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.

Going Home Again

It’s nostalgic feeling. Like nothing I can describe.

Sure, you can move away, but somehow you just never seem to totally lose contact with the people you were close to when you were growing up. Especially the ones who still live in that same area.

In my case, miles and time have separated us, but the memories and the friendships have not. The ties may have loosened for a while, but they are still there, and still intact.

The memories keep us together.

When my first book was published a few months ago, I wanted to have my first book signing in my hometown. Since the book is about my mother and the last years of her life, as well as dealing with the heartache and grief that accompanied that tragic event, it was only fitting to return to the town where I had grown up, and where my mother had been a beloved kindergarten teacher for many years. Where several of her friends still lived, and so did many of my school friends.

And I’m so glad I did.

You see, you can go home again. I did.

It may not be exactly the same as you remember, but it’s still home. There are the same streets, the same houses, the same churches. The “downtown” area is still there, only with new businesses, several owned by friends I went to school with. My old high school is there, in the same location, but with an entirely new facade and totally modern interior. But it’s still there, and as we drove past it, so many memories flooded back I was just suddenly overwhelmed. Especially when I realized I was going to see so many of those high school friends again soon.

My old house, or should I say my mother’s old house, is still there, looking almost the same, and for a brief instant I felt like we should turn the car into that U-shaped driveway and pick her up to go with us to my book signing. And every time I ride past it, my heart overflows and the memories leak out of my eyes.

But then I realized…the book was about her, and about my losing her. How I felt; how I dealt with it. How other daughters can deal with the same tragedy and survive. If she were still here, which I still wish, none of this would be happening.

This was the time I was going home to honor my mother’s memory by introducing the book I’d written about her.

I didn’t know what to expect at all. A good friend from high school was hosting my event in her gallery. Like almost all of my classmates, she’d known my mother, like probably over half the town had.

But after her being gone for ten years, would they still remember her?

Did they ever! I cannot tell you how many people came by or called, or even emailed me to tell me they remembered her; they loved and missed her; how she taught their children, or their grandchildren. Several people came by just to tell me she’d taught them, and how they still remembered her after over forty years, and what an impression she’d made on their life. My heart was so touched from the outpouring of love I experienced. Many of the visitors told me stories from her teaching days that I’d never heard. And they all told me how much she’d been loved. Not only her friends, but my friends who still live there, or who, like me, came back to their hometown for the event. To honor my mother.

There was a reception after the book signing at one of my friends’ homes, and I had the opportunity to not only reconnect with a lot more of my high school friends, but to exchange stories of our parents, since our parents all knew each other as well as we did. That’s the beauty of a small town.

You can go home again.

It won’t be the same as it was when you were growing up. Because you’re older; you’re now an adult; not the teenager growing up and ready to spread those wings and fly away. Even though, like me, when you return to your roots, to your home town, you suddenly feel you’re back in those earlier days when we were still young, when our entire life was ahead of us. When we just knew we were going to make a difference in the world.

But guess what. You and I did make a difference. We all did. In our own various ways. I learned that this weekend. We touched other people’s lives in ways we didn’t even realize, and in ways we’ll never know. Just by being who we were; who we still are.

And for a little while that weekend I wished in a way I could be living back there again, as well as in my current city. We even made a few new friends, friends we will definitely keep.

Funny how that works. I still miss my hometown.

One thing I do know, though, I can continue going home. Because my heart will always be there.

As will my memories. My memories in this daughter’s heart.

The Longest 60 Seconds

Sixty seconds isn’t really a very long time. Not in the entire scheme of things. Sure, it may feel like a long time when you’re on hold on a phone conversation, or you’re waiting for traffic light to change, or if you’re waiting for a loved one at the airport who you haven’t seen in a long time.

Or if you’re sitting in an emergency room cubicle with your husband who’s just been rushed there by ambulance because he passed out at home three times within ten minutes. Fortunately the ambulance drivers had called ahead and the ER staff had a cubicle set up for him with every monitoring device imaginable, as well as IV’s, meds, and a portable defibrillator. And we watched as they wasted no time hooking him up to all of it.

One minute you’re talking to him, and the next you’re watching him as his eyes roll back in his head, and he’s gagging for breath. While his heart monitor suddenly registers nothing. And the ER staff is so busy trying to save him they don’t even have time to ask you to step out of the cubicle into the hall. All you can do is sit there with your daughter, frozen to your chair. Not believing what you’re seeing.

