciated until I was older. A lot older, as you some of you may say.

But summer some 60 years ago took on a whole new meaning from today. It was less hectic, quieter, and more relaxed than it is today. (And not nearly as hot as this year.)

Because we lived just outside of the town limits, our house was surrounded by two small fields and a woods (which seemed really  big back then). There were fields across the road as well, and we watched the corn all summer as it grew and grew, eventually hiding the homes across the road, growing to reach its potential for the fall harvest. 

Just a quiet rural setting. No crime. No violence. No video games or cell phones.

Back then almost every summer evening was filled with the singing of crickets and frogs, and fireflies lighting up the night as soon as it started to get dark. We’d look forward to catching them and then seeing how many it took to light up the dark corners of our rooms. (Thank goodness my mom always came in and let them escape back outside after we were asleep.)

I remember many nights falling asleep on the glider in our big screened porch listening to the crickets and frogs serenading their friends as well as my mom and me. What wonderful sounds they made. Plus it was cooler out there since we had no air conditioning.

There were some nights during those summers that it was so hot we could look out in the distance from that wonderful porch and see what we called “heat lightning”…silent flashes of light in the distance with no cracks of lightning or thunder, or even any signs of rain.

And the air was so clean, so clear, we could gaze up into the night sky and pick out the constellations. Sometimes we’d even drive down to the bay and listen to the waves lapping against the small pier that was left over from a long ago storm. The sky there was even clearer and the stars easier to see. And when it happened to be a full moon, it was absolutely breathtaking.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to those days. Sure, we have our Jeremiah the bullfrog who likes to sing to us in the back yard after a summer rainstorm, but it’s just not the same. We haven’t been able to find him, or his wine we’ve heard that’s mighty fine, but we still get to listen to him, and he sure sounds happy.

What about the fireflies? I can’t remember the last time we saw any. Crickets? I haven’t heard them chirp in ages. And come to think of it, we see very few honeybees…and they used to fly all around in those distant summers, gorging themselves on all manner of blooms on bushes and flowers, and pollinating everything in our gardens. 

How about butterflies? I haven’t seen many of those recently either, and we have a lot of flowers and flowering bushes in our backyard. They used to fly around the yard all summer when we were growing up. 

Yes, I do miss those summers. And I actually appreciate the memories of them much more than I ever thought I would. Because it was an easier way of life, or it seemed to be, because we were still growing up, and still had our innocence and the belief that these little things would always be a part of our lives.

Now they are only memories in my mind’s eye, stored in a database of pictures only I can see. But they’re there, and I wish you could see them, too.

The sounds and sights of summers in times past….these are my memories. 

What are yours?

Still Missing You

It’s now been almost sixteen years since I last spoke to you. Since I was last able to hug you and kiss you. Talk about life and share stories.

It’s been too long since I was last able to talk to you about things I was going through; that I needed your advice about. And there have been so very many times in these last almost 16 years that I’ve needed to talk to you. To tell you what’s going on. 

To tell you about our happy times. About your granddaughter’s wedding and her wonderful husband. To tell you about your two beautiful great granddaughters, one who’s named after you.

To tell you about your friends and what’s been going on in their lives.

To ask for your guidance and advice, because even though I’m an adult, and now a grandmother as well, I still want so much to be able to talk with you and ask for your help. 

Although I’ve been on my own without you for all this time, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still want your insight on life. I miss being able to talk about my problems with you. Because you always seemed to have the right answers, whether I understood it at the time or not.

You and I survived the untimely loss of my father together. You were there for me while your own heart was shattered into a zillion pieces, and while I didn’t totally understand the whole situation and what it meant, since I was only 8 years old, you hid so much pain from me so I could have as normal a childhood as possible, with you being mom as well as dad to me.

It wasn’t until I lost you that I discovered all the challenges and problems you faced during that time. You never told me, and I’d never asked.

You helped me through two painful divorces and never once criticized my choices. You helped me through heartbreak and encouraged me that I’d eventually find the right one. And you were right.

You were with me when my husband Ben went through his first open heart surgery, at a time when that was not a common operation. You were probably as worried as I was, but you never told me. You only encouraged me and assured me he’d be okay. And he was.

You supported me in the pain of infertility; you rejoiced with me when I finally got pregnant and gave you a granddaughter. And you suffered with me when I had a tubal pregnancy which caused me to lose the babies I was carrying, and almost caused me to lose my mind. Because you knew exactly how I felt, because you’d had the same problems, but had kept them all to yourself.

You loved your granddaughter unconditionally and did everything you could for her. And you would have been so very happy to see her married and now with two little girls of her own.

So many times I’ve wanted to be able to tell you. To share with you, and ask what advice you could give in so many situations. Or just listen to me share my joys as well as my worries.

I miss you so much. Holidays and family times are still not the same without you. I still miss your smile, your presence, and your unconditional love. I still dream about your being with us, and wake up wondering if that dream was sent to me to remind me you’re still watching over me. There are even times, when out of nowhere, I clearly hear your voice saying my name. 

I will continue to miss you because we are part of each other. I will always love you. And I will never forget you.

And I know the day will come when we are together again. Until then,

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.

When Holidays Make Us Remember

For me, it happens just about every year around this time. Thanksgiving is done, and leftovers have been enjoyed. Black Friday shopping is thankfully over. And the decorating is finally over.

Getting out the tree, or trees, in our case, starts it all.  As I unwrap certain ornaments I can’t help but remember where I got them, and the story behind them. I remember the ones that were my grandmother’s, and my mother’s. The ones my mother bought for us, and ones she’d given us for her granddaughter, especially the baby’s first Christmas series. And my eyes almost always get a little damp….

I really think I’m over the loss, the emptiness of my mom being gone; of our traditions being over, or, I guess I should say, carried on in new ways. But then I realize I will never be totally over it, because you never are. The loss, and the memories, are always there. Even this close to Christmas itself, I still feel it the loss.

