Category: Family

A Eulogy of Sorts

I haven’t written anything here, or anywhere else for that matter, for some time because my father was dying, and now he’s been dead for a few weeks, and it’s taken me this long to sort out what I wanted to say. My sister, Julie, wrote a beautiful eulogy for his funeral. It’s never easy to eulogize someone, especially someone who was so loved by so many people and who lived such a long, rich life. Julie did a wonderful job of blending her personal memories along with family memories to express a full picture of our father. I’m not going to try to do that here. My relationship with him was complex in the way that happens when two people have very similar personalities and mostly different opinions. We often rubbed each other the wrong way. Probably because we saw the flaws we saw in ourselves in each other.

On the other hand, from a distance, I think we both appreciated each other. We shared a deep interest in people and animals and we were loved and trusted by a great many people. It took us a while to see that in each other, but I think we both got there. I never doubted that he loved me, even if he didn’t always like me, and I hope he understood that was true of me towards him as well. We argued a lot when I was younger, but as I got older I think we best expressed our love by not engaging in conversations we knew would piss the other one off. That may not seem like much, but it took real effort on both our parts, seeing as how we were both talkers and not afraid to pass our opinions. It was a much less contentious, much more quiet relationship than we’d had before, which if nothing else, was probably much appreciated by my mother. In the last decade or more, we’ve essentially stuck to topics like weather, football, dogs, and growing vegetables. The most interesting conversation we’ve had in years was this one about these two films. I still marvel that he wanted to watch them and that we actually agreed on their tragic similarities.

During the last month, in all the talk between Joan, Julie, my mother, my enormous family, and myself, one abiding memory keeps popping into my head. When I was in middle school, and we lived in Abingdon, Daddy and I were driving out of our subdivision when it started to rain. I have no idea where we were going or why but the sky opened up and it poured. We could barely see the road ahead when my father suddenly stopped the truck, put on the blinkers, jumped out of the cab leaving the door open, grabbed something from the side of the road, jumped back into the truck, and dropped a bird in my lap. It was just past fledging, probably only flying on its own for a day or two and it was completely soaked to the skin. I’m not sure what happened immediately after that. Did he continue with his errand while I waited in the truck with the bird? Did he turn the truck around and go right home? I don’t know. But I remember we put the bird in a cardboard box with a green towel and the next morning we took it out on the deck and it flew away. Why does this memory stick in my head with such unusual (for me) clarity? Was it the rescue of the bird? Was it the fact that he even saw the bird in such a downpour? I don’t know. But here’s my father in a nutshell: he was the kind of man who would stop in the middle of the road, in the pouring rain, to save a drowning bird. I loved that about him.


Whatever Happened to Grey Gardens

Recently, I watched this film with my father.

Later the same day, we watched this one.

The two films have a lot in common. They are both about two women who have been having the same argument for decades and they hold petty resentments against each other that result in tragedy. In Whatever Happened to Baby Jane the petty resentment leads to murder. In Grey Gardens the tragedy is that it really happened. My father and I had an interesting conversation about the dangers of being stuck in the past and not letting go of grudges. Insightful guy, my father, but this was definitely a departure from his typical viewing. I’m glad we got to see them together though and that we had the opportunity to discuss them. We don’t often have conversations like that, but they’re always good when we do.

Brutal Spring

Influenza Virus
Influenza Virus

My mother rarely gets sick, but two weeks ago, in a fit of overachievement, she managed to get both Strep Throat and the Flu. Impressive, I know. This sent my sisters and I into a flurry of activity. My middle sister went first because she’s the closest and was thus exposed to the brunt of the germs, but due to a Herculean effort of cleaning, managed not to get sick. She ended up at the hospital with my mother after calling an ambulance. It was a nightmare. She was followed by my oldest sister who spent a week cooking meals and doing laundry and essentially catering to every whim. While she was there, my father developed pneumonia from a cold he’d had earlier in the week. She took them to a lot of doctor visits, including a hour long drive to Duke University Hospital. My middle sister came back for the trip to Duke and I drove down to stay with my mother while they took my father, and then I stuck around for the next five days.

