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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Letting Go

Dear Mom,

I still hear your voice at times. Like any good mama, you walked that line between coach and cheerleader, though you usually stayed more on the coaching end of the court.

There were your frequent cheer-like refrains: "What a hoot!" and "Keep up the good work!" and "You go, Girl!"

But I will confess...I have fretted a bit of late that these blogs have become too long, too rambling, too much like notes from a mad woman. I can almost hear you saying, "Ugh. Too much! Enough! Are you going nuts up there? TMI!"

Because I do feel a bit insane these days, a bit uncertain what is happening or where I am going. The vortex of family grief -- your death, Dad's stroke and pending divorce -- felt like too much swirl to make sense of at once. I'm relieved I didn't try to keep absorbing it all while making myself carry on from 9 to 5 as if all was well, as if the wheels weren't coming off the proverbial bus.

Honestly -- why do we try so hard to keep it all in? It's like some sort of emotional constipation, isn't it? UGH! NO SHIT TO BE SEEN HERE! LOOK ELSEWHERE! WE'RE ALL CLEAN!

It reminds me of one of your queerest collectibles, the Caganer from Barcelona. Which is, according to Wikipedia:

Caganer (Catalan pronunciation: [kəɣəˈne]Western Catalan: [kaɣaˈne]) is a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing innativity scenes in Catalonia and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as AndorraValencia and Northern Catalonia (in southern France). It is most popular and widespread in these areas, but can also be found in other areas of Spain (Murcia),Portugal and southern Italy (Naples).
The name "El Caganer” literally means "the crapper" or "the shitter". Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a peasant, wearing the traditional Catalan red cap (the "barretina") and with his trousers down, showing a bare backside, and defecating.[1]

I gave it to Cindy and Anne, thinking they were the only people who might "appreciate" such a bizarre remembrance. And I didn't think of this then -- but it's sort of a fitting metaphor for their jobs as therapists, where people come in and dump out their shit, and the girls help them deal with it.

Because emotional healing, my "emotional healer" reminded me this week, is dirty, snotty, messy, ugly work. It's tears and farts and stuff you'd rather keep inside, locked up, buried, tucked away, where it can't hurt you or anyone else.

Oh...but it can. Didn't someone in our "extended family" have to go to the hospital once when she got so backed up it became a severe medical issue? Whether it's through drinking or sex, snorting coke or popping pills, eating too much or too little, beating your kids or yelling at your spouse...most dark shit will bubble out eventually.

But we try so, so hard to hold it in -- especially if control and perfectionism and "nothing's wrong here, why do you ask" are the name of our game.

I think I may have written -- if not, here it is again -- I wore a lovely red dress and chunky turquoise necklace the day I told my boss I needed to take the rest of the week off to focus on my mental health. I found my choice of "costume" both fascinating and bizarre. It was like some sort of battle armor, pretending I was fine, I was healthy, I was lovely on the outside...while inside I felt like I was cracking wide open.

And I topped it with the perfect metaphor -- my necklace was rigged up with dental floss! Seriously, I can't make this stuff up. There I was, pretending everything was okay, trying not to fall apart.

And there the crowning accessory was, held together -- literally -- by a thread.

That emotional tank is so funny, isn't it? Emotional healing is such an odd, mysterious process -- like any head healing or heart healing. You almost wish you could wrap yourself up in protective padding, to help others identify that they need either to help you or stay the hell away from you, depending on the day.

As I walked down the sidewalk last week, I saw a dog in one of those protective shields. Like this one (I picked him because he looks like the first family dog I remember, Elizabeth. Hold the phone -- what a weird name for a dog. Did Leigh Ann get to name it? What the heck? That's almost as funny as naming a dog Jennifer...which happened too.)

And I posted this with it on Facebook:
Grief is quite a roller coaster ride to healing, isn't it? Saw a dog with one or those today and think we may need a line of 'em for humans: "Stand back! Healing underway! Don't let me hurt myself!"

There are the walking wounded, the wounded warriors, who come back from battle with scars both physical and mental. The mental ones can be the hardest ones to treat. And sometimes you don't have to travel far from home -- or even leave home -- to know what it's like to live or grow up in a war zone.

The words "under construction" came to mind: "Stay out -- stand back, folks -- we've got a work zone here -- watch your heads -- she might blow at any second!" And that's hilarious, because the portfolio I turned in 16 years ago in a senior writing seminar at Duke was entitled "Under Construction."

Old dogs never die, do they?!

Barb was here last weekend, and I was such a mess -- not a blubbering one but a blabbering one -- sleep-deprived and running on fumes. Polly was in town, and she saw it too. I couldn't not see her, so I suggested she and Adam drop by...and answered the door in my bathrobe. I mean...what can ya do! I did put on some jammies for the rest of their visit.

But I do know what I need to do -- which is to take care of myself. HALT -- don't get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Exercise. Eat healthy foods. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Get plenty of rest. Find healthy distractions. Feed my mind and my soul. Visit with friends. Spend time in solitude. Come to think of it...I think there's some book on "spiritual disciplines" that Leigh Ann read with the church. Maybe I "oughta" dust it off. That is -- if it feels compelling, not like some checklist.

There's a fine line between nagging and nudging, between "I need to do this" and "I want to do this." And we're all slipping and sliding along the slope, because we are creatures who have hard saying no, who are greedy, indulgent, afraid of scarcity. My generation calls it FOMO -- Fear of Missing Out -- and I'm sure it had another name at another point.

