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postmodernfamilyblog

Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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postmodernfamilyblog.wordpress.com

I'm a mother of twin toddlers and two adult daughters. My dad says I ran the engine and the caboose on grandchildren, but I'm having a really hard time driving the potty train. (They always told me boys were harder!) I am passionate about family, football, politics, and good books, and I'm liable to blog about any one of them on any given week.

So I blog…

My full-time jobs keep me up to my eyeballs in busyness. Motherhood, teaching, wifedom. It doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for writing. But writing keeps me true to me. To the spark that makes me, me.

I am a writer. I was born a writer. It’s just taking me a long time to get there. I have a book I’ve been working on for a couple of decades now. But Life kinda took hold of my writing hands and put an Expo marker in them and a whole bunch of students in front of me.

And then Life kinda took hold of my writing hands… and took one ring off them, filled them full with adventures and struggles — and eventually a new ring and three new male hands to hold — all producing lots and lots of real world fodder in front of me.

But just not a lot of time to write about it. And definitely not a lot of time to devote to that book.

So I blog. It keeps me plugged into my creativity and my passion for words. It helps me record my progress as a teacher, a twin mom, a veteran mom, a citizen of this great and currently tumultuous country, and a human.

Blogging is also how I sort through my thoughts — on my past, my present, and my future. It helps me filter and find my way through so many things. To dig deep and sift and sort. I find my kernels of truths. My truths. Sometimes others share them. Sometimes not.

That doesn’t mean we can’t still share. Sharing connects us. Sharing smiles, sharing hugs (some day again soon, I pray!), sharing feelings, sharing stories.

I love sharing stories the most. I love hearing about the events, the small and large, that unspool inside the lives of my friends and family. And I love telling mine.

But I’m shy. And I’m awkward. And feel like I’m hogging the stage when nobody really wants me up there. So I tend not to talk much, especially in crowds.

So I share my stories in my blog. Where folks can choose to read them… or not.

And I share my stories so I can feel like I’m doing what I was born to do, which is write.

So while my I spin crazily through the joys of family and teaching and life, and while I spin crazily through the dark and tangled mysteries of life — I blog.

This is my sixth year of doing so. I’m proud of that. I’ve kept myself disciplined. I’ve paid attention to the details, the tiny whorls and ridges of my life and her events. And I’ve written about them.

And maybe some people feel like its weird, or self-absorbed, or uncalled for, or they roll their eyes or run their mouths about it. That’s their prerogative. It may sting a bit, no lie. But I’m still going to do it. Because the one good thing about blogging is nobody else has to pay it any mind. And honestly, if I’m going to become the butt of jokes, I prefer they not.

But I’m still going to put myself out there.

Because it keeps my spark lit. The spark I was born with. Each of us has one — a spark and passion, a gift created just for us. Whether its playing the piano, throwing a football, painting landscapes, counseling hearts, tending vegetables, decorating interiors, stitching needlepoint… there’s so many tiny gifts we can hone and nurture to keep us healthy and happy.

But some of us lose them along the way. I am determined not to lose mine. I am determined to keep its flame burning, even if what I produce is tiny and seemingly inconsequential. It’s not so to me.

And so, I write. I blog. I put words to screen. I do it diligently. Baby steps. Especially now, while my heart is struggling to find lightness again. While I’m too much in darkness to do much work on my big work. The work I am determined to unearth in the end.

So I blog.

I Escaped a Cult Once, Can our Country do the Same?

The happenings in the world have sent me toppling backwards — years backwards — into the fear and frustrations and seemingly inescapable situation of my past. Of the cult I grew up in and the people who were taken prisoner by its promises and leadership.

I know what a cult can do. I know the appeal of a leader who focuses on your innermost desires and vows to put an end to your most paralyzing fears. I know what that kind of leader can do.

I know how his testimonies speak to good people with legitimate concerns. I know how his scripture touting soothes, how his pulpit pounding activates, how his charisma intoxicates.