It’s not just her empty place at our table; her not being around for our traditional Black Friday shopping; her name no longer on our gift list. Her Christmas stocking still hung, except now filled with her favorite red roses (silk, of course) rather than gifts.   Not being able to go to her house during the holidays. Her not being with us Christmas morning to watch presents being opened. She’s certainly with us in spirit, and always will be.

It’s the knowing she won’t be here ever again to share the joys of the holidays with us in our new ways. Her precious granddaughter Ashley is now married, with two beautiful daughters of her own. She never got to meet our Chris, or their little girls Rachel and Ryleigh. My mother would have been over the moon in love with our little girls, and I’m sure she would delight in everything our granddaughters (her great-granddaughters) did, every gift they opened, just like she did with our daughter every Christmas. She’d have sat and played with them all day, while the rest of us prepared dinner. I can even picture the three of them playing together in the stack of new toys Santa delivered for the girls, with so much laughter and so much joy. She’d act like a little kid, right along with them.

My mom never laughed or smiled a lot after my dad died, but at Christmas time, when she had her granddaughter Ashley with her, that’s all we saw. Smiles and happiness. Laughter. Even when our toddler daughter was having a temper tantrum while shopping, or doing something else that wouldn’t necessarily put her on Santa’s “good list”, my mother just smiled and said, “She’ll be fine. Just let her be.” And she was.

I so miss those days. And I think of them even more often now that we have granddaughters who are so much like their mother. I just can’t help wishing “if only my mother could be here….”

But the past is the past, and as much as we wish, and dream, we can’t change it. We can’t bring our loved ones back, as much as we’d like to. We can only imagine how things would be, picture them in our minds, and treasure them in our hearts.

No matter how old I get, no matter how many years will have passed, I will still have these feelings. They’re part of me; part of who I am. No matter how many years have passed I will still picture my mother the way she looked during her last years. Except her face will have softened, the lines disappeared, and that beautiful smile she had whenever she was with our daughter will be lighting up her entire being.

I wonder if some day our daughter, and our granddaughters, will have these thoughts, these feelings. Especially, many years from now, as they pull out the Christmas ornaments that used to be ours, and place them on their Christmas trees. Will they remember? Will they long for those “old days” as I still do?

The holidays are not only a time of joy and excitement. It’s also a time for dreams; for family; and for memories that we’ll treasure forever.

What memories do you treasure most from Christmases past? What are the things you’d most like to be able to re-live? And what memories do you hope your children and grandchildren will most remember about you?

Merry Christmas, and may this year be joyous and full of making wonderful memories.

Remembrances of Holidays Past

Unfortunately I only vaguely remember a few holidays spent with my family with my dad also there. Being only eight years old when he died wasn’t an easy thing, because it robbed me of so many memories I’d never have the opportunity to make. Oh, I do have some fuzzy ones in which we were all seated at my grandmother’s huge ornate walnut dining table, with her and my mom and my aunts bringing in huge plates of food, and my grandfather bowing his head and saying his quick “grace” before we all dug in to eat. But unfortunately, they are, as I said, fuzzy. Faces blur with time, as do my memories of who was really there at those early family holiday meals when my grandparents were still alive.

But the years have a way of fast-forwarding. Children grow up, adults grow older, and loved ones are gradually no longer with us. Holidays become increasingly difficult because our most special loved ones are living only in our memories, and our memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases past are sometimes remembered as being a lot more “perfect” than they ever actually were.

And we’re bombarded with holiday commercials where we see families joyously sitting down together, a perfect meal on the perfectly set table, adults and children alike beautifully dressed up, everyone laughing and smiling, clinking glasses together in holiday toasts, Christmas carols playing in the background, and perfectly wrapped presents under a perfectly decorated Christmas tree.

Those are my real holiday memories. They were fun. We enjoyed being together, and never even thought about not being the “perfect” picture postcard family gathering. We were Just Plain Family. And yes, I miss those days.

I totally understand now why my mom and her sisters used to talk about “the old days” when we were younger. Because now those “old days” I just described, that to me are just memories from what seems just a few years ago, are now “the old days” in the eyes of my daughter and her friends. How I wish I knew what “the old days” had really been like for my mother when she and her sisters and brothers were younger.

As the holiday season is ready to culminate this week with our Christmas Day celebration, I still long to look back and relive the memories of those family Christmases so long ago. But those special times, as I’ve said, still live on in the memories in my mind, shared by just a few who are still with us. We’re all scattered now, and yes, we’ve all made our own new traditions now, just as our daughter Ashley and her husband Chris and their two daughters will be doing again this year.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I know many of my friends are going through similar feelings, for various reasons. It’s normal, and it’s a part of life. We’re expected to automatically be happy at this most festive season of the year, a season that celebrates love and family. But many of us are almost forced to hide our feelings behind smiles that we force ourselves to wear, because we think we’re the only ones feeling this way. We’re afraid to let anyone else know; but chances are, many of those we meet while wearing that smile, are wearing that same forced smile, because they’re hurting, too.

The next time you start feeling like that, don’t be embarrassed. Don’t think you’re alone. If you’re having a tough time, you’re not the only one. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting. And it’s OK to feel that way, because there’s a loss there that is still all too real, whether the loss is recent, or months or even years ago.

You may be bombarded right now with all kinds of reminders of the holiday season that trigger your emotions. Scents of spicy pumpkin, pine and spruce trees, or fresh-baked Christmas cookies. Colored lights on a tree, or glowing candles. A child’s laughter, or the sounds of Christmas carols. Though these reminders evoke memories of happier times that are now in the past, let them also be a reminder that there ARE better times coming, new memories to be made, and new delights in the smile of new friends who are yet to come into your world. While it may be difficult now, the hope and joy that is Christmas, and always has been Christmas, is just around the corner, waiting to be found. Find one thing that makes you the happiest right now, and share it with someone else as your gift to them. It’ll make you feel a bit better that you were able to share with someone, and it just may very well do the same thing for that person, too. They may end up doing the same for someone else.

We never know how we’ll impact someone else with just a small gesture, especially during this very special season. Make it your gift to someone else, even if you don’t know them. Isn’t that part of what the Christmas spirit is all about? You may be surprised at how much better it makes you feel that you’ve been able to bless someone else.