It is, in a sense, the ultimate journey of grief and of life -- what to carry, what to leave behind. And I am, to be fair -- obsessed with being prepared, at all times, so I'll be well equipped when bad things happen to me. Packing perfectly so you have just what you need, but not too much dead weight. And I've fairly mastered the literal art of it -- and am more than happy to help others! -- but I am, like you, a bit of an emotional pack rat. Loath to let go of ideas, people and places that might be better off in the past.

I've been thinking about the metaphor of waterskiing -- a sport Dad mastered, but none of the rest of us girls did. You have to let go of the rope. I posted this on Facebook, and a funny little discussion ensued about whether it was or was not necessary actually to TELL people to do that -- isn't it instinctual? Shouldn't you know better?

Well, apparently not everyone does. And there are horror stories that ensue. You can be drowned as you are pulled along by a greater force.

But if you get it right -- the balance, the timing, the coordination -- you can skate across the surface in an almost supernatural feat.

Holy cow -- did the photographer manage to catch Dad right at the moment as he was letting go of his right ski?! Was he going barefoot? Almost the ultimate feat of derring do! Jeepers, I didn't even make that connection -- but look at the title of this post. Letting Go. Let it go. Let it go.
Was that a little "cheer up, Buttercup" from the universe or what?

Do we need to bust out some Disney?
(Side note: With the themes of sisterhood and female power that dominate Frozen, I was about to give Disney an MIP (Most Improved Player) award for shedding that troubling "Help! I'm a victim! Rescue me! All I need is a sweet kiss or some magical shoes from a handsome prince!" philosophy that has fed so many women's studies classes and papers. But...yeah...hmm...could we get a heroine who's not a dreamy blue-eyed blonde with a two-inch waist?

I guess Disney -- like most of us -- is a work in progress, isn't it? Well, sometimes you have to settle for "progress, not perfection," as they stay in 12 Step groups!)

We used to talk a lot about "coaching" at work. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses. Growth is a balancing act -- building up the strengths, acknowledging and identifying and targeting the weaknesses. They will likely never become your top talents, but you can improve them, you can build those neglected muscles, you can in my case learn to let go.

So, one of the things I've found a bit alarming lately is my almost pathological need to discuss, to share. I'm not exactly sure what that's about -- in one sense, it's my gift -- but I'm also guilty of oversharing, talking too much, blabbering on when silence can be golden.

This blog has been a great tool, and I'm determined to continue these "letters" to you until Leigh Ann and I travel to Buenos Aires to release the last of your ashes, on December 27. And after that...we'll see, but I think you'd want me to keep this digital creative sandbox fresh, dynamic, unexpected.

And speaking of unexpected -- what a surprise gift I received this week! A friend from church in Charlotte read my last post to say how much she enjoys my blog...and might I want to spend some time writing at the condo she and her husband bought in Asheville? It's their connection to their roots, their hometown.

I'm trying to find the right balance between time at home and time away, so I'm thinking it might be a special place to be in December. And I know you would approve 100% of that one -- I told her about our trip to Asheville after Camp Crestridge, our dinner at the Grove Park Inn, where we saw Mikhail Barishnikov. It's a special city I'd been hoping, thinking I could visit during this chapter of grief and mourning. So, when I woke up to read her email yesterday morning, I just started to cry. Because she has two daughters, both of whom went on "my trips" to Brazil, and she wrote that she hopes they'll be as close as Leigh Ann and I are.

One more mama...out there in the universe...encouraging me, cheering me, picking up where you left off.

And I may be a little naked at times, a little too guilty of letting it all hang out -- but how else do you get people to know you need shelter, that you've lost a home base, that you need somebody to take you in?

Because if there's anything mamas teach their babies, it's that sharing is best. Oh, yeah -- and that sometimes you need to let go of even your very favorite toy. Shed your beloved, trusty security blanket. Because you're a big girl now.



P.S. My "plan" is to let the blog go on hiatus in a long form during the month of October, but I've already come up with a bit of a "substitute teacher" that I absolutely cannot wait to roll out! I am amusing myself so much coming up with the lesson's gonna be sort of a digital comic book.

HINT: It will tie into your favorite October tradition, the Magic Pumpkin!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Trick or Treat: Wigged Out

After seeing the granddaughters in "Oliver," the first production by the new community theatre, Lota drove her Cadillac straight home, where she opened her checkbook -- and her wig collection -- to the fledgling group.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Old Home Week

Dear Mom,

What better way to spend my first birthday without you than by being in Quincy with Dad?

He is doing so well in his stroke recovery. I'm really proud of him for all the changes he's made in life...including quitting smoking!!! This summer, when he couldn't drive for several weeks, he decided there was no better time to quit. And -- just like most things, when he gets ready to do it and puts his mind to it -- he did it! Yeah!!

Dad's preacher is really affirming of the positive changes he's made over the past seven years or so -- getting back into regular church attendance, and even singing in the choir. He's really changed his life since he sold the farm.

For my birthday supper, we went to the Whipporwill at Lake Talquin. Back to our roots! Aunt Judith, Uncle Jerry, and Aunt Sandy came too. (We saw Wes and Judy there...she's part of the family, as she was Ashley and Suzy's favorite babysitter.) We stopped by Mimi's old lake house for a quick peek...knowing Mrs. Taylor wouldn't mind, as she'd told Aunt Judith so.