Those sixty seconds become forever. And even longer. All you can do is pray that he’ll survive and be okay. There’s absolutely no time to think; no time to cry; and no time to scream. Time totally stands still as your life with your loved one flashes before your eyes, and you don’t know whether the movie playing in your mind of your life together will have any more scenes in it.

We lived that scenario a little over three years ago. And I would never ever wish that on anyone else. Ever. It’s a time when you have nothing at all to go on except your faith.

It wasn’t the first time I’d gone through heart problems with my husband, but it was definitely the worst; the most serious; the one that was life-threatening…and life changing.

Not even a year after we were married, my husband started experimenting chest pains. Typical of a young man, he ignored them and never mentioned it until one night after returning home from a concert he casually told me what had been going on. Let me just say we were quickly in the local hospital emergency room!

The next day we discovered his aortic heart valve was leaking, which necessitated open heart surgery to replace the valve. I was terrified that I’d be a widow before my first wedding anniversary, and was never so relieved when he came through the surgery with no problems. Bear in mind, this was 32 years ago, and heart surgery was not nearly as common as it is now. And although it’s still a scary prospect, it’s a procedure that’s dramatically advanced since that first surgery.

Natural replacement heart valves don’t last forever, though, and 16 years later the procedure was performed again, replacing the pig valve with a bovine (cow) valve. It was still a bit unnerving, but nothing like that first time. His recovery, fortunately, was much quicker as well.

But that moment in the ER almost ten years later when he literally was dying in front of me and our newly engaged daughter was the worst moment, and the longest 60 seconds, of my life.

There are bits and pieces from that long minute we both remember, although they’re much more vivid to me. But the most memorable, at least to him, was the young doctor who looked straight at him during the ordeal and said, “Mr. Newell, you aren’t going to die on my watch!”

And he didn’t, thank you, Lord!

Although he does joke about it now, and says he should’ve asked her how long her watch was for! But right then, at that moment, no one was laughing.

We came very close to losing him that morning. Closer than I ever want to think about. The ambulance personnel had left their EKG strips in there with him, and when a friend of ours who had been on the rescue squad for many years saw them and read them, she told us how close it had really been.

Another 60 seconds and it could’ve been a different story.

The very next day we walked out of the hospital, Ben with a newly implanted pacemaker, and me with a very grateful heart and a huge answered prayer. Thankfully God still had plans for my husband. Plans for him to be able to walk our daughter down the aisle at her wedding the following year. Plans for him to meet his first granddaughter who arrived a year after that wedding.

And I am convinced there are many more plans we don’t even know about.

Sixty seconds can be just a short stretch of time, but it can also be the longest day of your life.

Sixty seconds can be a life-changing experience. You just don’t know when it will happen.

Saying Goodbye to Herbie

I grew up an only child. Not by my parents’ choice, but it’s just how it was. We lived just outside the town limits of my little hometown, with not a lot of neighbors, especially ones with children my age, nearby.

I had the opportunity to play with other kids, at church, or when my mom would have lunch with some of her friends who had children close to my age, but a lot of the first years of my life was spent doing things with my mother. She was a stay at home mom, like most of the mothers were then, so we spent a lot of time together, playing, reading, and of course her letting me “help” her in the kitchen. Which is a whole other story, for another day!

And like many children who grew up without brothers or sisters, I missed out on having that special person close to my age to play with, to share stories with, and of course to blame when something went wrong!

So along came Herbie. Now I have no idea where Herbie came from, or even where the name came from. But Herbie quickly became my very best friend in the world. And obviously Herbie moved in with us at some point.

We’d play dolls together, and have tea parties. We’d build things with blocks, and sometimes Herbie would knock them over, and then my friend would really get scolded by me. Which meant Herbie would have to pick them up and rebuild our creation as I directed where every block was to be put!

My mother had to set a place at the table for Herbie as well. In fact, one time my dad accidentally sat on Herbie when we all sat down to eat, and poor Herbie was quite upset! Now Herbie didn’t eat what we ate, but there was certainly imaginary food for Herbie on those plates, because I’d have to fuss at my friend to make sure that plate was cleaned, or else no dessert! And I meant it, too!

Of course Herbie went almost everywhere I did, and several times when we went shopping, Herbie would almost get stepped on by one of the salespeople in the department store, and I’d have to set them straight, so it wouldn’t happen again. After all, Herbie could’ve gotten hurt.

Herbie even slept with me, and when I had to have a stuffed toy to sleep with, well, you guessed it…so did Herbie! Of course, when my mother read me a story, Herbie had to have one too, and of course Mom had to sing each of us a different lullaby every night before we could go to sleep.

