What The World Needs Now

Note to readers: I wrote this post last fall. I find I cannot talk as much about right now as I would like to unless I fill in a little about the past. Rest in peace, Edward Marion James. Jr.

Sometimes the most unlikely events align.Over the past year and a half my sisters and I had been following reports of our cousin Mike’s ill health. Mike is the son of my mother’s brother, Edward. And Eddie and my mother also shared two more sisters and two more brothers each. Most of those siblings lived in Memphis, so on Christmas and Thanksgiving  the grandparents, parents and grandchildren filled every speck of space at my grandparents’ home, so packed in that it seemed that if Grandaddy stirred in his chair in the living room, a domino effect occurred, one person bumping another, until someone spilled out onto the front porch.

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Our grandparents,

We seemed to be one collective person, yet we were individuals. I had girl cousins my age, so on holidays I made a beeline for them, while my sister Ellen often played with Mike who was about her age. And like most families, family dynamics played a part in the amount of time cousins spent with one another. Our oldest two uncles moved in and out of Memphis, and as the three sisters were very close, we tended to see more of our aunt’s children than our uncle’s children.

Time marched on. The children became adults and scattered. Mike moved to the Chicago area, and I never saw him except at funerals. Thanks to Facebook,  I was able to connect with Mike as well as with other cousins. We learned Mike’s health was not good, and in time he got the diagnosis we feared he would receive: ALS.  Among the sisters we wondered what we could do for him other than offer prayers and positive thoughts. My sister Carla and I live in Memphis and Ellen lives in North Carolina, so casseroles were out of the question. What if…. would it work if all three of us were to go up and see him?

The three of us had somehow never traveled together. Carla has a busy career,  and spends her vacation  time  traveling  with her large family, an entourage, really,  visiting destinations outside the United States. In recent years I have spent more of my free  time visiting my grandchildren, or being visited by them. I have managed to travel some with Ellen, but not with Carla. Ellen, who lives 650 miles away from us has had to concentrate most recently on her graduate studies and had just recently gotten her first job as a professional librarian.

Still, what if we did run up and see Mike , even though we never travel together and neither has seen Mike for at least fifteen years? Naw, that couldn’t work. Because jobs. Because children. Because grandchildren. But guess what? It did work out one weekend this fall. We each left town on Friday afternoon for Chicago. Carla and I arrived at almost the same time, as her flight was delayed, but Ellen wouldn’t  arrive until later. I met Carla in the luggage area in order to hitch a ride in the Town Car she had ordered.

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From across the luggage area I decided this nice man looked just like my sister. I waved frantically but thankfully he didn’t see me.

Once checked in to our suburban Chicago hotel, Carla and I ventured out with Uber to a restaurant that unbeknownst to me was about a thirty minute drive from the hotel. The ambience was nice at the restaurant but we were on a deadline – to return to the hotel with food and wine for Ellen, whose plane did not get in until after 9:00. So we Ubered thirty minutes back to the hotel, stashed the gyros we brought back for her and scouted out where we could purchase some wine.

Friends, our best choice was the 7-11 across the parking lot. We elbowed our way through the parked semi cabs to view their tiny wine collection. Oh well. Beggars couldn’t be choosers. With our wine bottles lined up on the counter I asked where I could find a corkscrew. “We don’t sell them,” the clerk replied without a shred of compassion. Who ever heard of a 7-11 that didn’t sell a corkscrew? Sighing,  I slid my husband’s  credit card into the chip reader for our $37.oo purchase. “Declined,” replied our clerk with even less compassion then before. Perhaps lots of people get declined at the 7-11 at 10:00 P.M. buying $37.00 worth of wine they can’t open. But I had another card, so all was not lost.

Back we went with our brown paper bags back to the hotel. Once inside I texted Ellen this urgent message, “Please say you have a corkscrew.” She did not, but promised to ask HER Uber driver to stop somewhere. And if needed, she offered her knitting needles as possible cork screwing implements.

At last our third party arrived, tired, hungry, and thirsty. We girls had a lovely reunion in our pajamas until I as the oldest had to go to bed.

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Wine in a paper cup, in our pajamas at the hotel. That’s living!

The next morning we reviewed our largely non existent plans. All we knew was that we were to see our cousin Mike and his son, our second cousin Kevin, and Mike’s friend Leo at 5:00 P.M. We were on our own in Aurora, Illinois for the day. Since the three of us had never traveled together we also had no ready templates for what we might all want to do together in absence of museums and book stores. I already was loving the fact that everything we did together was a first.