That place is like a time capsule!! If you look carefully, you can still see your favorite feature of the porch, the perfectly-placed rail designed for feet proppin' while rockin'...

Even the old glider is still there!

Perhaps now is a good time to confess I once "broke into" the lake house porch with a boy? It was senior year, and we used a credit card to flip open the screen porch door and made out on the glider. I actually have a photo of the "perpetrator," as he attended a ski party at Don and Mary Lil's with me. HA!! Amanda may be the only one with the detective skills to crack the case.

No need to flaunt the evidence, but there ya have it...just in case anybody still needs to be disabused of the notion I am a goody-two-shoes.

(Then again, maybe I should treasure the possibility while it's still out there, before "the book" shares some of my more colorful dating tales. And how could I not? Who else has been kissed in Rio, London, Quincy and NYC. Heck, I even went to Beirut with an old boyfriend. Why not?!)

But, to get back on a less scandalous note, being back down at Lake Talquin, looking out at that old, familiar view, was like holding hands again with a long-lost friend.
When I was in college (or high school?), I wrote an essay about the fact that the lake house was the place where you and Dad never fought, where you seemed the most in love. It made sense when Mimi sold it, but it was still sad.

That's how losing things is, isn't it? Even when you know it's time to let something go, you still feel so very sad when it's gone. You look back, savor the memories, wish you could just rewind a bit.

I guess that's why it's so therapeutic for me to spend time in Quincy right now, with people who know, who remember, who miss you too.

And who helped to raise me!

On Saturday night, I was at Winn Dixie, picking up a few things for supper. ("Lynsley? No. She never did marry. I saw her on Saturday night at the Winn Dixie, sorting through the frozen shrimp. Bless her heart!)

First I checked to see if they had any goat case I found time to make the tomato pie I was craving from Peggy's house. Bingo!!

I posted the photo on Facebook, so Angus's Sally would see it, continuing your "inside joke" with her. When you died, she wrote the cutest thing about how you were like goat cheese at the Winn Dixie -- a rare gem! And...funny enough, I ran into Wil, her brother-in-law, in the checkout lane. I owe him a call.

And Miss Judy was there! Not buying ingredients for apple cakes, believe it or not. But of course she was doing something thoughtful for someone else, just like she always does. We had a great chat to catch up on her "grands," and her trip to Switzerland to see "the other Smith family." I reminded her to follow the Gospel of Cheryl, and not to be afraid to spend a day in her PJs every now and then to recover from all of that traveling and doing for others.

We took a "selfie" to send to Adam. And he sent one right back, but we'd already wrapped up our lengthy chat.

(Incidentally...I enjoyed seeing everyone so much...I spent all morning Saturday just chatting my way around the neighborhood, with marathon sessions at Betty's house, Patsy's house, and Suzie's house.

"Maybe I should be a therapist," I joked to MaBet.

"Now, Lynsley. Think about it. How would you make a living? You could only see two patients a day!" she teased. Touche, MaBet! Touche!)

Traveling back to my native land allows me to experience new local delicacies...
I was horrified and disgusted when I saw this! It elicited 45 "likes" and 35 "comments" on Facebook, mostly people wondering if I would try it. Or just pontificating about the wretched state of nutrition in America.

Well...I had to try it. There is a "bologna story" that I know will start my memoir, even if I haven't technically written it down yet. So, it's this poetic irony that will be so perfect -- a story that goes full circle -- people will think I made it up. Thank God I have so many witnesses to testify to its truth! Who else could write a book that is gonna start...and end...with connections to two different Hardee's?! Remember how my first apartment in Dothan was behind Hardee's near the Ross Clark Circle, how I could hear the drive-thru speaker if I left the windows open? Maybe they can host a book signing?!

Bottom line: that biscuit is actually pretty darn tasty! Dad and I split one, and we both enjoyed every greasy bite.

Aunt Tillie is working hard to get Dad on a "heart healthy" diet, but he was so discouraged by eating bland, tasteless food, I just had to let him have a treat or two. We enjoyed many delicious peaches Tillie and Harry got on their way through South Carolina for the Labor Day weekend family gathering that Leigh Ann and I missed while we were at Seabrook with the Thompsons.

And speaking of the Thompsons...of course I had to check on my little munchkins!! Benjamin "won" a six-pack of root beer when we made a bet about something at the beach. I had to deliver! I dropped off his winnings and asked if the boys would like to go for a ride in the Thunderbird, my wheels for the week. Ranie even got them dolled up in outfits to match my top. Is she a hoot or what?!

And of course you can count on William for your daily chuckle. As we pulled up to MaBet's house, William asked, "Aunt Lynsley? How come you spend so much time at MaBet's house? Is she your grandmama too?"

I suppose the A answer would have been, "Well...sorta."

But that little Benjamin is a hoot himself. Dare I say we have the next "legal eagle" in the Thompson family?

Ranie: Benjamin, put on some shoes if you want to ride with Aunt Lynsley in the Transformer Car. Any shoes. I don't care which ones.