I know I’m going to try it.

Remembering The Price of Freedom

This post was originally published five years ago today. But it’s still very relevant today. So I’ve updated it slightly to reflect Veterans Day, 2021.

The price of freedom cannot be measured monetarily. It is measured by the sacrifice of the lives of the men and women who defend it.

Today is Veterans Day. The day we thank all of those who have served and are currently serving in our military. Their bravery and dedication to duty is not appreciated nearly enough. They have a unique understanding of the ways of the world that we who have not served cannot begin to understand.

To all of those who have served or are still serving, we owe you a huge THANK YOU for the time and sacrifice you, and your families, have given, and are still giving, to this great nation. You leave home and family behind far too often to serve your country because that’s your duty and your chosen profession. You and your families are invaluable to this country.

My father served in the Army during World War II, however, because of a bad knee that he had originally injured playing football in college, he was sent home with an honorable discharge and a knee brace.

My uncle also served, however, he did not get home until the war ended. He was quite fortunate. Although I do not know his entire story, I will relate what I know of it, because in my eyes, he was one of the heroes.

Fowler Cottingham joined the Army as a young man barely 18 years old. He was trained as a crewman on the fighter planes, and consequently sent to Germany, where he flew in several successful missions with his crew.WW2 Plane

The morning of the day he flew his final mission was most likely just another day. Clear skies; light wind; a perfect day for flying. I can imagine the crew loading the plane, going through their pre-flight checklist, making sure their parachutes were ready, and most likely cracking jokes and talking about what they’d do when they came back from their mission.

Flying over enemy territory was never safe. Most of us have probably seen movies of the allied war planes heading out for missions over Germany. What the movies don’t adequately show is the danger our men faced during each of these missions.

They didn’t have all of the sophisticated equipment in 1945 that our armed forces have now. There were no computers, no GPS; only a navigator with paper maps showing where they were supposed to be flying. There were gunners who fired their weapons without fancy electronics to assist them. They had to judge where to aim, and when to pull the trigger, based on what knowledge the officers and ground troops had been able to discern. It was much different than today. But they had courage, and a sense of duty. They had volunteered to serve, and knew the risks involved.

I’m not sure exactly what happened, but my uncle’s plane took a hit from a German warplane. Fortunately they were all able to parachute out, and landed in a wooded area somewhere behind enemy lines. They had only a few supplies, and had no idea where they were. And no idea whether anyone else had any idea where they were, or even if they were alive.

Shortly afterwards they were captured by German soldiers and marched to one of the POW concentration camps. Capture was certainly better than being shot, which I’m sure they were all afraid, would happen. As brave as these men were, just remember, they were all in their early 20’s, the beginning of their lives. They all wondered if they’d ever see home and family again.Blanches Banques POW Camp

Over 93,000 men were held as prisoners in the German POW camps in World War II. They were held in drafty wooden buildings, with uncomfortable cots, and only a thin blanket for warmth. They were fed one or two meals a day, usually some type of thin soup and stale bread. Their only utensils were a tin spoon, and a tin cup for water. One day they were given a treat…candy bars which they quickly bit into. And then saw the worms inside.

My Uncle Fowler and his crew spent six months in that camp, guarded by armed soldiers and German shepherds. They never knew when or if the guards would come for some of them to question them, torture them, or kill them.

There are some experiences that are just too terrible to discuss because they bring back too many nightmares. My uncle would never discuss any of what happened, other than what I have written here; not with his parents, his wife, or his two sons. After his return, and until the day he died, he was scared of German shepherds because he had seen them tear hands and arms off of prisoners who were trying to escape.

How did these men survive this ordeal? And where was the Lord in this? I’m sure the men wondered many times where He was. Even at the young age of 20, when he was captured, my uncle was a man of faith, and I’m certain his faith helped sustain him.

Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The Lord was watching over them the entire time.

Yes, their plane was shot down, but the crew survived. The Lord directed the German bullets away from the fuselage so that the plane didn’t explode, which would have killed them all. When they landed in the woods, they had no idea where they were, and no idea where to go. The German soldiers could have killed them, but instead they were captured and allowed to live. Many other soldiers spent years in these concentration camps before being freed; these men only had to endure for six months. Many died in these camps, but these men all survived, because the Lord had plans for them. My uncle had a young woman, my aunt, waiting to meet him, fall in love, and marry. The Lord had plans for all of them and made sure those plans were carried out. Prayers for safety were answered; just not the way that was expected.

I wish I knew the names of my uncle’s crew members, but I never had the opportunity to find out. I would love to thank them as well for serving with him, and being part of his support system while in the camp.

And again, to all of our veterans and those who are still serving, and their families, Happy Veteran’s Day. Thank you for your service. May God bless you all, and keep you safe.veterans_day_thank_you-1940983

Just One More Day

All of us who’ve lost a loved one have said this, and said it many times.

“If I could have just one more day with you…a special day we’ve already had that we could relive…how wonderful that would be! I remember the day we……”

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago who had recently lost her mother, and we were discussing particular times and events we particularly remembered with our moms, and reminisced how wonderful it would be if we could just live a few of those special times over again.

Which, of course, got me thinking about a very special time with my mother. I remember it so well, down to so many details….

What day do you remember that you’d like to relive one more time with your loved one?

For me, the answer is simple: my mother’s 92nd birthday. Why that particular day? Because it was one of the last times her memory was actually clear. One of the last times she allowed herself to enjoy having a birthday. She never wanted anyone to know it was her birthday, let alone make a big deal of it; she always said it was just another day. But this day was one of the very last times my mom, my daughter Ashley, my aunt (Mom’s sister), and I were together and able to have fun and laugh together like schoolgirls.

My mother’s memory had been slowly fading for a few years, and I had no idea how much longer we would be able to leave her by herself. Ashley and I had come to visit her for a few days so we could be with her on her birthday.