How his promises to carry you, save you, deliver you from evil are so very welcome in our dark world. How the traits he embodies (or at least professes) — strength, charisma, Godliness — are just what you’ve been looking for to bring you — to bring everyone — into the promised land.

But he’s no Moses.

Nor is he the chosen one to lead anyone out of darkness — despite the genuine hopes behind those who support him.

But be wary of the “Hope” this man holds aloft with his dazzling promises.

I’ve lived among false promises such as he proports. I’ve watched my family — and countless others — fall under the weight of sincere hope, falsely met.

I was speaking recently with a friend of mine who shares my past and also overcame it — and is as equally worried (and furious) about what she sees unfolding as I.

In her own words, “The exploitation of a good heart is the vilest of crimes.”

And I agree.

I’ve seen far too many good hearts (then and now) used as ammunition; I’ve seen too much real hope twisted to poison. I’ve seen too many rational heads uprooted, unhinged, and made ready to destroy others — and themselves. United with him, it becomes “Us vs Them,” and the fallout is deadly. Families torn apart. Friendships. Self worth. So many lives destroyed.

And the motivations I see now are the same as the motivations of the good hearts who found themselves entangled in my childhood cult: To align more closely with God’s commandments and Christ’s teachings and traditional family values. At least that’s what so many of those who follow Trump are seeking. Despite the fact that his promises resemble nothing of Christ’s promises. Nothing of true Christianity.

White nationalism is not Christian. Prejudice and pride is not Christian. Political power over moral duty is not Christian.

Christ asked that we protect the weak, include the marginalized, serve the downtrodden. We are supposed to be good stewards of this earth, not blatantly ignore — or participate — in its destruction.

Trump’s platform is the reverse of Christ’s message. But the lambs have laid down with the wolf by the millions.

Half our country has fallen victim to a leader whose ability to bend and break wills is mind-blowing in its potency. And the fallout has already begun.

And, sadly, I’ve seen it all before.

But this time, it’s not the hearts and lives and futures of a (relatively speaking) small congregation in Texas at stake. It is the vast population of these United States. And it is not only our freedom that is threatened, it is the very soul of decency.

Yes, the happenings of this past week — and throughout the past four years — have sent me toppling backwards into a time and place in my life where my freedom was nonexistent, my future bleak and seemingly out of my control, my frustrations at those who couldn’t see the truth, overwhelming.

But this isn’t my past. It is my present. And I am terrified about what my future might hold.

I was able to escape a cult like this one once before. It took courage, unmitigated strength, and a willful refusal (every single day) to listen to the sugar-coated lies of those who would eagerly lead me astray. I had to guard myself at every angle, lest they slip the Kool Aid into my mouth, lest they place the blinders over my eyes.

I pray our country can now do the same.

But, y’all… I’m really, really scared.

2020 Won: now to find myself again

The holidays felt so very different this year. Not like the holidays at all.

Like so many, I lost a loved one in 2020. My father. And I nearly lost an aunt, an aunt who is still not out of the woods. And while neither were victims of Covid19, we’re still theoretically victims: my dad’s siblings couldn’t come to his funeral, my aunt’s wife and family are isolated from her, and I didn’t see my daughters at Christmas.

Nor did I see my husband on New Year’s Eve — or for the dawn of this rainy new year. He’s quarantined in the basement and has been for a week now. No kiss for me from him on New Year’s Eve — for the first time since the calendar turned from 07 to 08.

Christmas just didn’t feel like Christmas — even with the Christmas star. Even with the conjoined energy of shimmering planets sending out hope for the first time in 800 years. And boy, this year has felt like eight hundred. And we desperately need to see — and feel — more beacons of light in this darkness.

And we had one — one we were going to not just see on the horizon, but actually be a part of. Our high school football team — in this most-hazardous and unprecedented of years, achieved the near-impossible: they made it to the state championship.

My husband coaches on this team. The season was longer, more exhaustive (and exhausting), and anxiety-riddled than any other. And our team made it all the way to the pinnacle. The coaches, players and families dedicated more time and energy, and made more sacrifices this year than in any other. But while the team made it to the ship, we didn’t.