Benjamin: Okay! I'm ready. You said "any shoes."
I have high hopes he will attend Duke Law School when the time comes...perhaps Aunt Lynsley will have some "publisher's clearing house" winnings for her scholarship fund by then! (If he's smart, he'll clip and save this blog, just like I did that time Dr. Johnny promised he'd pay for me to go to law school. It happened out at Jane and Craig's house.)

And speaking  of...

A few weeks ago, I sent Jane a message:

You know that cross-stitch sign you've always had in your kitchen? "When life gives you lemons...make lemonade." Well, if Mary Hilliard and the "real relatives" don't want that when you die, can you please put my name on it?

She wrote back immediately to inform me that thing was in the attic, and there was no need to wait for her departure. I could have it right now! She found it for me, and Dad and I stopped by to pick it up on our way to the golf club for supper with the Maxwells -- and, as it turned out, the rest of town. What a scene!

All of that motherly love -- the mama birds of the neigborhood, who've rallied to care for your baby birds -- even if we "oughta" be mama birds ourselves by now -- is just about the sweetest kind of lemonade life has to offer.

What better way to heal yourself than by spending time around the ladies who bathed you and fed you when you played with their baby boys and girls?

I had a good ol' walk through the cemetery with Miss Beth, who loves to tell the tale of being in the hospital to deliver Ashley at the same time you were there for Leigh Ann. These are the ties that bind, in the sweetest, most delightful way, because they don't feel like chains or ropes -- I've been free to come and go from Quincy for ages now. They're more like a bungee cord that keeps you from breaking your neck when you jump off a bridge, or a tether that keeps a hot air balloon grounded as it refuels.

And as I live this new, creative life, I can't believe all of the "gas stations" that keep popping up to fuel me and heal me as I try to figure out how one can fly and stay grounded, all at the time time.

It's a bit like wandering around with an iPhone all day -- finding that balance of getting juiced up, staying fully charged, plugging in at the right points and right times.

Writing has always been a way I both release and recharge -- review, recap, recount. All those important Rs that help us live a full, educated life. Counting and recounting. Even an English major can appreciate the importance of knowing how to do math, especially when she worked in banking for ten years!

I kid you not -- here's the song that appeared when I went to church with Dad.

Several of your "converted" Baptist friends apparently still consider it the gospel truth that "there's no hymnal like a Baptist hymnal." I can hear Tillie and Mimi chiming in with a hearty "amen!" Even you would admit First Baptist Church of Quincy had the best music ministry in town. 

Heck, even Miss Crystle might agree. I shared the hymn with her and said it made me thankful for the fact she taught me -- and others -- how to read the one truly universal language: MUSIC!

So, while you are certainly a fount of my many blessings, it was a big village that raised this child. Look what Miss Sheila gave me when she was teaching me Sunday School, the year I joined the church: 

Inside, she wrote an inscription, encouraging me to use the pages to record what she prayed would be many joys and only occasional sorrows:

"It not only helps to write things down -- one day you will enjoy reading your writings, remembering and seeing how much you've grown!"

Whoa -- who says the Bible is the only place prophetic words are written and spoken?!

Because I have indeed grown, haven't I? Haven't we all? One of the loveliest aspects of aging is celebrating the beautiful truth in that paradox, "the more things change...the more they stay the same."

We lose...we gain...we mourn our losses, and we count our blessings. And we celebrate that you can, indeed, go home again. Because -- until the fat lady sings (or a slender one, if we're talking about last December) -- you're never too old, and it's never too late for new beginnings.

Those of y'all in the choir -- can I get an Amen? 



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Family Dinner

Dear Mom,

My birthday felt like a multi-week celebration, starting in Colorado in mid-August. From Charleston, Leigh Ann and I drove to Charlotte, where we had dinner with Peggy and Charles. It was time for little Powers (Hanna's maiden name) to meet Aunt Lynsley!
Naturally, Aunt Leigh Ann (who'd already met him earlier this summer and celebrated his arrival by bringing over a tomato pie!) LOVED getting all the baby time she could.

She amused herself getting him to sleep while Peggy and I flapped our gums to catch up.

In fact -- as long as we're sitting here  on the proverbial front porch telling lies and spinning yarns -- let me tell you a little more about Peggy! Of course, "you" know this, but we've got a few extra ears listening in who might not mind the background.

Here's how special of a friend she is: when your cancer came back, the worst thing that we could have imagined, the thing that was pulling us home to be with you like a magnet, we still spent a weekend in Charlotte to go to Peggy's wedding. Because I was reading at the ceremony, because I'd "sorta" introduced Peggy and Charles (I introduced her to his brother, Boyce, who introduced them), and because that's how you raised us: to love, honor and cherish both our relatives and our frelatives.

Peggy is a BIG part of our Charlotte "framily." She grew up on Roswell Avenue next door to Aunt Tillie and Uncle Jim, and Cindy and Mary Beth.

Her mother and Uncle Jim shared a bond as Duke alums (although I must do a humble brag, which Hanna would be far too gracious to do herself, because she's just that kind of Southern lady -- poised, smart, humble, and smart as holy hell -- we did a Bible study group together, so I can say that last part with confidence. Hanna is such a role model for me, and I look up to her so much, my neck is practically crooked when I'm around her! Anyway, she was also an Angier B. Duke Scholar, which is and was and always will be the university's most prestigious scholarship). When Peggy was ready to visit Duke, Aunt Tillie sent her up to stay with me. I rolled out the welcome mat and sealed the deal -- she joined the class of 2000!