The day didn’t start well. Mom saw me putting presents in the car and thought it was her sister’s birthday, and was upset she didn’t have anything for her. I had to explain that it was HER birthday, and the gifts were for her, not her sister. She ignored that statement, or else didn’t really understand what I’d said.

We got to the restaurant and went to our table. At first Mom was really depressed and quiet, and it was hard to carry on a conversation with her. My aunt and I talked, while Ashley tried to get her grandmother interested in something. She told her about her own 16th birthday she’d just celebrated, even though she’d already told her several times, so they decided to celebrate Ashley’s birthday!

Suddenly the mom I’d always known was back! The mom I hadn’t seen in quite a while. She started talking, and even eating her lunch (which she didn’t ever enjoy doing), and by the time the waitress brought out her birthday cake, she was laughing and even smiling! Something she hadn’t done in so very long….. I took so many pictures of her that day, and she didn’t mind, like she usually did. She even blew out the candles on her cake and helped serve it! Usually she’d sit there and let someone else do it because she didn’t want anyone to know what was going on.

At one point my aunt spilled her coke, and some of it went in the cake, and my mom laughed more than I’d seen her do in years! We stayed at the restaurant for so long, I was beginning to think they’d try to kick us out. One of the presents I’d bought her was a book called “A Mother’s Legacy”. It was full of questions for her to answer so we could always remember things about her and her childhood. She and her sister had a wonderful time with it, reading and answering almost every question in it, and laughing like teenagers, having a wonderful time, just like we all used to all do. Mom had more energy than I’d seen in ages.

It was a wonderful day. And for that time, as brief it was, I had my mother back, the way she used to be before the aging process started stealing her memories. It was truly a gift from the Lord, and I have thanked Him so many times for this special day. I’d gladly relive it as many times as possible.

We never know when the time will come that our loved ones will no longer be here with us. Each day with them is a gift to treasure. Because those days are numbered, and one day we will all be wishing for that one special day to be repeated.

What day would you relive with your loved one if you could? Please feel free to share in the comments below. We’d love to share your memories.

A Promise Kept

Almost two years ago I had to make a tough decision, like many of you have had to do as well. And it wasn’t easy. It was a decision we’ve had to make several times before, and each time it’s awful.

For those of you who are pet lovers, you’ll understand what I’m talking about very quickly. Because our fur babies are part of our family, from the first moment we bring them home. They jump into our hearts and make their nest, and we quickly wonder what we ever did without them.

And all too soon, we end up saying a tearful good bye. Because their lifespans are much shorter than people’s, and even though we know that from the beginning, we still pour our hearts and our love into each one of our special pets.

And they do the same for us.

Over the years I’ve had both dogs and cats. I’ve loved each and every one of them, and cried buckets of tears when it was time to say goodbye.

It was really bad when just two weeks after our daughter’s wedding, we had to say goodbye to Angel dog, my mother’s Pekingese that we had cared for since my mom’s death ten years before. I felt like I was losing the last part of my mother I still had left.

As I was crying and sobbing, my dear husband told me he could just picture little Angel running on her now arthritis-free legs, right up to the door of my mom’s heavenly mansion and barking to be let in, and happily joining my mom’s other dogs she’d had over the years that had been waiting for her at the Rainbow Bridge. I can only imagine what a wonderful furry reunion that must have been!

But I was still heartbroken….

Then a year later I had to say a very teary goodbye to my very favorite cat, Princess, a beautiful black tortoiseshell Persian with curly whiskers and the most wonderful purr I’d ever heard. I put off the decision as long as I could, but sadly I finally had no choice but to let her go to the Rainbow Bridge.

Again, I was heartbroken, but before she left, Princess gave me a promise that she’d send me a new kitty that looked just like her. And she told me all about the Rainbow Bridge where pets go when they pass on to their next life, waiting for us to join them, or going to meet their owners who have already left them for their heavenly home.

And I held on to her promise.

I didn’t realize how it would turn out, though. And certainly it wasn’t like I’d thought.

You see, Princess had promised to send me a kitty just like her. I tried and tried, with no success, to find the one she’d promised me. She was nowhere to be found.

But what I didn’t know, was that all along Princess Kitty had had something better in mind, and she just didn’t want to spoil the surprise she had for me. And she knew I wouldn’t mind if she changed things around a bit.

About a year ago I was involved in an auto accident. It was a bad one, and it threw me into a depression I hadn’t expected. It affected me in ways I never expected. And I needed something to bring me out of my funk. But nothing seemed to be able to help.

And then, out of the blue, a friend of mine posted on her Facebook page that she needed a new home for her Yorkie, because she just couldn’t keep him any more. He needed a home where he could run outside and play, where he would have people who’d love him as much as she did, but could give him the attention he deserved.

Now I’ve always had a thing for Yorkies; I’ve always wanted one. For about 40 years, but who’s counting? What an opportunity! Of course I immediately contacted her!

Obviously Princess Kitty had planned a surprise for me I’d never expected. As much as I love our kitties, I also love Yorkies, and this was my chance!

And two days later, Benji joined our family. I don’t know who was happier, my husband or me. Because Benji’s an awesome dog, perfect for us, sweet and loving and loyal. Plus he’s willing to put up with my dressing him in doggie t shirts and bandanas, and taking his picture with Santa and the Easter Bunny!

I knew Princess had sent him to us. She knew how much I’d always wanted a Yorkie, and she took care of it. And maybe she just didn’t want us to have another kitty who looked like her. Because she really was one of a kind.

As much as we adore our Benji we felt guilty leaving him all by himself while we went to work. He needed a friend. So a few months ago the search began for a sister for Benji.

And it wasn’t easy. It had to be the right doggie, younger, but not too young. A little girl dog who needed a new home, and a big brother to show her around, to protect her. Someone to play with, and to go squirrel hunting with. A doggie who needed to be rescued.

That wasn’t easy either.

But suddenly after three months of searching, we had the opportunity to get Benji a sister. Someone had turned in a 4 month old little girl Yorkie-Shih tzu mix to a local animal shelter. She’d been spayed, and would be up for adoption the next day. As soon as we saw her picture I knew she was perfect! And that Benji would be really happy with her.