Herbie didn’t stay around forever though. Once I started school my friend just sort of faded away, replaced by school friends and cousins. Gradually the memory of Herbie was sort of lost, at least to me.

But my mother remembered it all, and told me stories about Herbie and me on many different occasions. She even wondered if my daughter Ashley, also an only child, would have a friend like Herbie. (She didn’t; Herbie was one of a kind.)

Because, you see, Herbie was my imaginary friend, who lived for several years in my child’s very active imagination. I don’t know what my friend looked like. I don’t even know if Herbie was a boy or a girl. I guess I never even told my mother, or else it really wasn’t important to me, because at that age, a friend is a friend, and it really didn’t matter.

Children are quite imaginative. They can create the most wonderful stories, because children aren’t limited by conventional adult thought processes. To them, unicorns really do exist. Animals can talk, and we can carry on conversations with them. Birds can swim, and fish can fly. You really can catch a falling star and put it in your pocket. And dreams really do come true.
As I got older, the imaginative side of me faded, and went dormant. The animals stopped talking, the stars stayed in the sky. And my dreams were but a distant memory.

Like I had done many years before, I had said goodbye to Herbie.

But I know Herbie is still around. The Herbies of the world don’t ever really go away. We just stop paying attention to them, stop talking to them. We ignore them until they go away and find someone else who’ll appreciate them, who’ll nourish them and keep them alive.

Although I said goodbye to Herbie years ago, I’m sure my friend is still around, and most likely still living somewhere in my hometown, probably still in the attic at my mother’s former house, and hopefully Herbie has already befriended the kids who live there now.

And one day, I hope my friend is able to find me once again and come back for a visit. We’ll have a tea party, and talk to the animals, and catch a falling star or two.

I’ll enjoy saying hello to Herbie again.

The Sounds of Christmas

I don’t know about you, but I love the music of Christmas. (Just not played 24 hours a day on so many radio stations starting on Thanksgiving Day! That’s a bit much.)

It seems every musician has their own versions of popular Christmas songs, as ell as some that have been composed over recent years and quickly became well-loved classics. Each year it seems as if I collect a new favorite.

manger-sceneMy mother’s favorite carol was “Silent Night.” To this day I cannot hear that song, or sing it at church, without thinking about her. How she’d often explain how it made her picture the shepherds at the manger that night, seeing baby Jesus for the first time, and the wonder and amazement they felt knowing that tiny child was the savior of the world. She said she could almost feel the quiet of that night, no sound at all, until a tiny baby began to softly cry, then close His eyes to sleep in that heavenly peace.

“Away in a Manger” was also a favorite of hers, and even to this day I can’t help but think about my mom every time I hear those songs. In fact, I can almost still see that old record player we had with her favorite Bing Crosby record spinning around on it at 33 1/3 rpm. We played that record so much it got really scratchy, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying it. (I actually still have that album in storage, but of course nothing to play it on now.)

Mom also loved “The Little Drummer Boy” and taught it to every one of her kindergarten classes. That was when teachers could still talk about Christmas, have class Christmas parties the last day before school was out for the holiday, kids could give their teachers Christmas gifts, and even have Christmas pageants with the children dressed up to recreate that first Christmas.

In those early years I always enjoyed hearing “Silver Bells,” perhaps because I liked the images it created in my mind. People rushing around, dressed in heavy coats, walking past festively decorated store windows, carrying stuffed shopping bags, and walking past Salvation Army bell ringers with their silver bells tinkling away in the chilled frosty air.

snowy-christmasAnd then there’s “White Christmas.” That song was really special to a lot of us kids, because after all, who didn’t love snow back then?! Especially at Christmas time. We’d dream of waking up Christmas Eve or Christmas Day morning and finding the ground covered in snow, and it still coming down. I think we only had that happen a couple of times at Christmas while we were kids, but I have to admit, there’s still enough kid left in me that I’d really like to see it happen this year! But I’m probably still dreaming.

The old songs are wonderful classics that will never go out of style. But there have also been some other Christmas songs that have come out over the past years that have been quickly added to my list of favorites.

Although “Mary Did You Know?” came out years ago, it feels like it’s new every time I hear it. The poignant words, when you really listen to them, and digest them, so clearly detail all of the myriad of emotions Mary must have felt when she was holding her new baby. Joy, mixed with the sorrow of knowing what His future entailed. How she wanted to protect him from all of that! Yet she knew in her heart that God’s plan was so much better than hers….