In case you’re wondering, Aurora massage parlors are pretty booked on a Saturday. But after some searching I was able to get an appointment at noon for three at a foot massage place.

At the appointed time we Ubered away to the location. The suite number didn’t seem right, but it said “foot massage” right on the sign. We three went in and were instructed to wait. So we waited and waited through several “People” magazines.Eventually the masseuse came in and asked, “Um… who did you speak with when you made your appointment?” I was assuring the lady that I did have an appointment when I noticed a voice mail on my phone, from the very nice man who had taken my call that morning…at another foot massage place down the street. Uh oh. Could we come now? We could not, because he was booked, but he gave us another appointment at 3:00 P.M.

What to do now? We didn’t want to eat a big lunch before our massage, so we called yet another Uber to the Savers Thrift Store several miles away. And oh. Nirvana. It is large. It is neat. It is clean, and only slightly overpriced.

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Ellen quickly made friends in the ladies’ shirt section

 

I do wish I had more pictures, but ladies, we scored at that store. Ellen found Carla some darling orange platform sandals. Carla found herself a Burberry clutch. Ellen and I threw so many clothes in our basket that we actually had to try them on, while Carla, the willowy one, made her selections outside the dressing room.Finally we were getting too hungry to shop any more. In the checkout line Carla suddenly realized ALL THESE sweaters were NEVER going to fit in her suitcase. But the bargains…. “Oh well,” she announced decisively. “I’ll just get another bag. I need one anyway.”

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Uh, yeah. She’d need another bag alright. Sweaters take up a lot of room.

So. We had about thirty minutes until our massage. We were hungry and one of us needed a suitcase. And in the same way that things had been falling into place for us, we went next door to a Marshall’s where we could buy snacks AND another suitcase. Plus the suitcase was on clearance.

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Here’s what to do when you just can’t give up those sweaters!

In our next Uber car, we told the driver we were going not quite as far as he thought, because we had gone to the wrong foot massage place earlier. We all gulped down a few snacks as our driver searched for the place. When we pulled up I realized that earlier in the day I told our driver to take up to the “Happy Foot”. Oops. I saw now that our appointment had been the the “Lucky Foot.” No wonder our driver had let us out at the wrong place!

But finally we were at the right place at the right time. We were led to a room where we each had a rejuvenating foot massage, a necessity after vigorous thrifting on a cement floor. This was a first for Carla and Ellen, and another fun memory for us to share.

After the massage we waited outside in the sun for the Uber driver, who could not at first find us.

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At  least they were relaxed after their massage.

And we surely couldn’t give him any directions. That put us a little late getting back to the hotel but we were soon ready to go to Mike’s. Except when I called for Uber it wouldn’t take any of my payment methods. Sigh. After re and re entering my information it finally let me schedule a ride. I’m sure it was because I had called Uber about 6 times in 24 hours, and it tripped some kind of security alert.

Finally we arrived at Mike’s. We were greeted by our second cousin and ushered into the living room where Mike sat up in a chair. Each of us hugged him before introducing ourselves to and hugging, Kevin, and Mike’s dear friend of 16 years, Leo. Immediately I felt enveloped in such a sense of love and peace in Mike’s home.

Mike solved the problem of how to converse with a terminally ill person by asking us each what we thought of hospice care.  The three sisters’ responses led to our experiences before the death of our parents, and onto memories ranging from hilarious to disastrous situations. We were all aware of the rifts that may have existed among our respective parents, but they didn’t matter now. We were all at peace with those who had gone before us.

We each gave an accounting of our lives and families. I already knew about my sisters’ families, but knew little of Mike’s adult life. He had married young and moved to Chicago, where he divorced and then remarried and had a son. Along the way Mike obtained a higher education even though he dealt with many emotional stressors. The second marriage did not last, but Mike made his relationship with Kevin his highest priority. As I watched them together, I knew that Mike considered the raising of Kevin to be his greatest achievement in life. Now Mike was stricken with the fatal disease which would take him before he would see his son fully launched as an adult.

Our cousin Kevin had never met us and knew few details of his Memphis family. I had brought a few photos with me, including a picture of our grandparents right after they married. Kevin pored over the pictures with interest, and was entertained by our stories of “the good old days ” in the South. We grieved that this young man  would soon lose his father, and loved him for the way he loved his Dad.

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The four cousins with Mike and Leo.

At Mike’s suggestion we ordered Chinese and ate it in the living room, continuing our easy conversation. After so many years it was the most natural thing in the world for us all to spend an evening together. We left soon after dinner because Mike was clearly tiring.