We just had to make it happen. Come on Princess Kitty, help us out here! You promised!

The shelter opened the next day at noon. My husband Ben was there by 11:45 and there were already 14 people ahead of him in line. Most of them wanting this particular dog. But one by one people started dropping out of line. Some didn’t want to wait until noon to go in, and some didn’t want to pay the $100 adoption fee!

And then there were only two people ahead of him. Both wanting the dog WE wanted…

When the shelter opened everyone went in and had an opportunity to look at the dog they wanted from a distance, and then fill out an application for adoption.

Afterwards everyone went in one on one to play with the dog for a few minutes. The first people came out a few minutes later and said they’d decided on a bigger dog.

So then there were two.

While Ben and the other lady were waiting for their turns they had been talking, and he’d told her he wanted to get the dog for his wife’s birthday gift, and how our other dog needed a playmate!

When the lady went in to play with the doggie, it seemed like she was in there forever. All this time I was waiting to hear from Ben, and…nothing. I just knew it wasn’t going to happen. I was a nervous wreck…and I’d not even seen this little one in person!

Then all of a sudden he texted me and said, “she’s ours!” Princess Kitty came through! The lady had come out after seeing the doggie and playing with her, walked up to Ben, and said, “I’ve decided to bless you and let you have her for your wife’s birthday present.”

An hour and a half later I finally met little Chloe in person. She was sitting in the front seat of Ben’s car, wagging her tail at us, and smiling like only a newly rescued puppy can smile! She knew she finally had her fur-ever home!

And now Benji has a little sister, who’s already following him everywhere, sleeping beside him, and yes, irritating him on occasion. Because that’s what little sisters do.

Princess Kitty kept her promise to me, and although she didn’t send me another kitty that looked like her, she sent us two wonderful furry friends that have already taken over our house, filling it with more love, assorted dog toys mixed among our granddaughter’s toys, and a jar of dog treats sitting on the counter beside the (human) cookie jar.

Princess Kitty kept her promise in her own way. After all, cats do their own thing, and make their own rules. They keep their promises, but sometimes in their own way. And I have to say. I’m thrilled at the way she kept her promise.

Benji and Chloe are the perfect pair of dogs for us. We couldn’t be happier at the way Princess worked things out!

And one day when we see Princess again, we’ll be able to thank her in person!

Note: If you’re looking for a fur-ever friend, whether it’s a dog or cat, please consider your local animal shelter, SPCA, or rescue organization. They have many animals looking for a loving, fur-ever home. You won’t be disappointed.

Artwork by Stella Violano…Fine Art America

Want to read the other stories in this series?
Meet Me at the Rainbow Bridge
The Bridge is Calling

Missing Thanksgiving

No I don’t mean we’re not doing Thanksgiving this year. We are. Our daughter and son-in-law are hosting it at their house, and I’m sure our granddaughter will “help” in her own special 18 month old way.

We’ll have basically the same menu as we’ve had for the last 10-15 years…some traditions do continue. But the cooks will be different. The setting will be different. And the table will be missing a lot of people who are no longer around or in our lives.

That’s what I’m missing. And this year for some reason I’m particularly missing it.

I miss the days of packing the car and driving a little over two hours to my mom’s house the night before, unpacking the car, and then starting on the food prep while my husband and daughter watched movies and played with the dog.

The next morning we’d get up early and start making pumpkin pies, cinnamon buns (with our daughter helping when she got older), putting the turkey in the oven, and then setting the table for a huge family get together, using My mom’s best china and silver. It wasn’t unusual to have ten people or more. We had a large extended family then, and Thanksgiving in particular was a special time!

I have wonderful memories of the holidays from my high school years celebrating with so many aunts and uncles. And later years as our family members dwindled and changed, we still had our special holiday celebrations, just with fewer participants.

That’s all changed now, though. My mom is gone. I don’t see my aunt and her family since they live several hours away. So it’s now my husband and me, and our daughter and son in law and our granddaughter. And we’ll have a wonderful day. That I’m sure of.

But there will be a lot that I’ll miss.

I miss having my mom with us. We never missed a Thanksgiving together. It was just a given that we’d all be together. There’s always an empty spot at the table now, even though I know she’s smiling down on us from heaven, adoring her family from afar, and especially enjoying watching her great-granddaughter Rachel as she grows.

I miss my uncles who were always such a fun part of Thanksgiving. Uncle Jay who always seemed to be ready for seconds even before most of us had finished filling our plates. How he ate so fast we never could figure out, but he always wore a little of it on his tie, and always seemed to spill just a bit on the floor for the dog who happened to be under the table waiting.

My uncle Fowler who always teased us all about something, who was always ready with a joke, and who expertly carved the turkey every year (I actually think he taught my husband a thing of two about it), wearing my aunt’s apron, and happily sampling as he went, just to be sure it was cooked properly!

My Aunt Mary made wonderful pies, and of course we had pumpkin, but she also treated us once in a while to her special mince pie which was amazing! And some years, for a really special treat, and usually at the request of my Uncle Fowler, she’d bring her “famous” angel pie, with its meringue crust, creamy lemony filling, and topped with real whipped cream and shaved bitter chocolate on top. I have her recipe, and so does the rest of the family, but none of us have ever been able to make it like she did! And we’ve certainly tried.

My Aunt Pauline would always bring the scalloped oysters, and she’d carefully put the dish together, layering the oysters just right, and the waiting to pour the milk in just before it was time to bake them. She always complained that she couldn’t get the milk amount right, but they were always delicious. Even if you didn’t particularly like oysters!

And then there were my mother’s cinnamon buns. Oh my, were they the hit of every meal! And not just on Thanksgiving! Sometimes she made two pans of them, because we all wanted leftovers, and they were so good you couldn’t stop at just one! Uncle Jay usually had at least three, because he had to save room for dessert!