Meanwhile...Tillie and Jim moved away from Roswell Avenue in the mid 90s (and then I moved there myself in's like our own little Charlotte version of Highland Avenue!), so this was back in the old days...

When K.B. was taking Mary Beth to the prom...
 Before those two got hitched in 1995...
Here's a "behind the scenes" shot...
Golly, I do love getting knee-deep in the photo archive, don't I?!

I can't resist adding this one from Mary Beth's engagement party. Aunt Tillie has accomplished too much to make any humble brags about the fact that she was once a beauty queen, but you can still see it here, can't you?! She and Jim certainly did make two beautiful daughters, inside and outside.
And speaking of beautiful ladies...Cindy brought this lovely gal into our family ages ago. Everyone loves Anne, and if you ever get a chance to meet her, let her get in a not-so-humble brag by asking her about her golf game and the times she's played Augusta National! She is witty, wise, wonderful, warm and just an all-around MVP on our family team.

Let's close out this tangent with one last photo of "Tillie and her girls," as people in Quincy love seeing them.

But I digress!!!

Back to Peggy and Charles's wedding, in October of 2012. We were passing through a sad time with the weight of your diagnosis. What better balance than to attend a joyful, happy event -- one with just enough tears to add a bit of salty flavor -- the perfect counterpoint to keep anything from getting too sweet.

It happened at Christ Episcopal Church. I loved these words from the minister, Rev. Lisa Saunders, that day:

"The Gospel in a nutshell is this: We are fully known -- all of our warts, wounds, and wonders -- and yet we are fully loved. That is the Gospel of marriage as well." 

Peggy was absolutely stunning! The photo of us at the top of the blog was taken as she was getting ready, just like this one. 

Here's a beautiful shot of the three Kane ladies (I love Ellen, her little sister, who was living in New York when I first moved there...Peggy cleverly treated us to a "welcome dinner"!).

Peggy's bridesmaids were her dearest childhood friends, including Lindsay, the brunette on the right, who became my special friend too through book club. (She has a fabulous sister, Amy, who was also in our book club. Leigh Ann reports the book club has turned into a "suggested book club" in my absence. I may have to move back down and whip 'em back into shape!) 

Let's give the boys a little air time, shall we?!

Here are the Thies brothers...

That's Lawton, Boyce, Charles and Trey. Boyce was my friend who introduced Peggy to Charles.

And let's give Dick a moment in the spotlight. What a dear he is! 

In fact -- Dick is "just a little bit older" than Hanna. Well, look at this one! What's not to like about an older man? (Uncle Jim was an "older man" too. Hmmm. Sign me up, looks like fun!) Don't you just love photos that capture those unscripted moments that really are the essence of folks? 

Funny sidebar -- Dick was worried Charles and Peggy's car wasn't in good enough shape for the drive to Quincy for your funeral, so he insisted that they drive his car. This, of course, led to the "one of those quotes that shall live in infamy" moment of Miss Virginia trotting up to me in the Fellowship Hall:

"Lynsley! Thank goodness that crowd has finally cleared out so I can ask you WHO was driving that Jaguar with the North Carolina plates?" 

I can't expect to show up at Centenary United Methodist Church in Quincy in a sporty ride with out-of-state tags without turning a head or two. 

Charles was so tickled with his taste of Quincy hospitality. He's a quintessential Southern gentleman and raved over the pimento cheese, noting "good pimento cheese is a mark of a highly evolved society." 

Back to the wedding! Here's another special Charlotte frelative, Xanie.  

Love this picture with Leigh Ann! We were so excited to be at our very first Charlotte Country Club reception. Mary Neal's mama had taken us there for lunch, but we'd never been for a wedding. (Jeez, am I your daughter or what? We enjoyed Mary Beth and KB's wedding at Myers Park CC, as well as Greg and Cutchin's at Quail Hollow. I do love checking out someone else's club, what can I say?!)

Depending on who the lucky grooms are, Leigh Ann and I may have to come off some dough to throw ourselves a a big ol' shindig when we get hitched, as we've got some serious paying back to do for these nice weddings we've enjoyed!

Does anybody else remember that old Southern tradition? The "Payback Party"?!

Here's a link to my original blog post with more pictures -- including food shots. I actually forgot I'd done was around the time I stopped blogging because we started CaringBridgeing.

And...come to think of it...I don't believe I blogged about the trip Travis and I took to San Francisco last fall, for me to be his arm candy at the wedding of a law school buddy. Before the wedding, I stayed with Peggy and Charles at their super-cool apartment. After the wedding, we took a Sunday field trip to Pt. Reyes for oysters and hiking. It was one of those perfect Indian summer days. I wanna go back!!

Okay, so, after that long introduction...

So there we Peggy and Charles's house for supper on a Monday night in September. Wow! I should have taken photos. First of all, their house is beautiful. And the food was delicious.

They had sweet, ripe cantaloupe, thickly sliced and draped with thin pieces of prosciutto. Then we enjoyed grilled steaks, salad and a tomato pie from Garden & Gun. I want to try out the recipe myself. (Tomato pie is a frequent guest in this relationship. Peggy made one ages ago, when I used to post more recipes on here.)