“The Christmas Shoes” was recorded by the Christian vocal group Newsong in 2000. I still remember hearing it for the first time, the feelings of sadness and hope combined into one huge emotional mess, but at the same time evoking feelings of what true love really is. Christmas and faith…through the eyes of a child. And because so many of my friends have lost loved ones at this holiday season, that song will forever have a special place in my heart.

santa-reading-listThen there’s another song I keep hearing in my heart and in my mind every Christmas season. I’ve written about it before, and how I felt the first time I heard “Grown-up Christmas List” recorded by Amy Grant. That list is still in the forefront of my heart today. If only we could have just a few of the items on that list….

Yes, certain songs, certain Christmas carols, will always bring to mind memories that are beautiful, comforting, and nostalgic, making me wish I could relive certain special Christmases just one more time. But those memories will have to continue to live only in my mind, because I wouldn’t want to miss the joys of Christmas today with the ones I now have around me to love.

In our memories, past Christmases were always happy and joyful, whether they really were or not. Because the very meaning of Christmas is just that. A time of unconditional joy because of the gift of love we were given on that night so long ago.

The musical sounds of this season are special, and unlike any other. They can create emotions and memories inside of us that we didn’t even know were there.

What memories do your favorite Christmas songs bring to mind?

What Do You Do With the Gifts?

The gifts were all beautifully and lovingly wrapped, and placed carefully under the tree, name tags reading “To Mom” with love. You’d had so much fun shopping this year. It seemed like you had no trouble finding gifts for anyone, especially for her. And you couldn’t wait until Christmas morning to see her face when she opened those special gifts you’d gotten for her. It was going to be the best Christmas ever!

But then, the phone call came; or the knock on the door. And all of your Christmas plans were suddenly and irreversibly changed.

Because your world was turned upside down. And instead of merry and joyful, you were sad beyond belief, and plunged into a sea of grief and sorrow that you didn’t know existed. Unfortunately, it did. And now you were living in it, drowning in it.

And all those gifts suddenly became awful reminders that your world would never be the same, and for the next several years, Christmas would no longer be your favorite holiday, but a reminder of the deepest hurt you’ve ever felt.

Instead of having a huge family dinner, with lighted candles and your best china, you’re planning a funeral. Instead of selecting your best holiday attire, you’re searching through your closet for your most somber outfit, and selecting the final outfit that she’ll ever wear.

Christmas? It’s the furthest thing from your mind.

Until you look under the tree and those gifts are staring you in the face. You’d interspersed hers with everyone else’s as you usually did, so it would be more fun handing them out. Now you see each and every one of them as if they were all placed together in one pile. A painful reminder staring you in the face that she’s not going to be opening them. Ever.

So what do you do with the gifts?

That may sound trivial in the overall scheme of events. Some may say it’s a selfish question. Or it may sound like a simple question, one easily answered, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth of that question.

The gifts were bought for her. Wrapped with your love in brightly colored paper; tied with holiday ribbon by your own hands. To be given with love. Now they’re a painful reminder; a stab to the heart when you see them. The act of opening them when they aren’t supposed to be yours, when they were bought as gifts for your loved one, is something you can’t bring yourself to do.

If you haven’t experienced it, you cannot imagine the pain. It’s one thing to not be able to buy gifts for her that first Christmas she’s gone; it’s entirely another to have to do something with gifts already wrapped and tagged.

A friend of mine unfortunately found herself in this situation many years ago. Fortunately her husband stepped in one morning and took the gifts and put them somewhere so she didn’t have to deal with that, as well as everything else. To this day she has no idea what he did with them. Which is probably just as well.

The best advice I can give? Do what feels right for you. Have someone else handle it if you just don’t think you can. There’s no shame in that, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed over.

After all, you have enough on your mind. It’s not about the money, the cost of the gifts. It’s about your emotional well-being, and how you can best begin to heal after a traumatic loss. But it’s unfortunately something that comes up when a loved one passes away this time of year. And I’ve seen nothing written about it; no suggestions of ways to best deal with the situation and the emotions it brings.

There are a few suggestions I can offer that I’ve heard from others who’ve gone through this, instead of returning the gifts, either before or after the holiday.

One family donated the gifts to a local shelter, still wrapped, with the name tag changed to simply read “from [their loved one’s name]”. That way they knew the gifts would be put to good use and brighten someone else’s Christmas, as well as allow their loved one to make a final contribution to a charitable cause.