We always had appetizers before, dinner. My aunt’s homemade pepper jelly over softened cream cheese (yummy!) which was later joined by her “fake” crab dip (chopped artichoke hearts and Parmesan cheese). One year she told one of our guests it was crab dip, and that guest actually pulled out what she thought was a small piece of crab shell! We never did tell her what it really was, but oh did we enjoy that laugh!

Yes, I miss those days. I wouldn’t trade our family we have now for anything, but it would be so nice if we could go back in time, and take our grown up Ashley and Chris and little Rachel with us, and enjoy a Thanksgiving like we used to have, as the saying goes, “back in the day!”

But now all I have are those memories tucked in my heart, that I pull out every year at this time, and remember all the fun and wonderful times we had together. I can’t recreate them, but I can make new ones, with our growing family here, as well as friends we’ve come to call our family as well.

Yes, I’m missing Thanksgiving, but I’m missing what once was. And appreciating what is now, because the past is the past, and the future is now. We’re making new memories that our children and grandchildren will one day look back on and nostalgically remember like I just did.

To everyone reading this, may you have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving. May your childhood holiday memories be a comfort to you if your family is no longer around. And may you all enjoy making new memories as you travel through this newest season of your life.

Be thankful. And be blessed.

To My Mother on Mother’s Day

I want to wish you the very happiest Mother’s Day ever.

Except you’re not here to celebrate with us any more. And each Mother’s Day I continue to miss you and wish so very much you were still here. Even if it were just for this one special day.

Especially this year.

Because this would have been the year you’d celebrate Mother’s Day as a great-grandmother. Not that you weren’t a GREAT grandmother to Ashley, because you were the best! But this year you’d actually have that title. Great-grandmother. That beautiful little baby in the photo above…that’s your great-granddaughter in her first few hours of life. The little girl named after you. Almost a year ago.

She made you a great-grandmother.

And I know you’d wear that title proudly. You wouldn’t mind a bit if anyone knew your age then, because you’d wear it as a badge of honor. Because that granddaughter you’d waited so long for had given you her daughter to bestow that title on you.

So many, many times I’ve wished you could see your namesake. Baby Rachel is beautiful. A wonderful, happy, smiling little girl. We’d be four generations of strong and loving women….that would have been so wonderful.

So many times I’ve wanted to be able to call and tell you about our granddaughter, about that funny little thing she just did, or how especially cute she was that day, or how much fun all of us had taking her shopping, like you used to do with her mother.

But there are no phones in heaven. No mail delivery. No photo albums. No Skype. I can’t reach you except in my mind and in my dreams.

So many times I’ve wished we’d had smartphones when Ashley was a baby so we could’ve sent you daily pictures and videos of her like we get every day of Rachel. So many times I’ve looked at our granddaughter and seen a glimpse of your smile, your look, and suddenly felt like a part of you was still with us, laughing with us, and just loving that precious baby.

But I’m hoping that somehow you know. I’m hoping somehow you’ve seen her, seen your beloved granddaughter with her own beautiful daughter. I’m hoping you and Daddy both have had that privilege to be able to share in all our happiness.

I remember so many years ago my Aunt Ruth telling us she believed the Lord let those in heaven see the happy family occasions that were happening with their loved ones back here on earth. Because heaven is a place of total joy, and seeing their loved ones rejoicing over special occasions would only make them happier. Somehow, in some way, I still believe that to this day.

So Mom, I’m wishing you a very special Happy Mother’s Day this year. Yes, I still miss you more than words can express. I still cry on occasion because you’re not here. I still talk to you in my mind, and I hope you can hear me. And I can still hear your voice in my head saying my name.

And when our granddaughter is old enough to understand, I’m going to tell her all about you. All about the things you used to do with her mother. And I’m hopefully going to get to do those same things with Rachel. Not that my cooking skills will be anything like yours, nor will I ever be able to play “school” like you did, but I’m going to try. You were a one-of-a-kind grandmother.

Just like you were a one-of-a-kind mother. And I still will cherish this picture of our three generations on our last Mother’s Day with all three of us.


Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Grandmom. And Great-Grandmom. I’ll love you always.

Birthday Reflections

Funny how certain days cause us to look back and reflect on those same certain days throughout the past years. How things and circumstances around us have changed; how people have changed. And yes, how we’ve changed, and how our outlook on life has changed as well.

Birthdays when we were children were certainly different than they are for us as adults today. It’s funny, but I don’t remember having birthday parties when I was growing up. Sure we celebrated, but it was always with our family members. I don’t even have a lot of pictures from those celebrations.

In fact, the only birthday party for myself that I remember was my Sweet Sixteen. Most of us girls had them, of course. It was a rite of passage. But sadly I don’t remember finding any party pictures when I cleaned out my mom’s house. I guess since the cameras all used film that had to be developed, it was a bit expensive, so photos weren’t taken all that much.

I do remember my 21st birthday, and yes, that was a big deal for all of us that year. I was in school in North Carolina, and in a “dry” county, so we had to go to Charlotte to celebrate so I could have the traditional first legal drink of alcohol. Of course, restaurants there weren’t allowed to serve cocktails, so we had to “brown bag” it. We sure felt like real adults then!

Yes, times have changed!

I remember the year I turned 25, and said something about it to the receptionist at the TV station where I was working at the time. She had just turned 18, and I remember her comment as if it were today. “Twenty-five!?? That’s OLD!” And she meant it quite seriously. Let’s see? She’d be turning 60 this year. Wonder how she’s feeling…?

I do remember my thirtieth birthday and how old I felt. No longer in my twenties, and at the time, feeling life was passing me by, and quickly. Divorced, no one in my life, and wondering if I’d ever get where I wanted to be. And I wasn’t sure where that even was!

Ten years later, what a difference! A loving husband, a two year old daughter, and my life was finally where it should be. But the idea of turning the big 4-0 hit me differently than I expected. My husband took me away for a weekend, and surprised me with 40 balloons when we got to our hotel room. Yes, I do have a picture somewhere, but it’s not getting posted. He treated me to a great dinner, and we had a wonderful weekend, but still…I was FORTY!!! That just sounded old. And for a while I FELT old.