No words could describe how meaningful it was to all three of us to be able to see Mike one last time, and to do it together. We hoped our visit would bring Mike the enjoyment of sharing mutual memories. There is something quite special about being in the company of people who have shared memories, who remember sitting at the children’s table on holidays, who  liked to buy a Buried Treasure from the popsicle man, who  liked to slide on their bottom down our grandmother’s wooden staircase.

The next morning the three sisters went their separate ways. Back in Memphis I messaged Mike to ask his permission to write a blog post about our visit. He readily gave it.

Five days after our visit Mike passed away peacefully in his home.

We did not expect to reconnect with Mike but then to lose him so quickly. We did not expect his illness to allow three sisters to realign their adult relationships in such a meaningful way. We did not expect him to remind us that the power of love must never be underestimated, especially in times of great tribulation. When we drop our defenses and stop trying to manufacture differences amongst ourselves, we are more similar than we are different, and all that remains is love.

It’s what the world needs now.

Gratitude And The Children’s Hour

I’ve been having a secret contest with myself, waiting to see how long it will take me to write a blog post that is NOT about being a grandmother. Today we pause the contest for a short post that while, yes, does have some grandmothering in it, also is about my daughter. So I’m sort of breaking my rules, but since I told my daughter I wanted to write it, and she is expecting it, here it is.

Before she became a mother two years ago, my daughter Cameron  blogged   from her home in Pasadena almost daily at http://krugthethinker.com. She was kind enough to have her Pacific time zone posts published early enough so that I could read them while I drank my coffee in Central time zone. By 8:00 most mornings I could know what my daughter had recently sewn, cooked, read, or photographed.Reading her blog was a part of my morning routine, along with journaling, meditating, wasting time on Facebook and thinking only of myself.

Our grandson Micah was born in the middle of the night, so I did not learn of his birth until his parents face timed me the next morning.We had lots of phone calls and face times for the first three weeks until my husband and I were able to go out and meet our new angel. When we returned to Memphis, my daughter kept face timing me in the mornings. After all, who else could she call when her baby woke up at 5:00 A.M?

Before long, he wasn’t a teeny tiny anymore. He was smiling and talking to his mobile. I would talk to the baby while she went and made her own coffee. While she was out of the room I would whisper to my husband who was in the next room getting ready for work,”It’s Cameron again… Would you bring me some coffee?” Of course I loved to get to talk to her, especially since she was no longer writing five blog posts a week.

We went on like this for some time. I saw Micah  kicking at his toys in the activity gym. I made suggestions about his feeding. I listened to the story of how well he did or did not sleep the night before. This was all fine, but I was puzzled. WHY was she calling me every single day, even on the weekends? I hoped it was not because of a blog post I had written about how my only experience of grandmothers was that they were available to the grandchildren on a daily basis.

I can assure you that when I had small babies I was not concerned about their grandparents first thing in the morning. Rather, I was strictly concerned with my own survival. Would I be able to get out of my pajamas before my husband left the house? Would I be fortunate enough to wolf down a bowl of cereal before high pitched squeals pierced the air with the precision of a dentist’s drill? Or, luxury of all luxuries, could I actually take a shower?

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Somehow I didn’t have time to fool with my mother.

Oddly, I thought, my daughter seemed to have no sense of urgency about these things. She would sit placidly in the rocking chair, feeding her baby a bottle as though she hadn’t a care in the world. We would talk until I had to get ready for work. Then I would tell my husband in the evenings, “Well, Cameron called again this morning, and I got to see the baby. I don’t know why she keeps calling every day.” I hated to think of her feeling obligated to call me each morning during time when she might have been able to throw a load of clothes in the laundry or make up some bottles. How could I let her know she didn’t need to worry about calling me without sounding as though I didn’t want to talk?

We went on in this awkward (for me) fashion until one day Cameron, not having reached me earlier, called me about midmorning. I’ll never forget her little face on the screen, while she held Micah on her shoulder. I don’t remember her exact words but I think I remember is her saying,” Oh good. I’m glad I got you. I don’t seem to have as good a day with Micah when I don’t get to talk to you in the morning.”

DOH!!!! This wasn’t just a grandmother and grandson thing. It was a mother/daughter thing. I’m just slow on the uptake sometimes. My own mother and I made a good team when my children were born. She was endlessly helpful and often funny, but our phone calls were about business. Could she watch so and so while while I took so and so to the dentist? How did one cook a rump roast? Ok, over and out.