We were separated from that, too. By Covid19. So my husband and I watched on television, separated from each other and from the rest of our team.

And to add insult to injury, the other team won. Big time.

And now its New Year’s Day. 2021. And I saw a meme about how when you say it out loud, it’s “2020 won.”

And that’s pretty much how I feel.

Defeated and depressed and about as far from who I am as I’ve ever been.

Isolated. From my loved ones and myself.

Divided by walls. Walls I’ve put up to insulate my heart against more hurt. And walls I’m relying on to insulate my body from a virus. I feel like I’m living in a steel bunker and trying to ride out the storm. Alone.

Well, not quite alone. I have twin six-year-old boys with me. Two six-year-old, stir-crazy boys doing their best to stir their mama up. To push my buttons and release a raging inferno of wrath. And the one thing that’s saving them is I don’t have much spark left.

Rachel Platt may sing it only takes one match, but my match is nearly snuffed out. It’s barely flickering. It’s spitting and hissing under the weight of all the darkness. Darkness that descended in March, but got really, really oppressive on November 17th and hasn’t let up yet.

And in just three days time, I have to emerge from this bunker and back into the perils of my parallel universe… the one with more people surrounding me, but where I feel equally alone. And much more vulnerable.

Next week, I will go back into a classroom, where I will hunker down with over 160 rotating currents of students. Eight times a day, students will flow in and out of the halls and classrooms, bringing and leaving tide pools of contagion that teachers hopefully can contain and curtail with Clorox wipes and seating charts.

But the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks made it abundantly clear that those weapons were not nearly enough.

And right now, I don’t know that I am enough — that I have enough. Enough of what it takes to face more obstacles, difficulties, and darkness.

2020 won. I hope 2021 is a bit kinder and gentler, and I pray it will give me some time to get up, dust off, and find myself again.

Regurgitated Topsoil or Sifted Sweets

2020 is an effing rototiller. It’s plowed me up, yanked all my roots, ruptured my reservoirs, and spat me clean out.

I feel like nothing more than regurgitated topsoil.

And just when I’m beginning to feel the warmth of the sun on my injured insides, now exposed and unaccustomed to the open air, in the beast rushes for a second run over the tender bits. And then a third. Have mercy.

I’m done. I’m churned. I’m mixed. Mangled. Mutilated. Please, sir, I want no more.

And yet the toppling, tangling turnstile rumbles on.

Stop already.

Leave me alone.

If this is growing, then give me some time to grow in between all the grinding blades of betterment. And some nutrients… nutrients would be nice, if you’re gonna run me over.

Or at least some sunshine. Sunshine would go a long way, I think. Sunshine would help these aching, exposed innards feel a little less raw. A little less bleak. A little less overturned topsoil and a little more overturned potential.

Or maybe I’ve got it wrong.

Maybe 2020 isn’t a rototiller. Maybe its a sifter, separating and refining, eradicating lumps, purifying and preparing for the sweetness soon to come.

That’s what I need to think right now. As a baker and sweet-maker, that’s where I need to be. In a mixing bowl, being refined. Blended. Whisked. A panned and agitated psyche waiting on the warmth and the melding and the promise.

Ready to rise to the beauty and sweetness of what I’m destined to become.

Yes. Let it be that.

Because I could really use a little sweetness in my life. Or I guess I should say more. I have a bit, still, in my storehouse. But the bitterness is really staring to pile up.

So let’s finish this and get on with the goodness. Please.

I Wish You a Merry, Mid Century Modern, Swivel-Chaired Christmas

peterschristmasThat old holiday standby – “I’ll be Home for Christmas” — there’s a reason it’s a favorite. Nearly all of us yearn for those Christmas card kinda holidays — those Currier & Ives, picture perfect Christmases from our childhoods. The ones with lights twinkling, presents waiting, family hugging, baking, laughing, snuggling. Those are the ones we remember with fondness.