We had cupcakes for dessert -- an assortment of flavors, and I got to pick first -- and they gave me a wonderful new leather-bound journal. I've decided to turn it into my "church notebook." I'm using notebooks like mad these days, as my mind is churning with ideas and inspiration, but I am going to see what it's like to have a special notebook that I use to jot down thoughts I want to remember when I am pew-sitting.

And -- just in case you were wondering "what's the point?" I'm just about there.

The morning after hosting us for supper, Peggy sent us a sweet and thoughtful email. Now -- as Southern belles -- Leigh Ann and I were the ones who owed her a note. But instead, she sent us a note. That's just proof she's the gracious lady her mama raised her to be.

Tommy Tomlinson has a fun article in Charlotte Mag this month called "Is Charlotte Southern?" Did y'all see it? One paragraph in particular reminded me of you two:

"[A] Southern touchstone is the emphasis on family--not just the people in your house but an extended family of kinfolk and friends or neighbors. They're the people you invite for a Sunday potluck, or get with to watch a ballgame, or gather up to visit somebody who's sick."

Love you both, and love your generous, Southern sense of family.

What an awesome, awesome article! You can read it for yourself here. Tommy Tomlinson is an incredibly talented writer; maybe I "oughta" try and meet him sometime. How can you not love a guy who would write this:
... people think the South is more eccentric than other places—I call it the Crazy Aunt Theory. In other parts of the country, they stick their crazy aunts in the attic. But down here it’s too hot to do that, so we put our crazy aunts right out on the porch and drag them to Golden Corral or wherever. Charlotte’s all-time champion eccentric, Hugh McManaway, wasn’t stuck in a back room somewhere. He was out there at Providence and Providence and Queens and Queens, directing traffic. And after he died we built a statue of him.

You loved that statue! Everybody loves that statue. What a funny way to tell the story behind it.

People almost literally embrace that crazy old man by decorating him for milestone events. Graduations. Weddings. Maybe there are wacky nuts like us who even would have decorated it for funerals. And he sits right there at the doorstep of our church, Myers Park United Methodist.

We'd love to say that's a metaphor for "come one, come all...crazy or sane...join us, worship here...we'll make room and find a place for's not a museum for saints, it's a hospital for sinners." The kind of radical inclusion, radical grace and hospitality the south can be known for at its best moments. Isn't that what church "oughta" be?

But the church and the south -- and all of us, no matter who we are or where we come from -- always fall short here and there. We create little clubs and little ways to feel connected and special -- whether they're churches or sororities or book clubs or you name it. Ways to find a place, fit in, belong, not feel so lost, so lonely, so alone in this big ol' world. We fill up the pew and think, "Sigh. Do I HAVE to scoot down? Why didn't they get here earlier?"

And day...we ourselves show up late...get a little lost...need an extra dose of hospitality, an extra dose of grace. Dad got a big helping of that on Sunday, when Mr. George made a point of inviting him to hear the Johnson Family sing at Gretna Presbyterian. They used to be best friends, and they've gone their separate ways for a while now, but things have changed, and Dad both needed and appreciated that mighty kind invitation, complete with a tasty barbecue lunch.

Because sometimes that's the way you mend broken fences, by breaking bread together.

And you know, if you wanted to get into keeping score -- which most of us do in spite of ourselves -- if you believe in the game of hosting "payback parties" to keep yourself in the social rotation -- if you play "I invited you, so you need to invite me, I showed up at yours, so you'd better come to mine, I gave your daughter a full place-setting of her fine china, so how dare you give Mary Lou just her everyday!" -- you will drive yourself as nutty as that man waving the hanky at that intersection.

Friendship is about things you do because you want to do them, not because you have to do them.

Have to's are for relatives and crazy aunts!

Just kidding. But how could I resist a chance to tell that favorite joke from the eulogy, a story that's been told so many times it's like a soft old piece of leather. There you were in the church kitchen, helping Aunt Sandy debone pounds of chicken for that pilau supper, her saying it was so nice to have friends, and your quip: "Looks to me like you've got one friend. And one relative."

And whether your ex-husband's family qualified as relatives or frelatives, the point is you figured out how to keep them in your life. That's something a lot of people can't do. Navigating social networks -- the real ones, not the online kind -- in the South is an art, not a science. Sometimes ya gotta think outside the box. Get creative.

One of the loveliest lessons you taught me is that you don't need fancy stationary to write a thank you note. It's the sentiment that counts. And so, that's what this has turned into. A thank you note of socially unacceptable length. But what's the fun of socializing if you don't push the boundaries a bit? You know, like asking your ex-husband's sister to sing at your funeral!

Thank you, Mama, for teaching us how to make friends and frelatives, wherever we are. You taught us how to be generous givers because you were generous with us. Even when your time with us became a limited commodity, you still wanted to share us. The greatest lesson you taught us was showing us how to make friends.

Thank you, Aunt Tillie, for being a special sort of fairy godmother aunt, for opening doors for me, for saving us when we needed saving, for driving that Uhaul to Dothan so I could chase my dream job, for helping Cheryl's girls find a home in Charlotte. For showing us that a "big city" could feel like a small town, if you tackle it with Quincy charm.

Thank you, Peggy, for being a sweet, smart, encouraging friend, for honoring our family ties in the very best way. I miss my walking buddy, my book buddy. Who else shares Spanish...and Duke...and Methodism with me?! ( that pretty much says it.)