Another family decided to give each family member one of their loved one’s gifts to open in her memory, and then decide whether to keep it as a memento of her, or give it to someone else who would enjoy or need it. As each person opened the gift, they told a story about what their loved one would have probably said about the gift; and of course that also came with a lot of tears.

One other family said they changed the tags to “from [loved one’s name] all the way from heaven” and hid the non-personal gifts around the house to be found throughout the year. Clothing gifts were donated to charity.

It’s not easy losing a loved one at any time, but during the holiday season that loss is magnified, and any reminders of what has been lost can bring on the sadness and depression at any point. It’s natural. And expected. Leaving their Christmas gifts around can make it worse, but so can the decisions of what to do with them.

Bear in mind what your loved one would want you to do as well, if you can. Sometimes it’s hard to see further than the next few hours, let alone the next few days.

The best advice I can give…do what’s right for you. And don’t let anyone’s criticisms change your actions. Unfortunately one day they may go through this as well, if they haven’t already.

Hang in there. It does get easier over time. Next Christmas will be better. The memories will linger, and although you don’t think so now, they will gradually get easier to remember.

Birthing a Book

A mother usually only carries her baby for no longer than nine months.

I carried one for over five years.

Five long years of starts and stops. Reliving so many painful memories that I thought at times I couldn’t do it. At times I almost gave up, and almost pushed the “delete” button.

I wondered what in the world had ever made me think I could carry this baby to term. Because when I’d begun, I had no idea what was involved. No real idea of what it took to do this project

But I persisted. I wrote; scratched out words and paragraphs; added stories; rearranged chapters; changed names; and finally had it finished.

Or so I thought. Little did I know I’d just begun. Or that that first draft was just that. A first draft, and nothing like the now finished product.

Of course after I finished that first draft, I gave it to my husband and daughter to read, and of course they thought it was great! They had very few suggestions, and urged me to go ahead and publish it.

But I knew it wasn’t time; it wasn’t ready to be born yet, because it wasn’t fully formed. It couldn’t yet breathe on its own. It still needed work.

After letting it “rest” for a while, as I’d been told by other writers to do, I picked it back up, and decided it needed some help. So I re-wrote again, moved parts around, added more stories and more advice, and wondered if I was totally crazy to attempt such a project. Who’d want to read it, anyway?

So I finished it. Again. And once again I took advice from other writers and found a friend who volunteered to read it and edit it for me.

THAT was scary! Someone was going to read it that wasn’t a family member. Someone who’d be brutally honest and tell me if it was good or bad, and show me places I needed to change. Oh. My. Gosh! Was I ready to hear the criticism and negative comments I KNEW I’d get?

I held my breath when I got that first email with her comments. I almost didn’t open it, because I KNEW she’d been sitting at her desk, reading it, and shaking her head at how amateurish, how bad it was.

But surprise! She liked it, and even complimented me on many different passages I’d written. Sure, she also told me what I needed to fix, and why, and she was right. On every point.

So I bravely once again went chapter by chapter, rewriting, and reorganizing.
That, I have to tell you, was not easy. At times I felt like I couldn’t do it, but I was encouraged by my husband and other friends, so I did.

And finally, I was done. I ran it through several spell checking programs, grammar and punctuation programs, until I knew I had to stop before I messed things up.

It was time to give birth. I’d talked to several publishers over the last few months, and selected the one I wanted. Now, let me say this; sending off that manuscript, along with the photo I wanted to use for my cover, was difficult. Scary, in fact.

What was I doing????

Then, a few days later, I received an email with the initial draft of the cover. Already. I cannot tell you how I felt seeing the title and then my name on a book cover. I almost cried.

I only hope my mother would have been happy with it. And I so wish she could see it.

Then a few days later I received the actual book layout. Another “wow” moment. It’s one thing to write it, to see the proposed cover, but another to see the manuscript actually laid out for publication. And to suddenly realize “I did this!” This is actually what it’s going to look like.

That was nothing compared to how I felt when I saw the final cover design. Front AND back. The detail was amazing. The front cover background reminded me of my grandmother’s lace tablecloth I use on special occasions. And the back…you’ll have to buy the book to see the detail for yourself.

But the final and most amazing part of this process was getting the author’s proof copy in my hand and actually holding the finished product. A five year journey culminated in a real book…with my name on it as the author, and my picture on the back cover.