And as we get older, those kinds get harder and harder to recreate. In part, it’s because families get scattered to the four winds and coming home for the holidays takes a major Christmas miracle.

Take my family, for instance. I have a sibling in Phoenix, a daughter in Dallas, another in Knoxville, aunts and uncles scattered across the Southeast, in-laws in Detroit, and grandparents in Heaven. Only one of the afore-mentioned family members is home  – and it’s the first time for her in five years. So yes, distance makes family reunions impossible.

But I also think it’s because those past Christmases probably weren’t as consummately classic as our memories tend to make them. Pretty sure my grandmother’s house was more Clark Griswold than Norman Rockwell. Regardless, it is what I miss the most at Christmas.

There were uncles and cousins times twenty. There was turkey and stuffing and more. You want jingle and nog? We had plenty, but who cares? No big deal, we had more….

I wanna be back where my people are…

I wanna see, wanna see them dancing – my uncle the hambone, my Grandma the Charleston — while cousin Teresa pounds out carols on the old, rattletrap pump organ and the rest of us cousins twirl endlessly on the mid century modern swivel chair with winged backrest and threadbare upholstery.

This chair was an arm-less dame with a generous lap and endless patience, and we stacked ourselves up and spun round and round till our stomachs – or a cousin — flipped. And then we started all over again.

And while we tripped the chair fantastic, an ancient miniature schnauzer with rotting teeth nibbled hard boiled eggs at the fireplace hearth, and our aunts and mothers baked up a holiday feast worthy of Rockwell legend.

And when we  finally all sat down to eat – all those Southeast-scattered aunts and uncles, and the entire eight cousins, along with the dog, and the grandest dame of them all, our Charleston-dancing, snuff-sniffing, Melungeon-made matriarch — the table absolutely did NOT look like that iconic Saturday Evening Post holiday spread. There was no silver service, no matching white china, no apron-wearing, gray-haired grandparents delivering the glistening turkey to the masses. (My grandfather died when I was scarcely two, and my grandma never basted a butterball in her life – not to mention her hair was a deeply dyed, bitumen-black bob.)

No, our table looked more like the Grinch-down-in-Whoville’s final dinner scene. Our spread was scattered across a hodge podge of card tables and end tables linked together in a rickety centipede’s spine. No turned-mahogany matched seating for us. Instead we all bellied up to the banquet in random ladder-back and fold up and no-backed seating and heaped up our plates with turkey and pork tenderloin and cranberries and asparagus casserole and stuffing and dressing for miles.

Elbows rode tables, laughter rode faces, and our family spun straw into gold.

I miss those days and those sounds and those people so, so much.

We have a new matriarch now. And the eight cousins have doubled and quadrupled and scattered to horizons far, far away. And not a one of us is getting any younger. And some of us are nearly as old as our bitumen-bobbed matriarch was way back in those Christmases past.

Which means not many of us are able to gather round rickety card table banquets to rehash the hilarity. But I can still hold out hope. Hope that some time, very, very soon, we can get all the extended Peters back together once again to recapture the merry, mid- century modern, swivel-chaired holidays of our youth.

That is tops – absolute tops — on my grown-up Christmas list.

(Perhaps a Christmas in July this year, Santa? Whaddaya say?)

 

 

 

’tis the season, a very hard season

’tis the season — for mankind and for football. It’s Christmastime and the playoff season. The Sunday of the semifinals and the final week of school before winter break.

And I have so much I want to do. Like to do. Am struggling to do. All the baking and buying of gifts, the playoff chili cooking and cheering for my student athletes and football family. I want to do all the things I usually love so much about this most glorious of seasons.

But then, my body rejects that desire. It shudders. And shutters itself inside a husk of general malaise. And I cannot.

My joy has been ransacked. I find tinges of it — glimmers of it shining in the rubble. Like broken glass or teardrops caught by glancing blows of brightness and light. Fleeting.

This morning, I watched the sun climb stair-steps of cloud over the river, the shelves of them distinct and layered like a smog and smoke parfait. It was haunting, the way it cast shadows over a split rail fence in the distance, a long, lean checkerboard where crows, not ridged game pieces, hopped the squares.