Thank you, Dick and Hanna, for being sweet surrogate parents to a little girl who landed a long way from home...and found a new home on your special street, in your special church, thanks to gracious hospitality and abundant welcome mats.

Oh, Mama -- here I am, laughing and crying at the ways I continue to uncover little bits of the "inheritance" you left me. This road of grief might be a lonely one, but it's not, as I draw closer to the frelatives who make me feel so lifted up in your loss, so I continue along life's road, in the good company of faithful friends.

Grateful for the way you fed me, taught me to feed myself, and helped me make friends who would welcome me and feed me at their tables. What a birthday celebration of the very best kind.



Saturday, September 13, 2014

Family Reunion

Dear Mom,

You would have absolutely loved “riding along” for the weekend we had with Jason and Ranie and the boys at Leigh Ann’s new beach place.

When LA was taking her leave of absence from work this spring, she realized it was time to pull the trigger on a long-held dream of hers. While I’ve always dreamed of taking time off from a conventional work schedule, Leigh Ann has always dreamed of having a beach house.

Well…what was she waiting for?! She’s worked so hard and been so successful. And, sure, we wish there had been some husbands and babies by now! But just because we “haven’t married yet” doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some of the perks of being successful grown-ups. Buying a beach house before you turn 40?! WAY TO GO, SISSIE!!! Woooo-hooooo.

You would be proud as can be that your eldest daughter is now the happy owner of the Cheryl Memorial Coastal Cottage (CMCC) on Seabrook Island! And a member of the Seabrook Island Club. We’ve joked a lot about the fact you wanted one of us to have a beach house, and one of us to have a mountain house. So…my assignment is clear. Good thing I love the mountains! Should we go with Blue Ridge or Rockies? Or perhaps the Alps?! HA! Maybe somebody needs to stop blogging and start writing “the book.”

Anyway, as you know, Aunt Tillie introduced us to Seabrook Island in the early 90s when she and Uncle Jim built a home there. 

It was a special, special place, and Tillie let us make a lot of happy memories in her beautiful beach home. But, obviously it’s a lot of work to maintain a second home, so she sold it a year or two ago. (As Leigh Ann likes to say, “The best beach house is the one somebody else owns!”)

Leigh Ann put a lot of thought into where she’d like to have a beach home, and she decided Seabrook was perfect – it’s about a four-hour drive from Charlotte, so it’s manageable for a weekend getaway.  (Funny enough…Miss Karen’s sister Kathy and her husband have a lot there too.)

The villa Leigh Ann bought has two bedrooms and two bathrooms downstairs, plus a sleeping loft upstairs. She bought it fully furnished, and the prior owners manage the rentals for her. They’ve become fast friends. Leigh Ann celebrated her new purchase with a few of her Charlotte friends earlier this summer, and she suggested we invite Ranie and Jason to come up with the boys for Labor Day weekend.

It’s such a special part of our healing process to spend time with people who were special to all of us as a family. After all, Ranie was practically a third sister once we moved two doors down from the Subers on Highland Avenue in 1990.

Or, as we said this winter, to put it in Biblical terms – just like the skit you and MaBet had us do for a Lenten luncheon at church when we were kids – I’m Mary the social butterfly, Leigh Ann is Martha the worker bee, and Ranie is Jesus the peacemaker.
I think this was one of Leigh Ann’s birthday parties back when we lived at the farm…maybe her fourth birthday or so? There you are with your trusty bun, and there are MaBet and Miss Jane...and Aunt Suzanne with Andrew. And there's Ranie in her pigtails with Ashley, Mary Hilliard, Carolyn and Samantha. 

And even though Ranie and I were in the same class, she was only about nine months younger than Leigh Ann. So, we all grew up playing together…trick-or-treating together...
There was the time we went to that FSU game, and the big ol’ station wagon got towed…so Dad and Mr. Billy had to go find the impound lot while we practiced Seminole cheers until midnight in front of Domino’s Pizza.

And wasn’t Leigh Ann’s class leaving for the fourth grade trip to St. Augustine the very next day? Dad went as a chaperone. (I think you and Miss Betty could have entered some sort of national sweepstakes for leading a field trip somewhere for the most consecutive years…and she would win! Maybe you could get a few bonus points for all those bus hours from Quincy to D.C. Yowza.)

Okay, back to the beach!

Ranie, Jason and the boys drove up late Thursday, so we had all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday to play. What fun! Those little boys are just hilarious. Jason and I slept in most mornings, but “Clarice” and LA were up early. Eventually, they’d send those little alarm clocks into “wake up Aunt Lynsley.” Aunt Lynsley?! Nobody has ever called me that. How special!

Gosh, words can be so powerful, can’t they? My heart just melted a few years ago when I started to hear the boys calling Ranie “Mama.” There’s just something about those words coming out of little mouths that makes you turn to goo. Well, now Ranie has them calling us “Aunt Leigh Ann” and “Aunt Lynsley,” just like we called special friends “aunt” and “uncle” when we were little. (Funny enough, kids do this in Brazil too. When we’d go volunteer in Rio, little kids would call out, “Tia! Tia!” to me. (It’s like “Auntie!” in English.)

How could Aunt Lynsley and Aunt Leigh Ann resist these sandy little munchkins? MaBet was worried they’d drive us bananas, but we loved every minute of it.