Well alrighty then. If the face timing was helping her, who was I to  complain about getting to see my grandson every single day of the year? Time rushed on. I was able to see every milestone and to hear every new word. Seeing Micah every day allowed me to do some grandmotherly things, like point out that his nose was running, or that I saw him put some contraband in his mouth. For a time Micah  believed that the iPad was named,”Call Mimi.” From watching his Mommy and Mimi drink coffee every morning, some of his first words, by necessity were “Hot coffee.” Though we usually talk in the morning, I sometimes get an extra call if Micah demands to speak to Mimi.

Almost two years have gone by. The other day Cameron asked apologetically if she called me too often, and I was overcome with gratitude. Too much??? Was she kidding?? She has called me every day because it was helping her, but she had no idea what the daily calls have meant to me. First, how big does a Mama’s head swell when she knows her daughter WANTS to talk to her every day? Second, how lucky am I that she not only wants to talk to me but that since she does not work outside of the home, she is able to make this time for me every day? I don’t have words for what  a wonderful gift it is to get to face time daily. I’m convinced that not many people are so blessed.

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Here  we are when we get to drink coffee together in person.

I realized I had never thanked her for all of this.  So thank you, sweetheart, from the bottom of my heart. I know what you’re already giving to your family. No one is more giving of their time than mothers. No one postpones their own needs as regularly as do mothers. No one works longer hours than mothers. I know every bit of this, but here I am , expectant, every morning,  coffee poured, waiting for my text asking, “Is Mimi awake?” To which I reply, “Oh, yes!” The computer trills, I press the answer button, and the Children’s Hour begins.

The Return of the Whiteway Girls

Long ago when I was a child I used to play with the other girls on Whiteway Drive, where I lived.  When we got together, big plans ensued, because someone would  always  have an inspiration. Why don’t we all get our Barbie stuff and play on Jane’s patio? Why don’t we get umbrellas and pretend we’re on The Avengers? Why don’t we play Miss America, or gin rummy? Why don’t we play hide and seek after dark? Often my younger sister Ellen hoped  to be included in our pursuits but as I recall, in my rarified spot as the oldest sister, I forbade her from coming any closer than three sidewalk squares of any spot occupied by my friends or myself.  In time we all grew up. Some of us lost touch. Three of us moved away.

In all, five of us stayed in touch in various combinations, but we were never together at the same time. We were adults now and life was happening to us: careers, relationships, children. Also children, children, and children. In the last few years I found myself saying what fun it would be to rent a house somewhere and have us all come. No kids. No spouses, no responsibilities.

I don’t want to admit  that it took one of us becoming  gravely  ill to force us out of just SAYING  we should get together to YES. WE WILL GET TOGETHER. But it’s true. This spring, after our friend Jane  was well on the way to recovery, we began to plan in earnest. Texts and emails flew back and forth. Our eyes burned from scrolling through VRBO listings. But we did choose a place: Asheville, North Carolina, and booked the dates.

Five of us were to attend: Mary, Jane, Mary Beth – that’s me, Gayle, and Ellen. Mary and Jane are sisters. Ellen and I are sisters. On the appointed day I flew into Greensboro and was met by my trusty companion, Ellen. Luckily for me, Ellen nursed no grudge about having NEVER been included in our games as a child- oh, come on, she had kids her own age to play with- but she shared a little trepidation about this inaugural trip. Her concern was that she had never spent much time with Mary while growing up, because Mary is  like, even two more years older than I am. She hoped they would hit it off. I too had a valid concern. What if these girls were  drinkers of CHEAP WINE??? That would be INTOLERABLE!girls trip 2015-59

Despite these small worries, we made it to Asheville in good spirits, and as it happened, with several bottles of wine, chosen by moi, to share. Jane and Mary had  arrived first, and no doubt emboldened by imbibing some of their own wine, had boldly chosen the main bedroom for themselves. Was that OK with us, they asked. Certainly, the other three of us replied. We had carefully chosen a house with three private bedrooms and three private baths. There would be no turf wars here!girls trip 2015-2

girls trip 2015-3After deciding upon our sleeping arrangements we ventured down our mountain into downtown Asheville. Parking took awhile because each one of us had her own ideas about how and where to park, but eventually we were prowling the downtown streets with the efficiency of five disinterested cats. We approached restaurant after restaurant, read their menus and at least one of us would say, “Let’s keep walking.” “Let’s go here,” I suggested finally, winning the prize for having the first inspiration of the evening. We ducked into Zambra, which was reputed to have good tapas and drinks.