The first day I arrived, I had to take their dog to the vet. She had pancreatitis. I started to feel like I was in that episode of M.A.S.H. when Klinger wants to get leave and shows Colonel Blake a letter that says his grandmother is dying and his sister is pregnant. Colonel Blake goes into a file of other letters and begins reading out all the people in Klinger’s family who were dying or pregnant. He eventually comes to one that says half of Klinger’s family is dying and the other half is pregnant. That’s how I felt last week.

My oldest sister left after the Duke visit. Then my middle sister left a couple of days later. I stayed a few more days and did a lot of laundry. I cooked. I cleaned. I knew my parents were feeling better when they began to politely hint that I should go home. They put it in terms of me having to get back to my own life and my husband needing me, but what they were essentially saying was “we love you, please get out of our house, so things can get back to normal.” Concerned that I was interpreting their comments in a way that benefited me, I checked with my sisters. They agreed that I could leave provided my father’s trip to the cardiologist went well and that my mother would be checked to make sure she hadn’t developed pneumonia. They were both cleared and so I headed home via my middle sister’s house, where we drank beer, ate a pizza, and stared at the TV. Long fortnight, my friends, and yet, there was comfort in knowing that in a crisis, we don’t fall apart (much), and we don’t fight (much), we come together and get it done.

*Image made by Dream Designs courtesy of Free Digital Photos.

Organizing as Coping

Japanese Maples
These reddish twigs are apparently Japanese maples that forced their way from under a pile of wood and bricks. Cool.

As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, my father has liver cancer. The most recent news was not as good as we’d hoped, but not any more dire than the initial diagnosis. He still feels pretty good right now, so that’s what matters. Basically, it’s a lot more waiting and watching, and not a lot of being able to do anything about it.

Here’s a news flash: I’m not good at any of that. I much prefer an action item. Absent one, I tend to invent them. So today my nephew and I rearranged the basement while my husband ran screaming into the woods. (or to go play D&D, I forget which) Having been married to me for many years, my husband can sense a frustration fueled organizational frenzy from miles away. Like a meerkat, he can pop up from his car, sniff the air, and quickly drive away again. I didn’t marry a fool.

My nephew, I think, may be a bit more like me. I think he appreciated what was happening in the basement. After all, his grandfather is my father, so we’re going through some of the same feelings. I also think he may tend toward control-your-environment coping, because after helping me sort out the basement, he went into the yard and began clearing out stuff and loading yard debris into the back of the truck. It’s a beautiful day, probably the nicest one we’ll have for a while, and pulling vines and breaking up old fencing is probably more than a little therapeutic.

In the midst of all that mess, my nephew found two Japanese maples that had taken root. He disentangled them from some old lattice work, and moved some rotting firewood away from them. After a few hours, they were already starting to straighten up. Silver linings. Take them where you can get them.

March Madness or Sadness?


I’m not a basketball fan. I don’t have anything against basketball, I just don’t watch it. I feel like they need to make the baskets higher or something. It just seems so easy to score compared to other sports. Anyway, I don’t want to start a flame war about basketball. I really don’t know enough about it for that. My mother-in-law, a lovely woman who likes basketball (and I think even more than that likes math and charts) does the bracket thing with the family every year. We all get emailed a chart to fill out. There are prizes for the winners. The basketball loving members of the family are very into this. My husband and I look blankly at each other every year and then begin to fill out the brackets based on our minimal knowledge. Colin’s strategy seems to revolve around Catholic universities. I think this is based on a desire to please his mother on some level rather than because he thinks Catholic universities have superior basketball programs. I could be wrong though, because I don’t really know. Maybe the Catholics have nailed the whole basketball thing. My personal strategy is based on choosing schools based on whether I know anyone who went there, whether I’ve ever been to that city, or whether I’ve ever been to that state. If none of those criteria apply to a bracket, I choose based on whether I’ve ever heard of the school, or failing that, how geographically close to me the school is. So far, I’m not doing too badly. I’m in the middle of the list for scores so far. 

