Five Years

My daddy could fix anything, but he still can’t fix the my broken heart when he left me five years ago today. I wouldn’t say we were close, but then again, I wouldn’t say Daddy was close to anyone. His early life was filled with rejection, and it would’ve made some people cruel. It made my daddy quiet, introspective, often critical, but more than being critical of others, he was deeply critical of himself. He was not wanted, the product of a rape. The man whom he called daddy never wanted him, his mother a mere child herself. He had to work while his half siblings played. His childhood was nothing compared to the one he gave me. You could tell he wasn’t raised in a loving home because he never hugged or said I love you. Momma was the one who did all that and she would say You know your daddy loves you. And we did know.

I don’t think I knew how much until I began writing this blog talking about all the ways Daddy showed his love. Five years now my precious daddy has been gone. I look up at the Flag that was draped on his casket. I see his pictures throughout my house, beautiful memories all. I look at my beautiful home realizing that I only have what I have because of the hard work of my daddy. I can’t stop crying because I just love him so much I can’t contain it. I want to do something to make him proud of me, to make his sacrifices worthy. I want to go back in time and rescue him from his family. I just want to be with my daddy.

I want to lie in his arms as a child again. Kiss his bald head. Smell his Old Spice and Daddy smell. Watch him tinker on something out in the out building. Drive him somewhere. Have him pick me up from somewhere. Talk to him in the living room. Watch a western with him. Reassure him that Momma was going to be okay. Hold his hand. Dance with him. Watch him play with my kids. Watch him mow the yard. Yell at me for breaking a contact lens. Listen to my boss tell him some bullshit story that my daddy knew was bullshit. Watch him play pool with Brother. Watch him eat with his mouth open. Listen to him play guitar. Run into my bedroom in his underwear when I saw a mouse. Swim with me in a pool when I was little. Go on a ride with me at the park. Clean up my mess when momma got mad. Call me the baby. Always.

I think there’d be something wrong with me if I didn’t miss all the wonderful things about my daddy. Not everyone gets a good daddy. He wasn’t perfect & I wish we’d talked more but I learned just in time to love him as he was. Last week I dreamed he and I were hugging and it was so good. He really relaxed into the hug, more so even than he did before he died.

There have been many, many times that I have felt my daddy since he passed. I think he was worried about me. I know that’s not practical theology but it’s what I feel. Relationships aren’t perfect, and I can’t say ours was. If I could see him again, he wouldn’t talk any more than he ever did about his feelings or his pain, his sorrow or burdens. But he had them.

I feel so much closer to my daddy since I stopped trying to make him be a stereotypical dad and just loved him for who he was and then after his death, found all the ways he showed and showed his love to me.

Before the Baby

I’ve been remiss in my blogs, mainly because I think no one ever reads them, but I’m dropping that defeatist attitude right now. I write for me. What I write might make it on a blog or on a piece of paper, but I make no more apologies for my writing.

Today I’m thinking about people who were essential to the whole Baby equation. You can’t have a true Baby if there aren’t others to fill the remaining spots. Legend tells us the oldest is the perfect, bossy one and the middle child is the neglected one when there are three. Legend would be wrong in our case, probably because they were just two siblings for the majority of their growing up years and then Mom had to get pregnant with little old me.

The information I give you is what I have been told and what I have always felt. My sister and brother adored me. Sibling rivalry? Nope. They fought each other on who got to hold me but jealous of me? Not that I’ve heard. They were sixteen and thirteen, and knowing our mother, ready for her to turn her loving control (ahem) on someone else. Thanks for that, guys.

My sister, the eldest, was a fairy princess to me. So beautiful and I wanted to be just like her. She would let me ride to church with her in her T-top Mustang and stop at the 7-11 and get candy for me. She worked at the dentist office and it smelled so good. They had a Little Golden Book about God there that I loved. I was never scared to go to the dentist because Sissy was there. She never got too mad at me when I embarrassed her. At the time I didn’t understand what was so bad about asking Sissy what her tampons were in church or showing her date this training bra my friend Angie had talked her mother into getting her first grade self. Those of you who know my Sissy may not know how shy she really is. This was more so when I was little. She taught me how to dance and I listened to her music. 70s Pop. Dancing Queen. Shake Your Groove Thing. It was just magical until she left me. To get married. ūüôĀ

My Bubba and I didn’t do as much together, but he snuggled as much as Sissy. Bubba is still a World Class Snuggler. He had a motorcycle even then that he would let me sit on, and that was quite a distinction. Bubba introduced me to good old Southern Rock – Lynrd Skynrd, Three Dog Night. As you can see I was musically covered on both sides, plus my mother liked musicals, Elvis, and gospel and Daddy liked bluegrass and country. No wonder my taste is so eclectic now. Bubba didn’t abandon me as soon as Sissy and when he did, he brought a great new playmate (ha ha… She played differently with him.) His wife Kay taught me how to play cards, shuffle cards, cook a little, and she had two cats. She also had a typewriter. My inner writer was stirring.