Their tinier siblings were there too, a carpet of blackbirds, rolling in low-slung, oily black clouds from yard to yard, scavenging in swirling, lifting tornados to light in naked trees, filling them with feathered foliage.

The King of the Crows, a giant among the blackbirds, scared them away and perched himself at the top of a wobbly, half-dead fruit tree in our backyard. He teetered from his own weight, wings outstretched for balance, a pendulum in chaotic motion, a blunderbuss of blackened breastbone searching for balast. He gave up and flew away.

Death never feels like balance. I’ve learned it topples you, leaves you yearning — for joy, for love, for the person you’ve lost. Everything feels off kilter. Out of balance.

But the experts tell us Death is the ultimate balance of Life. The two bookends. lMaybe so, but it never feels right for those left behind. I swear, my father’s book wasn’t finished.

I wish Death had failed to light that November night. I wish the balance had been off. The pendulum too chaotic, the ballast not there — not quite right for the Harbinger Crow. I wish that Newton’s Law had kept my father’s heart in motion.

I’m sure, somewhere on this earth, there was an equal and opposite reaction. The moment my father’s heartbeat ceased, some new one began. Beauty birthed in pain. Darkness and sorrow begat magic and light. So the pendulum swings.

I see both. I feel both — but the light side, the bright side, it comes only in flashes right now. Flashes of comfort and joy: cuddles with my twin boys at bedtime, curled like squirrels against my side while we read our bedtime books; Friday night’s quarter-finals game, stadium pulsing with our come-from-behind win; trips to the mailbox to find cards with well-wishes and Christmas greetings.

But then I swing back to the grayness and fog and numbness, and on into darkness and pain and mourning. And back again.

’tis the season. A very, very hard season.

Still, I am here to bear witness. To feel it. To live it — in all its shifting shades and sensations. The wildly-careening spectrum of color and composition that makes and brings the beauty AND sorrow.

The wins and losses. The memories and their making. The rise and fall. All the majesty and magic and quagmires and pain of Life. Without it all, we would be so flat and empty.

So I’m taking these broken wings and learning to fly again. Into the depths and heights of the pendulum swings. Into the light of a dark black night.

”tis that season for me.

Layer Cakes and Legends: My Apocryphal Appalachian Roots

Today I baked up a blackberry jam cake — a triple layer one, coated in caramel, and dusted in roasted pecans. And for some nutty reason, it reminded me of my grandmother.

Not because she used to bake blackberry jam cake. (She didn’t.) Nor because she loved to bake at all. (She didn’t.) There was only one cake she ever made, and she made it every fall for Thanksgiving — a German Chocolate Layer Cake, triple-stacked to heaven and beyond. It defied natural laws.

Baking my own triple layer cake this morning somehow conjured up my grandmother’s spirit. Out of nowhere, a warm fragrant memory slipped in — a peppery whiff of Scotch snuff amid baking layers — and I was instantly transported back. Back into the warm half-circle spotlight of her bifocals, where she peered up at me with love and adoration… and then demanded I write down a select few of her stories.

Yup. Demanded. And Grandma always gets her way — even from beyond the grave. (Compromise was never her middle name.)

And she really was quite the storyteller — I like to think that’s where I get my passion for words — and her tales were always tall. As impossibly tall as her German Chocolate Layer Cake.  She told some doozies, but there was always truth in the pudding, er, batter… batter thick and sweet and loaded with flavor.

Her stories infused every room in her small house. They found you in every corner. You couldn’t escape them. Through the darkness of night, she was sitting on your mattress while you slept, telling you a story.  Through the closed bathroom door, you were sitting on the toilet while you shat, she was telling you a story. No exaggeration.

Her stories were a never-ending narrative. I’d heard them a thousand times. I thought I could recite them backwards. They were a constant. Like a beating heart. Always there. Always.

Until they weren’t.

