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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.



1 comment:

Dee Stephens said...

So many fun stories in this post! Love the Jaguar one! I bet they did turn some heads!!
Hey -- isn't Leigh Ann a member of a club now? That's one to add to your list.
If we ever join a 'club' one day I'll be sure to put you on the top of the list.
Text me next time you're in the QC!