Once I forgave my brother in law for stealing Sissy, he turned out to be okay too. He had a sweet family, especially his mom, who I loved.

As you can tell, I was a terribly spoiled girl. I had two parents who loved me, and then I had two siblings who came in behind my parents, providing extra care, love, and support. They went outside on Christmas Eve and jingled bells outside my window so I would really believe in Santa. My sister brought her friends home from high school to show off how I could read the newspaper even though I wasn’t in school. My brother and his wife surprised me one day with an all-day trip to Opryland. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. My siblings are the greatest gift my parents left me.

My Sissy & Bubba 2013

Sacrifice

I think about my Daddy so much now, more than I did when he was alive, which is just horribly sad. One of the realizations I’ve come to in all my soul searching is that he sacrificed quite a bit for me. He was laid off from TVA ¬†in the early 80s. He had to find work in Memphis and northern Alabama. He was even on a job in Newburgh, Indiana when he had his near-fatal fall that ended his working career. He could have ¬† ¬† boxed up me and momma and moved us to these locations each time work became available. I see students transfer in all the time. Yet Daddy didn’t do that. He kept me with my friends, Momma with her home and her grand babies, and gave himself long work weeks away from home. He bought a travel trailer that he would park and live in during the week. Daddy didn’t have a lot of friends, and he really just liked being around us. This was a big sacrifice for him. He was a quiet person, so the quiet might not have bothered him, but I know he missed us.

One definition of sacrifice is “The act of surrendering as an offering to God.” In this day and age when parenting is a by-product of unprotected and thoughtless sex, my father’s example is even more poignant. I don’t think my Daddy would ever have chosen to be a father on his own. We all were the decision of Momma, and he went along with her. Being the oldest in his family, he often felt that he had raised a family before he ever left home. The fact that fatherhood wasn’t his initial choice makes the job that he chose to do as a father even more remarkable. He may have been dragged kicking and screaming (this would be figuratively because I can’t imagine this literally) into fatherhood, but once he became a father, he endeavored to do his best. Was he perfect? By no means. He was not warm. He was not cuddly. What he was was stable. Consistent. Present. Loyal. Good. Hard-Working. Sacrificial. I wish I’d seen this in him before he died so I could thank him. Parenthood is a million little sacrifices really, if you do it right, I think. I wonder if there are any more I’m missing.

In a Few Words

If you asked me to put into a few words why my daddy was so special, this is what I would say:

My daddy could fix anything. From my tears to a dangerous staircase, he was the go-to guy. Once we had a visiting preacher who condemned Christian contemporary music just as I had sung a Christian contemporary song for my church. For whatever reason, Momma was not with us that Sunday, or maybe she didn’t have the right words. I don’t remember. What I do remember is my sweet daddy, who never said anything one way of the other about much of anything, said: “If he’d have listened to your song, he’d have got something out of it.” That was all I needed to dry my tears.

When my husband I got married, he was not saved. I began to worry about this after church one day before the wedding. ¬†Usually I drove myself to church, but on this occasion, I was in the backseat of my parents’ car. We must have had a sermon over being “unequally yoked.” My daddy said that Ralph was going to church with me and that was what mattered. Six months after our wedding, Ralph was saved and baptized.

Momma always said never to pay any attention to Daddy any time he spoke harshly, but the truth is I especially paid attention to Daddy, so much that these instances are seared into my brain. Daddy could fix anything. I mention these two instances because they show Daddy’s love for me and his love for Christ. Daddy wasn’t perfect by any means, but he knew enough to know that he was a sinner who needed saving. His favorite Scripture was Psalm 91. Daddy knew that Christians sadly hurt other Christians, and we just have to shake it off and keep going, love each other with the grace of God, and go to the Father for our Hiding Place. He knew that life works on God’s timeline, not ours, to wait on the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

My Daddy could fix anything, all right. I think he learned it from his Abba, Father God.

Shadows

I don’t cry every day anymore, and I don’t even sit and wish my parents were alive. I know their health was failing, they’re in a better place, and all of the stuff that people say at first to make you feel better but really doesn’t help at all. I know I’m a stronger person for their passing. I know that my love for them is deeper than I imagined as was theirs for me. I’ve discovered a lot about my parents in the years since they left. 