I took them for granted. I tuned them out. I never wrote them down. I really wish I’d recorded them, old cassette ribbon winding like stretched caramel from one receptacle to another to help me transcribe her words from one era into another, today. Alas, I did not.

But this past summer, my family celebrated her oldest son — my Uncle Pal’s — 80th birthday. My two aunts and my father were there, too, rounding out her initial genetic contribution to this world.

The four sat atop a green, overstuffed sofa and held court, flipping through old pictures and regaling the second and third generations with Grandma’s tales of our Appalachian roots.

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Most of the stories I recalled immediately… their familiar cadence returning to me like skip rope chants learned in my childhood:

My grandma the buxom beauty — her breasts swelling so large when she contracted mumps at twelve that they never returned to what she considered a respectable size. She and her sister Margaret would mash them tightly in scarves, trying to achieve the ideal body image of her age — flat-chested flapper girl — to no avail.

grandma

My grandma the axe murderer — her one and only victim, a Harley Hog my dad bought knowing she hated them. Her brother had almost died on one; her son would not have the same opportunity. The Hog died instead, a quick, violent death from hatchet-strike to the fuel tank. Dad wept as his full-fendered baby girl bled out in front of him… the original chopped Harley.

My grandma, the exile — sent in her early twenties to country music legend Mama Maybelle Carter’s house, her childhood friend and neighbor. My great grandfather sent her away to keep the clambering boys away from the self-proclaimed prettiest girl in five Virginia counties. (Humility was also not her middle name.) Grandma spent an entire summer dancing the Charleston, little June Carter running between her flashing legs while Mama Maybelle scratched her guitar.

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Keeping Grandma away from the boys worked for a while, but she finally managed to run off and marry the love of her life at the ripe old age of 25 — an old maid by Appalachian standards. Grandpa was years younger than she was, also unheard of in that time period.  (I guess I get that from her, too.)

My aunts and uncle also told us a few tales I’d maybe heard, but had long since forgotten.

Like the seven-foot tall distant relative named Pleasant who was so small when he was born they could fit his head in a tea cup, and who slept in a Singer sewing machine drawer next to his parents’ bed. Pleasant grew up to be large and in charge, and was famous for once throwing a man out a second-story speak easy.

I also heard about an ancestor who, at 98-years young, could stand and do a somersault in the air. Backwards. That’s a back tuck, by the way. Cheerleaders drool for that kind of skill. He could do it at 98. Unfortunately, no one remembered his name.

But a whole lot of other names were remembered in my uncle’s living room this past July — names summoned from my grandmother’s looping cursive, scrawled in her black-papered memory book. Names like Viney and Velma, Tom and Tate, Willie and Chapman, and Emmy and Spencer, and Pleasant, of course. (I kind of wish I could have another kid, simply so I could name him or her Pleasant. No, scratch that. I’ll leave that up to my girls…)

Those names, written in Grandma’s looping penmanship, lassoed us all and pulled us back — back to our childhoods and beyond. Back to the crags and coal of the Virginia mountains. Back to the looping, sprawling deep-settled roots of our family tree.

The tree itself juts high and strong these days, with limbs spread far and wide. From London to Phoenix, her descendants are scattered like leaves in haphazard drifts of color and contrast in a beautiful, autumnal haze. We, indeed, have a glorious family tree. And her stories — our stories — deserve to be told.

* * *

Yes, today I baked up a blackberry jam cake — a triple layer one, coated in caramel, and dusted with roasted pecans. And for some nutty reason, it conjured my grandma, who channelled my fingers and hijacked my blog  — to write about an Appalachian beauty with a penchant for layer cake and a story or two thousand to tell.

My guess is, she isn’t quite done with me yet.

The Badass who gifted me with Kickass

She used to drink Tab and smoke cigarettes, and she’s the first woman I ever knew who did a “man’s job.” If she hadn’t been in my family, meeting somebody like her might have come much later in my life — if at all.