All I could say was, “That’s me. It’s really me. I did it. I wrote a book and it’s being published. I’m a real author.”

book-announcementAnd now, it’s finally available for purchase. You can buy my book and read my story and enjoy poignant moments from my mother’s life; encouragement for getting through the tough times of dealing with parental aging; and receive inspiration and yes, even hope, in the knowledge that even though we eventually lose our loved ones, we continue on, and we survive.

My book has been born. My five year dream realized. What an awesome gift!

You may purchase my book directly from my publisher, Easter Press, as well as on Amazon.

I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to contact me and share your thoughts and stories as well.

Thank you Mom, for being who you were, and for inspiring me to write about the things held deep in my heart.

December 10, 2016

The Mystery of Santa Claus

This was originally published in December, 2015, but I wanted to share it once again. Because the mystery of Santa Claus is still with us!

A big part of Christmas when I was growing up, like most of my friends in my hometown, was wondering what Santa Claus was going to bring us.

Sure, we all knew the real meaning of Christmas, because back then there were nativity scenes everywhere, not just at the churches, and no one complained at all. Almost of us went to church regularly with our families, and participated in Sunday School Christmas pageants as well, so we were quite familiar with the reason for the season.

But that didn’t stop us from believing in Santa Claus, and knowing that when we got up Christmas morning, he’d have been there and left presents for us under the tree! And we couldn’t wait to see what he’d brought!

I don’t remember the first time I saw Santa and told him what I wanted for Christmas, but I did find this photo several years ago, and that may well have been At Wannamakers 4 yr oldmy first visit to see the man in the red suit. It was taken at Wanamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia, most likely in 1954 or 1955. As you can see, I was all dressed up for this special visit, in a new hat and coat my mother had probably bought for me just for this important occasion! It wasn’t real commonplace back then to take pictures of kids with Santa Claus, so this picture is even more special, and the only one I’ve found of me with him.

And from the look on my face, I can’t tell if I was excited to give him my Christmas list, or just wondering who in the world this person in that furry red suit was, and why I was there!

Back in the 1950s Santa Claus was everywhere. We never questioned why. Because he was Santa, and he was, well, a bit magical. And we never questioned how he could be in two or even three places in town at one time; we never even thought about it. He just could. We never noticed that his beard didn’t look that real, and how it didn’t feel like our own hair, and how it didn’t even look like it was actually growing on his face.

Just like we never thought about how truly impossible it was for a sled to fly through the air pulled by reindeer, who certainly can’t fly, and even if they could, they could never pull a sled all across the world in just one night while their driver had them stop at each house, go down a chimney that he certainly wouldn’t fit in, and leave a bunch of toys under someone’s Christmas tree. All those toys would never even all fit in that sled! But we didn’t stop to think about any of that.

P1070253Of course we all left milk and cookies out for him. And we expectantly checked the next morning to see if they’d been eaten. Of course, all that was left were crumbs, and a few dregs of milk in the bottom of the glass. Reason tells us there’s no way someone can eat thousands of cookies and drink gallons and gallons of milk in one night and still function, let alone deliver toys! But that never occurred to us.

We never questioned. Because that was the mystery and the magic of Santa Claus. Eventually, though, we all figured out there wasn’t really a Santa Claus. Our parents had made it all up, just like their parents before us, and probably their parents’ parents as well. But it was a huge part of our Christmas tradition. And we never got upset that he didn’t really exist when our parents told us he did. We accepted it just as one of those rites of passage of childhood into adulthood. And we made sure we didn’t let on to our friends’ younger brothers and sisters and spoil it for them!

Today some of my friends don’t believe in telling their children about Santa Claus. They’re worried that if they tell them about Santa, when they discover later on it wasn’t true, they’re afraid they won’t believe other things they’ve told them. They don’t want them to miss the true meaning of Christmas. And that’s their choice; they have a right to believe that way if they wish. But personally, I can’t imagine not growing up without my dreams of Santa!

For all of us who grew up with him, the love and mystery of Santa Claus is always going to be alive and well in our hearts, whether we’re four years old, forty years old, or even eighty-four years old.

And do you know, to this day, I’ve never figured out where my mother hid those presents that were marked “From Santa”, and how she managed to get them all under the tree to surprise me without somehow waking me up!

I wonder…….??? Is it somehow possible……..???

A New Thanksgiving

This year’s Thanksgiving meal was truly extra special. In several ways. For the first time, our daughter and I actually cooked it together. In her kitchen, in her house. With some help from her husband who deep fried the turkey to a golden brown delight while my husband supervised.