What surprises me the most are the shadows. I’ll be going about my day & there’s my momma. Yesterday she was in the conversation I had with the lady who waited on me at the candy store in Gatlinburg. The lady was older, reminded me of momma somehow. Her hair perhaps. Friendly. 

I just miss talking to older women.  Maybe I should put out an ad: Fortysomething woman looking for mother figure to mentor and guide. Christian required, must be a good cook & a good listener. Willing to trade advice for errands, company, paperwork, and organizational help.  Someone who will laugh at me like my momma…but does anybody think you’re as funny as your mom?

I also see older men who remind me of Daddy. I catch my breath. But then I realize it’s not my older man. Just like yesterday when I left that lady behind, I missed my momma like I hadn’t in a while.  

Shadows of the people I used to have now only in my heart. 

Pushing Away

When my mother-in-law died, the chaplain gave us a booklet about the stages of dying. My previous experiences with my father-in-law and his mother had not prepared me for the triad of death that nearly destroyed me. Their deaths had essentially already happened by the time I got to them. Granny White had been in a coma and slipped peacefully away while Bobby never regained consciousness. Patricia’s death, as described by this booklet, actually started a few months before, and I had seen it coming without knowing. 

I mention this now in context to my daddy only to illustrate an event of which I was not aware. Those facing death know it and begin pushing away from loved ones, separating themselves. 

The Monday before Patricia died, I visited her in the hospital. In the years I had been in her life, she had been in the hospital many times, but she was standoffish to me. I played her song “Simply the Best.” I got her one of those cards that play music one time and that was the song; she loved it. That night, however, she didn’t care about our previous jokes and affection. I left feeling hurt, wondering what I had done to make her distant with me.  

She knew. 

Daddy knew too. 

I wanted to sing to him and he shushed me. The lines were from “I’ll Always Be Your Baby,” a perfect song for us. It probably wasn’t written when I got married. I even started the second verse, which is clearly about the father. He shushed me. 

I’d like to think I had that experience with Patricia & then read that in the booklet so I would understand the reason why people who are dying pull away. I’d like to tell you it made my daddy doing it easier, but it still hurt…maybe not as much as it would have otherwise, though. 

Some people are scared to die, but I’m not. I’m scared to live. I’m scared I’m not getting out of my life all God has for me. Am I loving enough? Am I giving enough? The parable of the talents haunts me. Am I living too safe, like the guy in the parable, and by doing so, displeasing God? I know God is not pushing away from me but sometimes it feels like that same sensation: trying to offer something to someone I love and it not being accepted. 

My Silent Strength

I started this blog to share stories about my daddy, and I realize now that as was the case in life, my momma hijacked the blog. My daddy was a quiet man. He never interrupted anyone. He didn’t like to be the center of attention. A career as a pastor had been dismissed because of his dislike of public speaking. He was an introvert, introspective, and reflective. Not that he shared any of this with us. He was a fortress. Once in a while his opinion would burst forth about a given subject, but by and large, we knew not of his deepest thoughts and dreams. 

The most I can tell you for sure about my daddy is that he worked oh so hard. When it was the weekend, instead of taking it easy, daddy still worked making our home nicer. Idleness did not sit well with daddy. When he had his accident and could no longer work, he looked more than a little lost. He had to invent things to occupy him. He made pictures, even tried to learn the guitar. Once he played a melody and I made it fit “Free Falling” by Tom Petty. 

It’s easy to overlook those people who are quiet. They don’t scream and yell, pestering you for their attention. They are content to sit back and wait their turn. Sometimes I think they must hate those of us who are so loud. Maybe they think we’re good entertainment. I do know I wish I had more of my daddy’s ability to be still and silent. 

Who is my Family?

Since my entire life imploded when my parents died, I came to realize this year that as it’s settled back around me that I am not the same person I was when they passed. I have been through the fire, and I am better for it. I miss my parents desperately still, but I have grown because of their loss in ways I could not have grown with their being here. People get used to your being a certain way. I was the baby, and I know I’m not the only youngest child to ever live, but I was handicapped with my birth order. My siblings may well feel jealous of all the attention that was showered on me, even though they were responsible for giving a great deal of it to me themselves. I wouldn’t blame them. ¬†Momma and Daddy had a little more money when I was growing up, and maybe I had a little more, but as you know, we weren’t wealthy. In short, I benefitted from being last. ¬†Now, I suffer from being last.

My children, at age twelve and seventeen, have no grandparents. None of their grandparents will see them graduate high school or the million other little events that happen in school up until that point in time. My daughter plays basketball, my son is an academic. There will be no congratulatory hugs and calls. No graduation parties. This last Christmas was our third without my parents, fourth without my mother in law, and they never even got to have my father in law. They have grown up without cousins their age. Second cousins, sure. Again, it’s that sense of family. And they don’t have it.