But lucky for me, my Aunt Ann has been my champion and hero from the get-go. And I’m convinced she buried some deep kernel of kick-ass deep inside my soul that helped me escape the suffocating patriarchy of my past.

Pretty sure she planted the seed when she ran me through the Apgar circuit as a newborn. She traced my skin, counted my breaths, palpated my belly, flashed a penlight in my eyes, and gifted me with the gumption to defy limits and break free.

She was a first-year med student, and I was her live little anatomy lab. She was also an artist, and I became her model at four months when she sketched me in charcoal. I still have the portrait — subtle shading, curled edges — a study in parchment perched on my living room shelf.

Years later, she molded dolls for a hobby after long, heartbreaking hours at the hospital. Those dolls were her escape. She pressed clay with deft and delicate hands — tiny for a formidable 5’10 female. (Story has it the nurses always tried to hand her Large gloves. She wore Small.) She created the entire cast of A Christmas Carol for my 7th grade Language Arts class because she knew we were reading the book.

She made the six hour trek from Tupelo so my students could see them and pass them around. A trip just for my students. Just for me.

Now, she’s grown pale and turned to parchment, her skin yellow and paper thin. Her chin has tumbled in crepe folds on her neck. Her shoulders are sharp and folded like origami. Her eyes are discs, lined pale and gray. The thoughts behind them are fragile. They crumble and tear when pushed.

This is a tragedy. Ann had a mind like none I’d ever known. Sharp. Eidetic. Sherlock Holmes and Spenser Reed in female physician form. But she wasn’t created by a British crime novelist or a Hollywood script writer. She was created by God to break barriers and save lives. When she graduated with her medical degree in 1969, she was one of only two women in her class. She has always defied limits.

Ann suffered a heart attack while I was pregnant with our boys. Mike and I were driving home from Texas when I got the news. We’d just crossed the Mississippi when Aunt Jan, her twin, called.

“Ann’s dying,” she said, and her words punched the air from my lungs.

When I could breathe again, I announced I was going to Ann. “I’m outside Vicksburg. I can get to her in no time.” No time turned out to be four hours. We pulled into the hospital — her hospital, where she’d run ER night shifts for decades. Her kingdom. But she wasn’t in her kingdom. She was in a bed in a backless gown behind a curtain with a ceiling track in the CCU.

Her eyes were not their normal gray blue like water flickering over river stone, processing everything so fast. They were black water ponds, dark dark as pitch. Maybe she’d been given something that dilated them. Or maybe they’d seen something of the unknown and hereafter. Either way, they were haunting.

She took my arm in her hands and clutched it tight and peered into me eyes for a long, long while. No words. No movement. Just a long steady gaze from the depths of black eyes. It felt like goodbye. I told Mike that as we left, I was certain she had just said goodbye.

Over six years later, and she’s still here. Still, it was no doubt a goodbye. Because when they cracked her chest, they also cracked something in her mind.

She pulled through, but her memories and words float free of context and command. Her tongue flutters like a fly strip hoping to catch them. Every now and then, she gets lucky — snags part of a sentence, sputters fragments. But in no time, she’s lost and lonely again.

I’ve seen her three times since that October. Each new meeting, she is frailer, smaller, this larger-than life legend. She’s curling in on herself, chin toward throat, fingers toward palms, shoulders toward that cracked-sternum scar. Folding and curling inward. But her strength to defy limits remains.

This week, my beloved Aunt Ann broke her shoulder. She will require reconstructive surgery next Thursday. She is in excruciating pain with a loosely splinted arm while she waits her surgery. Her wife and companion of the last four decades is worried. I am worried. I don’t know what the next few days and weeks may bring. I do know that she and Pat are strong and fierce and have battled prejudice, the patriarchy, pit bulls (yes, literally — and in the last six months!) and the ravages of disease. They are separated from each other through the fog of dementia and the agony of pain. I am separated from them by miles and miles. I feel helpless. There’s not much I can do and my heart cracks with the ache.