And our 6 month old blessing, our first granddaughter, was right there watching, smiling and laughing, and wearing her “Gobble til You Wobble” shirt. And I’m sure anticipating next year, after her first two teeth have been joined by all the others, and she can actually eat a real Thanksgiving meal (I don’t think the banana baby food she had really counted)!

I have to say, this Thanksgiving was the first one in the ten years since my mother passed away, that I truly enjoyed the day without having a moment in which I wanted to cry. Because I was surrounded by the most special family ever. My husband, our daughter and son in law, and their first child.

I did remember Thanksgivings past, from the time Ashley was just a baby and my own mother was more interested In holding her granddaughter than eating dinner. I remember her feeding baby/toddler Ashley from her own plate when she was old enough to eat regular food, and how proud she was of her when she enjoyed it and clapped her little hands for more!

cooking-with-grandmom-age-2I remember my mother letting Ashley help her make the cinnamon buns for the first time, watching her get flour all over the floor as well as herself and her grandmother, and my mother not caring a bit! And she always let her have a bite of the raw dough, no matter how much I said not to.

And as the years went by, one tradition held firm…Ashley always helped her grandmother make the cinnamon buns. And they were always delicious! Because they were made with such love.

After dinner was over, the leftovers put away, and over slices of pumpkin pie, we’d all go through the newspaper ads to plan our shopping for the next day. At first my mom and I would pick out things we wanted to get, but it wasn’t long before Ashley took over the ads, even as a little girl, and picked out all the toys she wanted Santa to bring her. And also telling her grandmother what she could get for her as well!

The next day was spent with the three of us at the mall, three generations, happily planning a Christmas to remember, going through beautifully decorated and crowded stores to find the gifts we wanted, and waving at Santa until Ashley could get up her courage to go talk to him. We’d come home exhausted and let Ben bring our shopping bags inside and warm up the leftovers. Another ritual successfully completed….!

And this year, we began those traditions anew. With myself as grandmother to Baby Rachel who sat happily beside me in her high chair during dinner. And looking at all the newspaper ads after dinner as we enjoyed our pumpkin pie, with my granddaughter sitting in my lap, not quite sure what we were doing, but somehow understanding it meant fun was coming!


Yes, now I have taken the place of my own mother as matriarch of the family. Yes, I still miss my mother dearly, and certainly had moments where I wished she’d been there, but our family once again proudly has three generations of strong women to love and nurture each other. To pass along family traditions, family stories, and yes, even family recipes. And to make our own new traditions as well.

And we will surely enjoy every moment of making those new traditions.

I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and made a lot of wonderful memories as well!

The Thanksgiving I’ll Never Forget

I may not remember the year, but I sure remember what happened. Because it’s not often you get a second chance to have more time with your mother.

Thanksgiving was always a time for our family to be together. My aunt, her two sons, their wives and kids. Plus my husband and daughter, of course. I’m not even sure how old Ashley was that year, but it was probably no more than 10 or 11.

She was old enough to understand what was happening, and old enough to be afraid. Not just for her grandmother, but she’d never seen her own mother fall apart and not be in charge of a situation before.

That Thanksgiving started like most of the others had for the past several years. Ben, Ashley and I arrived at her house the night before so we could help with the preparations. We’d set the table in the dining room that night, with my grandmother’s antique china and my mother’s brightly polished silverware. After all, it was going to be a special holiday feast!

The next morning we all got up early, put the turkey in to roast, started the cinnamon bun dough, made pumpkin pies and began putting together the other side dishes to be cooked at the last minute. It was always a special time, Mom and me in the kitchen, while Ben and Ashley watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV.

Just another normal Thanksgiving. Or so we thought.

My aunt arrived later with her contributions to the meal, followed shortly afterwards by her two sons and their families. We had our appetizers, and my mom and my aunt started bringing out the side dishes. Mom was just pulling the turkey out of the oven when she suddenly dropped to the floor.

No warning. No time to say she didn’t feel good. She just passed out and fell to the floor.

And my world suddenly stopped.

I had no idea whether she’d suddenly died, or just fainted. She’d never had an incident like that before, at least not one that I’d known about.

What did I do? I’d love to say I rushed over to her, checked her out, and calmly told my family to call 911.

What I really did was panic and scream and start crying. Mature, right?! But fear took over. You don’t know how you will react in any given situation until you’re in it. You can say you’d do this, or you’d do that, but until you’re actually facing that moment, you truly have no idea.