They “helped” me make lemon pie with a saltine crust. (You can find the recipe here…we also made our favorite shrimp and grits recipe, which we highly recommend. Both are from the famous Southern restaurant Crooks Corner in Chapel Hill.)
Leigh Ann and I have a friend named Dave who also owns a home on the island. He made a great addition to our gang and even brought a kite for the boys to fly.

On Saturday, we drove into Charleston. We started off with a historic carriage tour. I told the boys I had five one-dollar bills that would be up for grabs during a quiz after the tour. William fell asleep, but Benjamin was tuned in, so he earned $3. (Funny enough, in the “way back” of Ranie’s SUV, which hadn’t been used for a while, he found the money you gave him via the Great Pumpkin last fall. What a little saver he is!)

All six of us loved every minute of the Charleston aquarium. What a great example of the way kids make you do things you might not have done….and help you see things with new eyes.

On the way back to Seabrook, we played numerous rounds of the boys’ favorite guessing game, “I’m thinking of an animal…” They can play it for hours!

It goes like this: “I’m thinking of an animal…and it lives in Africa…and it’s big and grey…and has a long trunk…”

That’s an easy one. The boys long ago started playing at an advanced level. They’re animal experts and come up with some really random picks. I think we first played it one night at El Potrillo while we were waiting for our food to arrive. My attempt to introduce a spin-off game, “I’m thinking of a vegetable…” did not take off.

Saturday night, I tucked them into bed with a slideshow of animal photos from my latest Africa trip.

On Sunday, Leigh Ann treated us to brunch at the club. It was delicious! We all agreed the "hot mess" won the blue ribbon. But Benjamin’s sweet smile really says it all. We had SO MUCH FUN the entire weekend.

After brunch, we did a little seaside photo shoot around the club. Next time, we may take photos before we fill up our bellies! We got a lot of giggles calling this one “JT and the Sister Wives.”

In fact, we’re hoping to make this an annual event, and we’re already planning for next year!
And…talk about future plans…that club surely would make a nice wedding venue. Hmmmm… I think a party bus packed with all our friends could find its way from Quincy to Seabrook Island…

But we’d better hustle before these little ring bearers outgrow their eligibility for that role!

Meanwhile, I kept track of a few of my favorite William-isms and posted them on Facebook:
  1. “Benjamin, now we get to have three mamas!”
  2. “Well…at least we have cookiiieeeessss!!!”
And…our favorite…

“Aunt Lynsley, are you and Aunt Leigh Ann Miss Cheryl’s sisters?”

Actually, I take that back! I almost forgot. Our very favorite quote from William came on the last morning. We got up early to meet the Turtle Patrol. They were checking on a nest they’d relocated, and we hoped to see a number of baby turtles crawl into the sea. 
We took a quick snapshot as we hit the beach.

After walking for a while, we realized it would be about a mile and a half to the nest. Oops. That’s a lot for some little legs.

The event was a bit of a bust, as we saw only one baby turtle. One baby turtle?! Big deal! These boys saw baby turtles this summer in MaBet’s backyard.

That white-haired lady from the Turtle Patrol did a great job with educational outreach for the kids…

But it kinda seemed to us like a bunch of retirees monkeying with nature and creating a rather complex organization (complete with color-coded t-shirts!) in an attempt to control the uncontrollable. I get it that humans are disrupting turtles with our beach houses and development, but if these creatures have adapted for eons, I think they’ll figure something out without our “help.”  (Please….no hate mail from the Turtle Patrol!)

By the time we got back to the boardwalk – a three mile round-trip to see a baby turtle and a two dead horseshoe crabs – William had had it.

“This is officially the worst day of my life!” he declared. We practically howled. Talk about uptown problems! Poor guy. With that flair for drama and hyperbole, I might have to claim him as my own!

And…on that note…here’s something I know you “knew,” but I’m not sure if we ever talked about it.

Dad’s middle name is Benjamin. His father’s middle name was William. The first farm Dad ever had was called B&W Farms – Benjamin and William Farms.

Isn’t that a hoot?!

Not to mention…Jason and Ranie both worked on the farm for Dad, just like you and MaBet and Mr. Billy and so many others worked in tobacco while you were growing up. I may live in Manhattan now, but that farm was a big part of our family life for my most formative years. It’s still special that friends like Ranie and Jason know that part of our history and shared it with us. 

Anyway, I always wanted to name a son Benjamin. And now we have a little Benjamin in our “framily” of “frelatives.” I was there at Centenary standing with the family the Sunday he was christened.

It’s funny how names come in and out of vogue; my college friends Alison and Jesse also named their first son Benjamin. If I had a girl or girls, I wanted to name them Julia and Caroline – as both translate nicely into Spanish and Portuguese!

And now, we have Katherine and Wesley’s little Julia…

Meghan and Drew’s little Caroline…

And…this summer…I don’t think I’ve “told you,” John and Meredith gave Aunt Judith and Uncle Jerry their first grandchild, Caroline Margaret.

Life is beautiful, isn’t it?

Who knows, I may still hatch an egg or two – without help from the Turtle Patrol – but what a gift to feel at peace with life as it’s playing out, and to enjoy the blessings of a rich life full of lifetime frelatives.

I sure do miss having you here to enjoy the ride with us. But just like the warm sunshine at the beach, sometimes I can feel you smiling down and just know you couldn’t be any happier for all of us.