While waiting for a table, we gathered at the “confessional”. Enough said.girls trip 2015-82We each picked something to drink, I don’t recall what, and had a merry time until we were escorted to our lovely romantic table in the courtyard. girls trip 2015-87Dinner was a series of small plates. Everyone seemed satisfied  with their choices. We were a perfectly happy group of old ladies. Our trip was off to a capital start.

The next day we attended the The Big Crafty Fair, followed by dinner at the Tupelo Honey Cafe.

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They had me at AC!

girls trip 2015-85Or maybe not, because at some point we stopped in at the Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. Surveying the many nooks and crannies of the store I  could not help but wish my companions would indulge me in just one more game of hide and seek.

You know you could hide behind those chairs. And beyond them, a bookcase to the second floor!

You know you could hide behind those chairs. And beyond them, a bookcase to the second floor!

Oh well. I amused myself by taking pictures of my companions for a fictional dossier. I had to make use of all the scoop I’d had on these girls all these years!

Fact: They had more Barbie stuff than I did.

Fact: They had more Barbie stuff than I did. And they still wear matching outfits.

Fact: Her Mother used to buy Coke AND Koolaid! Lucky duck!

Fact: Her Mother used to buy Coke AND Koolaid! Lucky duck!

And our bill came in a Dr. Seuss book!

And our bill came in a Dr. Seuss book!

Monday we hit the River Arts District, where a couple of us found things we just had to have.

These ladies wanted to go home with Ellen.

These ladies wanted to go home with Ellen.

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Should we tell this man to use the inside facilities?

Should we tell this man to use the inside facilities?

We agreed.

We agreed.

This I found beautiful, but it was not for sale.

This I found beautiful, but it was not for sale.

The dossier continues. Fact: This little lady and her friend Sandra ate All the candy I had planned to serve at my slumber party, and had NO REMORSE!

The dossier continues. Fact: This little lady and her friend Sandra ate All the candy I had planned to serve at my slumber party, and had NO REMORSE!

Fact: I never even TOLD the other ladies that Ellen hung her footies to dry on the light fixture. That's loyalty.

Fact: I never even TOLD the other ladies that Ellen hung her footies to dry on the light fixture. That’s loyalty.

I’m thinking we stayed home that night and enjoyed some delicious vegetables from Ellen’s garden. girls trip 2015-51What was our dinner conversation? It was about how powerful we all are! We added up the combined years of our marriages, and of our motherhood. I can’t remember the numbers, but they were large! We marveled at how once upon a time we made pretend Barbie families, but now our lives were  completely real. Each one of us had buried a parent, tended sick family members, and faced personal disappointments. But dang it, here we were watching the sun set over the mountains, happy to be supporting one another.girls trip 2015-92girls trip 2015-57

Our feelings of power led to a rollicking game of “Catch Phrase” and I confess I have no pictures of that. Early Tuesday Gayle had to leave us because her mom was being released from the hospital. We were sad to see her go, but glad that she, as  the main caretaker of her elderly mother, had been able to join us at all. We knew how lucky we were.

After she left, Ellen tried to cheer us all up by suggesting we work a  “very easy” 250 piece  puzzle. Like the Little Red Hen, she started on it by herself and soon had it worked mostly all wrong. She thought maybe some puzzle pieces were missing, or that two puzzles were mixed up in the same box, but no..she had just done it wrong. It seemed that all the puzzle pieces were the same size and the same shape. Each piece held a word or a definition, and the two had to match correctly. Let me tell you, even the librarian among us did not know most of these vocabulary words. Eventually we all joined in the puzzle, each in our own way denouncing the mean spirited folks who could have invented such a deceptive device.

After a time we left the puzzle and went into town for some shopping and a Mediterranean lunch.girls trip 2015-89

But when we returned, there was the puzzle, mocking us silently. Thankfully Mary took the lead, gently insisting that Ellen move connected sections one piece at a time instead of brazenly shoving them across the table. I think the two of them made a good connection indeed.

Fact: I wouldn't have had the patience for this in 1968.

Fact: I wouldn’t have had the patience for this in 1968.

Finally, the thing was complete, and we could hit our normal old lady bedtimes with a sense of accomplishment. But first, a little more relaxing on the porch.girls trip 2015-96 The next morning we parted ways: Mary and Jane to Charlotte, Ellen and I to Winston Salem, where I would spend the night before returning  to Memphis.girls trip 2015-67Ellen’s husband had a lovely al fresco dinner waiting for us, and as we ate we reviewed the success of the first getaway of the Whiteway girls. We dreamed it, and we did it. All the coming year no matter what happens, we will savor our new memories. Any thoughts on where we should go next year?

A sad goodbye at the airport.

A sad goodbye at the airport.