Fast forward ten years later…my husband and I both turned fifty, him a month earlier than me. For months he’d been dreading turning “half a century” old. Every time I mentioned his birthday, he didn’t want to hear about it. So being the nice person I am, I woke him up at one minute after his birthday started and wished him a happy birthday, and reminded him he was half a century old. I had decorated his office with all the traditional “over the hill” decorations, and even gave him a surprise party two weeks later, complete with a “This is Your Life” book I had worked on for months.

Turning fifty didn’t bother me though. I guess I’d finally gotten to the point that we can’t stop time, and really, would we WANT to? The older we get, the more mellow I think we become. And no, he didn’t do a party and such for my 50th. But he made up for it on my 51st with a limo ride and a dinner cruise with four of my girl friends!

Another ten years and we turned 60. That actually didn’t bother me either, although once again, it seemed to bother Ben just a bit. A friend gave me the idea of giving him sixty gifts, each with items relating to 60, like 60 pennies, 60 watt light bulbs (for when he had a bright idea), 60 keys (for when he lost his), etc. and each gift with a reason for giving them. Took him almost two hours to open them all! For my 60th, it was once again low key, nice dinner with friends and family. And I actually was happy being 60. After all, I’d reached the point of “what you see is what you get”, and if you didn’t like it, too bad. I am who I am.

Yes, you may have figured out by now today is my birthday. I’m 67. Sounds like an odd number to me. But you know, it’s not a bad age. I’m still in the mindset of “I am who I am” and I’m not changing for anyone. Most people say I don’t look my age, and that makes me feel good. In fact, I actually think I’m going to like being 67.

But please allow me to say I’m also somewhat nostalgic at the differences in birthday celebrations then and now. I look at the various people who have been in and out of my life over the years, and I miss them. Some have passed away, while others have just dropped out of our life, many for reasons unknown. Others have taken their place, and I welcome them for the next part of my journey.

To my loving husband Ben, our wonderful daughter and son-in-law, and our most precious granddaughter, thank you for loving me, and for being a part of many more birthdays to come. And to my dear friends who are once again joining me for another year’s celebration, thank you! And even the flamingos joined the celebration and got me a cake!

Each birthday is another treasure to be opened. It brings another year of joys and promises, surprises and delights. And I can’t wait to see what treasures will be opened today for the future.

And yes, I’m only three years away from that milestone 70th birthday! That may take on a whole new meaning…..

The Good Doctor

I recently returned to my home town again, this time not for myself, but to help my town honor one of their own with a special display about community medicine at the Julia A. Purnell museum in Snow Hill, Maryland. A display honoring a man who adopted the community from the first time he and his wife arrived there in the mid 1940’s when they were assigned there after medical school. They never left.

A man who quickly acclimated to life in our quaint small town, and quickly established a practice which lasted 60 years until he finally retired. In his eighties. And yes, he worked every one of those years, taking a few vacations here and there, but seldom straying far from his adopted town and the people he adored.

And the people adored him. He was a family doctor; an obstetrician; an eye doctor; an ear, nose and throat doctor, and of course a pediatrician. Whatever he needed to be at the time. Except for surgery; there he drew the line. And it was probably a good thing!

He worked tirelessly, never turning anyone away who needed help, whether they could pay or not. In those days, there wasn’t the same health insurance we have today. If someone had no money, they gave what they could, and it wasn’t unusual for him to bring home chickens (cleaned and ready to cook, of course), squirrel, rabbit, deer, and even the occasional quail, as payment for services rendered. As one of his sons put it so well, “our freezer was always well stocked with chicken!”

It wasn’t unusual for the family to hear a knock on the door at night, and find someone there with an emergency, and of course, they were tended to immediately, whether dinner was over or not. And there were a few cases of gunshot wounds, stabbings, and other similar situations.

For many years the good doctor had his practice in the basement of his home, with his one nurse to help out. (His wife was not a nurse; she stayed home and cared for their children. Upstairs in the living quarters.) I remember going there many times for colds, sinus infections, and various other childhood illnesses, as well as to play with his daughter and other friends, who were some of my classmates. Today, a doctor having his practice in the basement of his home would be unthinkable! No handicap access for one thing, let alone all the medical privacy regulations.

After about 15-20 years in that basement office, he finally had a separate office built, which was connected to his home by a carport, and he also put in a dirt parking lot in the back for his patients. He also added another nurse/office manager. I remember that office well, with its formica and plastic chairs in the paneled waiting room, and his old well-used wooden desk in his wood paneled office. We thought nothing of it; it looked fine to us. He was our town doctor. Everyone loved him.

He made house calls as well. For years. It was a natural sight to see him come to the house, always wearing one of his signature bow ties (I can only imagine the collection his family had by the time he passed away!), and carrying his well-used black leather medical bag full of all manner of medical instruments, some we didn’t want to know about. Many of which are now on display at the museum through October.

We all particularly remember the shots he gave. Back then they didn’t dispense all the liquids and pills of today. It was a shot of something, given by the good doctor himself. With glass hypodermics, and reusable needles. Sterilized, of course. And did we ever dread those needles…..! But we got well!

The good doctor delivered over 2,000 babies during his 60 years of practice. Many were home deliveries, preferred by any number of his patients, rather than driving the half hour trip to the nearest hospital. There were many nights he was called out in the early morning hours to bring another new life into the world. And he never complained. He loved what he did.

I was one of those 2,000+ babies. My mother had a lot of trouble carrying a child and had endured a series of miscarriages, which in those days were called spontaneous abortions. When she became pregnant with me, the good doctor put her on bed rest, where she remained for the majority of her pregnancy. Her doctor visited her probably once a week, carrying that old black bag, and making sure he did everything possible for her to be successful in bringing me into the world. His wife was also pregnant at the time, and due a couple of weeks later. I don’t know for sure but I can imagine my mom and his wife, who were friends, having lots of conversations about their pregnancies and upcoming deliveries. His wife already had three children so I’m sure she told my mom all about what to expect.