Fortunately my younger cousin’s wife Joanne is a nurse, and she immediately took over while my other cousin called the rescue squad. All I could do was cry and pray that my mother was all right.

And, oh, I sure prayed! Ashley was crying and sobbing. My poor husband was torn between trying to comfort both of us and helping my cousin’s wife with my mother.

I cannot remember ever being so scared. I do remember thinking, though, and praying, “Lord, please don’t take my mother yet! Please, I can’t handle this…!” And I tried to put the memory out of my mind of a Thanksgiving many years previously when my mother’s mother had died early that morning, right in that same house.

Most of the tragic events in our family have happened on holidays or birthdays.

After what seemed like forever, which I’m sure was just a minute or less, my mom came around, found herself laying by the stove on the kitchen floor with a pillow under her head, and a blanket over her, and everyone standing around or leaning over her, with worried expressions on our faces.

Joanne was certainly visibly relieved, but her nurse’s training was still in full swing, as she calmly talked to my mom and asked her how she was feeling, taking her pulse, visibly checking her out and assessing her memory.

At that time we had no idea if she’d had a heart attack, a stroke, or what. All we knew was, she was still alive, and seemed to be ok, if just momentarily confused. Who wouldn’t have been after passing out?

But my mother quickly seemed to return to her normal self, getting upset because everyone was fussing over her and not getting dinner on the table. “I’m fine! Just let me get up and finish getting the food on the table! And no, I don’t want any water!”

She’d never have listened to me, but she did listen to Joanne, who’d certainly had similar stubborn patients in her nursing career. So she didn’t try to get up right away.

But then the rescue squad got there; we hadn’t told her we’d called them, and to say she wasn’t happy about it was an understatement!

Since she still lived in the same small town where I grew up, where everyone knew everyone else, I wasn’t surprised that I knew a few of the EMT’s. Of course, Mom knew them all, including one of her neighbors who lived a few houses away, and whose children she’d taught in kindergarten! And she immediately told them she was fine, and we shouldn’t have bothered them!

They checked her over, and asked her the normal questions, like her name, what day it was, and heaven forbid, her age! Which she promptly told them was none of their business! So I did feel a bit better, but still, something was wrong. And convincing Mom to let them take her to the hospital was, to say the least, a very difficult task. But after everyone promising they’d clean up the kitchen and put the food away, she (very) reluctantly agreed.

Riding in the ambulance with her that night was an experience I’ll not forget either. I couldn’t be in the back with her, so I rode in the front, turning around constantly and checking to be sure she was ok. Yes, I trusted the crew, but my MOTHER was back there, and I was still scared. Even listening to her telling them how she’d ruined our Thanksgiving (which she didn’t!), and then asking if they’d eaten, still didn’t convince me she was all right.

I’d never ridden in an ambulance before. And that normally 30 minute drive from her house, that probably took only 15 minutes that night, seemed like forever. Because I figured if she’d actually agreed to this, Mom was either scared or felt a lot worse than she was telling us!

As fast as the ambulance was going, a car suddenly came up from out of nowhere and passed it! Little did I know until we got to the hospital that my older cousin was driving Ben there in his sports car, and as Ben told me later, “All I could do was hang on and pray we’d get there in one piece! When he passed the ambulance to get there first, I just closed my eyes!” Well, they got there in one piece, and ahead of the ambulance, and Ben was standing outside waiting for me.

Fortunately my mother was all right. They kept her overnight, and never really found out what had happened. Perhaps she’d gotten overheated while cooking in a hot kitchen, or maybe she’d been dehydrated. Her heart was fine, thank goodness, at least as far as they could tell.

She got her Thanksgiving turkey sandwich about 10:00 that night from the hospital kitchen, after telling all of us (our whole family of course ended up there with her – where else would we have been!?) to leave and go eat our Thanksgiving dinner! And of course she apologized again for ruining our day!

We brought her back home the next day and the four of us celebrated a day late with her delicious Thanksgiving leftovers, which tasted even better than they would have the day before, because we truly had something to be quite thankful for.

As I’ve written many times, tomorrow is not promised. We do not know from day to day what our lives will bring. We do not know who could be taken from us, in the blink of an eye, suddenly and without warning, and how quickly our entire world could be changed forever.

As Thanksgiving approaches, take the time to truly count your blessings; to appreciate your family members, even the ones who may drive you crazy, because one day you’ll miss that craziness, those irritating habits that drove you nuts, and long for just one more day….

Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy the many blessings around you!