Mostly March Madness only serves to remind me of how much I miss NFL football. 

Not so much a patient as impatient


My husband, pictured above, just had shoulder surgery. It’s been less than a week and he’s already over it. He’s got five more weeks in the sling and eight months before he’s able to go back into the field.

He already feels trapped in the house and useless because he’s limited in what he can do. My stance is that what he’s supposed to be doing is healing, and he’s doing a good job. As a bonus, we get to spend a lot of time together and we discovered Scandal. How great is that show?

The Best Graduation

Spencer and Marie
Spencer and I joking around after graduation. His mother says we never stay serious during picture time. She is absolutely right.

My nephew graduated on Wednesday. I traveled with my niece, Maggie, to North Carolina to attend. I wanted to be there for him when he graduated, but I’m not a big fan of ceremonies. I’m not the person who loves weddings and graduations and baby showers. I have to say though that my nephew’s graduation was different. He had two majors but chose the smaller of the two departments. Being a December graduation, there weren’t many graduates, and in this small department, there were only eleven. Rather than just rush through the diploma ceremony the way they do in large graduations, each student’s primary professor stood next to the graduate and talked about their projects and accomplishments during the course of their degree program. It was so wonderful. Even listening to the stories about graduates I didn’t know personally was interesting. It was, by far, the best graduation event I have ever attended. It made me wish that my nieces had had the opportunity for such a nice ceremony. 

Not Just Any Port in a Storm

Sheetz Logo
Sheetz Logo

In the last two years, my family has had a series of health crises. Because I don’t work a traditional job, I’m often the most available to travel and so I have, a lot. In times of crisis, we learn about ourselves. We have all kinds of deep thoughts about mortality, generations, how past is prologue. We think about money, our estates, our legacy and what we leave behind in the world. I’ve had all those kinds of thoughts and feelings over the last several months, but many other people have spoken more eloquently about all of that than I ever could. Instead, I’d like to discuss my other takeaway. I freaking love Sheetz. Yes, Sheetz, the place where you stop to get gas and coffee and sometimes food. Traveling back and forth all the time, I’ve come to watch for that red sign with the retro writing. I don’t know what Sheetz does to or for it’s employees, but they all seem happy. They keep the stores clean and the bathrooms clean and for those of you that drive long distances a lot, you know what a welcome relief that can be. The coffee is good and customizable. I’m not one for flavored coffees and fancy drinks, but I appreciate that they offer them. Mostly, I appreciate that they offer regular coffee, strong and hot and that I can put real half and half in it. I appreciate that they have a customer loyalty card that gets me three cents off gas and the occasional free coffee or sandwich. I appreciate that on Christmas Day the coffee is free and how delighted the staff seems to be to tell you that. Finally, I appreciate the Walker Breakfast Ranger, not just because I love the name, and I do LOVE the name, but because it is a delicious flavor combination that can’t be bought anywhere else, and because it’s made to order, not sitting on a shelf under a heat light. 

I love my family and I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to go to them when they need me. And I love Sheetz for making the journey so much more pleasant.

3 Generations of Women

Seven women and three dogs spent a glorious weekend in Lexington, Virginia. Gatherings of my family are always loud, filled with laughter, and a great deal of doting on dogs. This weekend was no different except that the men stayed home. I’m often amazed at how much we can accomplish in such a short amount of time and how much fun we have doing it. This weekend we sorted through a box of fabric that my sister had. It was a collection of leftovers from making clothes when the kids were little. By the time we were done, there were almost 500 quilt squares ready to put together. By “we,” I mostly mean “they.” I don’t have much of an eye for putting patterns together. My job was ironing. At one point, I was upgraded to outlining squares on fabric, which was also within my skill set. In addition to the quilt squares accomplishment, my mother brought us all handmade dish towels, and for me, a new robe that she’d made. For some reason, the one she made me over twenty years ago has gotten a little frayed. They’re a talented group, these women, and it always makes me feel proud and a little awed to be among them.

The Women
Three generations of women got together this weekend and it was glorious.