But I can pray. And I can ask all of you to pray too. Pray for these beautiful women in my life. These women who have shaped me, who’ve taken me in and listened to me, who’ve taught me how unconditional, unconventional love is worth pursuing and worth living. And who reminded me to always dig deep into my soul to find that kickass my Aunt Ann planted there so many years ago. So no one takes advantage or control of me and my dreams ever again.

ILY, Aunt Ann and Aunt Pat. ILY super very — so very super — very much a lot.

Was I Responsible? A Brutally Honest Reflection on My Father’s Last Year

This week, we buried my father.

On the day after Thanksgiving, at the start of the holiday season, we laid my dad to rest. Among those present were five grandchildren, four neighbor friends, three mourning girls, two sons-in-law, and a pastor sans a pear tree.

We kept it small. We sent him to glory in a rough-hewn coffin among the smallest of crowds. In this time of coronavirus, we tried to be responsible. No sibling of his was present. No son. No church family, save his pastor and a crew of food pantry volunteers (of which he had been one) watching from the safety of a truck on the driveway.

We kept it small, trying to be responsible. We had been so responsible for so very long. Or had we?

I had not seen my dad since February. I was trying to protect him.

I called him. Often. In the beginning of the pandemic I called him every day. Then every other. Then when school started back, every other week. Things got really hectic. Teaching school and coaching football in 2020 is no small feat. But I spoke to him more than I ever had in my life. I can honesty say that.

Still.

I hadn’t seen Dad since February. The last thing he texted me as I invited him to a gathering at my house for the Saturday before Thanksgiving (outside in an attempt to protect him and my mother and her partner, all hovering around the 80-year mark) was, “The Lord continues to be merciful and gracious to the completion of my bucket list.”

Getting everybody together again after such a long absence was on his list. We were so close. Four days away.

As a matter of fact, my sister and I were even closer than that. We were supposed to meet him on Wednesday– the day after he died. We had an appointment to look at a cottage in an assisted living community, but Dad didn’t show.

I didn’t have an inkling. Not a premonition, one. I always thought I would. I always thought I would know if something happened to someone I loved dearly.

He’d had them. When his dear Aunt Emmy died, he woke in the middle of the night to see her ascend to heaven in a hot air balloon. But me, I had no idea. He did, however, send me a signal — I just didn’t realize it.

The Tuesday night he died, alone, in his basement, tangled up in a chair, I developed a pain under my left shoulder blade, a throbbing behind my heart under my rib cage. It started right after dinner and bothered me all night and all the next day. I’ve never had an ache there EVER. But it was persistent. I tried stretching my back, pressing against door frames, taking Advil. Nothing did the trick.

Then, after my sister and I realized Dad wasn’t at our appointed meeting place at our appointed meeting time — after I’d summoned help from a neighbor friend of his (a neighbor so kind and generous, who I can never thank enough) — after he found my father, after my father was no longer lying there alone… the pain went away. Vanished.

I believe it was a sonar signal from Dad. From his heart to mine. A beacon begging he be found, my sweet-hearted, broken-hearted, father.

He’d died, the coroner tells us, of a massive heart attack. Instantly. Approximately twenty-four hours before we found him — approximately the same time my pulsing pain had begun.

I had not seen him since February. I was trying to protect him. Instead, I lost him.

Was it worth it? I honestly don’t know. I want to say no.

But then I will also say this… Our family, who was so very careful for so very long, gathered together in my father’s honor, and Covid, despite our precautions and best intentions, caught fire and spread like lighter fluid on the flames of our grief.

Three of the third-generation family members who came in for his funeral have come down with the virus. Six more of us are now in quarantine. The three with Covid are young. They have been thoroughly knocked off their feet. I pray they are soon well — and the odds are definitely with them.

But at seventy-eight, the odds would not have been in my father’s favor. And the illness could have (would have?) wreaked havoc on his body. It could have proved a slow and painful, a brutal end.

But I hadn’t seen him since February. Was that not also a slow and painful and brutal end?

I am wracked with guilt. This virus is awful. But did it also make me an awful daughter?

I certainly feel that way. I feel awful.

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