And my mother was scared, I’m sure. She’d lost other babies and didn’t want to lose another. And I was a breech birth. Whether she knew in advance or not, I don’t know. For some reason I never asked. But I’m pretty sure the good doctor knew, because when it came time for me to born, after coming out to the house, he quickly examined my mother, and told my dad, in his slow, quiet drawl, “Go ahead and get her to the hospital. Don’t speed, but don’t waste any time, either!”

I was born about 4 hours later, naturally, without a C-section. My mother said the good doctor kept watching the clock when I started arriving, because he knew he only had a certain amount of time to safely deliver me. He told her it was a girl before anything else. My mom asked if I was ok, and once again he answered in that same drawl,  “well, she has five fingers on each hand, and five toes on each foot….” And she often told the story of how he kept singing and humming as he sewed her up after the delivery. Clearly, he was as delighted as the new parents were, that their daughter had arrived safely!

I don’t think there are any doctors today who would deliver a breech birth without a C-section. And I probably wasn’t the first one he’d delivered like that.

The good doctor also came out to our home in the middle of the night thirteen years later to attend to my grandmother as she lay dying from heart failure. And he was so upset to lose his patient….

He kept up with as much of the latest medical advances as possible, reading medical journals in bed the way most people read novels. He couldn’t get enough of the world of medicine. He loved his family, but he also loved his profession.

He only retired for medical reasons, when he sadly knew he just couldn’t do it any more. And he passed away seven months later. The entire town mourned his passing.

And now, twelve years later, his beloved town of Snow Hill is honoring his memory and his devotion to his patients, by presenting a six month long exhibit on Community Medicine: the Art and Science of Healing,” highlighting the life and career of Dr. Robert Charles LaMar. The exhibit features many of the items from his practice, including his exam table, original overhead light, his “famous” diathermy machine, and many of his other instruments, as well as his cherished medical school diploma.

Dr. LaMar was one of a kind. There will never be another like him. He is greatly missed by all. We who knew him, and/or were brought into the world by him, and were treated by him, owe him a huge debt of thanks for his service and his compassion. Many of us would not be here were it not for him.

Thank you, Dr. LaMar. You were one of a kind. And you are greatly missed.

Click here for more information on the Julia A. Purnell Museum in Snow Hill.

Mom, I Wish I Could Tell You…

I have so much to tell you. Especially about last weekend. Do you know how many times I caught myself thinking…I have to remember to tell Mom that! Or, wait til I tell my mother about… Or, Mom will be so excited when I tell her who I saw…

But I can’t do that. Because you’re gone.

Even though it’s been ten years, I still have moments…lots of them…that I start to pick up my phone to punch in your number. I still remember it, you know. And probably will for many more years. That’s not something you forget when it’s been such a big part of your life.

But last weekend after my book signing, I really, REALLY have so much I want to tell you. So much I know you’d be happy to hear. So much I want to share with you.

Like my first visitors…a couple I’ve known for years. Now in their early eighties, but hardly looking even seventy. I remember when Emma and Joe were married. You and Daddy dressed up and left me to stay with my aunt and uncle while you went to the wedding. Before you left, Uncle Fowler took a picture of the two of you, and you can see me reflected in the mirror behind you, giggling like the little girl I was at the time. This couple had stories about you, and even more precious memories of my father, who had been a loyal customer at their family car dealership for many years. (Joe sold us my first car – a 1968 gold Camaro with a black vinyl top!) Mom, you would’ve loved to have seen them.

A lady who’d known you for years came by. She told me how as a young nurse she used to go to our house and give insulin shots to my grandmother when she’d lived with us. And as soon as she said that, I remembered her! I’m sure you would, too!

And Mom, a couple of ladies from your church came by as well, and told me how much they still missed you. One of them reminded me how you sat behind her every Sunday! (You all did make sure you sat in the same pew every week!) And did you know the church actually put the word out about my book signing in their bulletin? I couldn’t believe it!

Several of your former students also came by or called. They told me how much they loved you, and how you’d been their favorite teacher. How you gave them snacks every day, and taught them colors and numbers, and always made sure their day was fun!

One of your assistant teachers even came by and said you were the best teacher she’d ever taught with! And I’m sure you were!

I even got a personal note and book order when we got home from your former reading supervisor from your teaching days. She said the most wonderful things about you, including how honored she’d been to have worked with you!

And did you know some of my friends from high school had a reception for me afterwards? As you remember, a lot of them still live there, but several of them came back to town just to be there for us! Us. You and me.

Only you weren’t there. Except in our memories.

And my friends had wonderful memories of you, too.

Carol and Molly told me how you’d taught their daughters, and how one of those little girls had obviously never had to pick up her toys before. Until Mrs. Chapman taught her that’s what was expected!

Diane reminded me about the dining room set you’d given her when she and her husband were married almost 50 years ago! And she wanted me to know that same dining room set is now being used by their son and his wife. They just couldn’t bear to get rid of it. (And she bought three books! One for her and one for each of her sisters!)

I know you remember my high school best friend Laura. Of course you do. After all, her mom joined you in heaven about 6 months after you got there. She and I had a great time getting reacquainted after all these years. And I so hope we can continue to rekindle that relationship.

And my friend Jenny’s brother told us how his mom would let him walk across the field from their house to yours, watching him every second, of course, so he could go visit you. You’d give him milk and cookies and talk for a while, and then you’d walk him across the street and watch him cross the field to go back home. I’d never heard that story, but I can picture you doing it.

Everyone there remembered the parties you let us have in our basement rec room. We’d eat sandwiches and potato chips, listen to music, dance, and shoot pool for hours. Many of them remember going upstairs during the parties, just to talk to you for a few minutes, because, well, they just enjoyed your company.

Everybody loved you, Mom. I don’t think you had any idea how much.

I just wish I could tell you all about how wonderful it was to see so many people I grew up with, and how touched I was with their remembrances of you.

Many of them have already emailed me about how much they’re enjoying our story. And I’m so happy…I just wish you were here to enjoy it with me.

I miss you so much. But what an impression you made on so many people.

It was all worth it.

 

Note: Names of my high school friends have been changed. But you know who you are.