So, in a stroke of brilliance…haha…as most things in my life, I had nothing to do with this. God has a plan. Just as He knew I was going to need a grandmother just for me and sent me my very own Granny Lee, He sent me my very own soul sister. And the beautiful thing about it is that she needed me as much as I needed her. Thinking back to the warm, okay I’m sure it was hot, day in 1989 when I met her in West Hall 315, I didn’t know she would end up being more than my friend.

She became my good friend, then my best friend. We were in each other’s weddings. We were there when we each had kids. I was her kids’ Aunt Meri. She was my kids’ Aunt Susan. You can’t get any closer than that, can you? You wouldn’t think. But I don’t know. Just when I think I can’t love or appreciate her any more than I do, our relationship takes on a new dimension. She has lost her parents too, so she knew my sense of loss. ¬†She knew that ache that I couldn’t fill and she knew what to say or more importantly when I needed to hear something. This Christmas as I struggled with the fact that my blood family really didn’t want to be with me, I realized that my relationship with Susan and her family is the one I put the time into throughout the year. THEY are my family. It’s her son I’m watching in his plays and praying he’ll get cast in his next part. It’s her oldest I’m wanting to get a shirt in his school colors and finally get to a ballgame to see him when he gets to play football. It’s her boys’ quirks and habits and strengths and happiness that I’m wrapped up in daily, just as it’s my kids’ that she’s wrapped up in daily. She’s the one texting Drake about student government elections and sending Kinsey a candy gram when she made the basketball team. ¬†Her husband’s like “a brother from another mother.” Seriously I can ask him anything and he would do it, no questions asked. He is one of the sweetest people I ¬†know and one of the most hilarious. When you get him and Ralph together, watch out. They’ve actually had tons of people mistake them for brothers. Maybe the Blues Brothers. hah.

I have been blessed to have a really great family, and I love them. But I have to say that any time I’ve needed someone to fill in the empty spaces, God has really shown out. Granny Lee, Steve Deasy, and my one of a kind, Susan. (Don’t judge the blue eyeliner..this was a back to the 80’s birthday party.)dsc_0168

Something about December

I’m coming back to those songs again, this time one from Christina Perri, but maybe it should be that 80’s rock song “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone.” Three years into Christmas without my parents, and essentially, my family as a whole, I am inundated with memories of warmth, love, laughter, food, fun, and togetherness. Christmas Eve was always our night to get together. Christmas Day we would go to Daddy’s mother’s house, but on Christmas Eve, my brother and sister and their families would come home and we would have a meal and exchange presents. ¬†As I grew up and my siblings added their own children to the mix, it became even more magical. Children do that to Christmas, for we see it through their unjaundiced eyes. I know I did this for my brother and sister as well when I came along, so much so that they would go outside my window and ring jingle bells so I would think I heard Santa’s sleigh.

When my first nephew was a toddler, I got a tape recorder and a camera for Christmas, so all I did was take pictures of him and record him singing. Eventually before I knew it, I was the aunt of four little ones, all clamoring to let them in my room and calling me “Boo Boo,” because the oldest hadn’t been able to say my name. ¬†One Christmas Eve when I was a teenager, I thought I was going to have to work during this time and I was livid. I was NOT going to miss my nieces and nephews at Christmas. The four of them at Christmas have given me so many wonderful memories. One time my parents got the girls matching nightgowns, but one of them threw a fit about putting hers on…particularly the bonnet. Another year, as I was old enough to get my own presents for the kids, I was trying to be “adult” and buy responsibly. I got my nephew a pair of pants. The look on his face in the picture says it all; Boo Boo blew it. All of them put my high school boyfriend through the paces, demanding he play with them, and he was too polite to say no. Advantageously for my husband, they were older when he and I met, and his only appeal was his video camera. One year my oldest niece wrote a musical and roped the others into being in it, and of course it had to be filmed. Hilarious footage now. Say a line. Sing a song. Repeat.

As they grew older they brought boyfriends and girlfriends…the looks my Daddy gave were quite interesting. Daddy, as I may have said, wasn’t really a “people person.” Of course, Momma loved everyone and there was always a huge spread. She made sure there was fresh coffee made for my brother and the onions he especially liked. There was always macaroni and cheese for the kids. I had my pecan pie. As far as conversation went, I made sure to mention the time when Momma laughed at my brother when he was little for singing “O Christmas Tree.” I had only heard about the story, but I had to fight with the ammunition I had. My siblings had to go through the obligatory making fun of me because I was the baby. My sister got teased for being so mean to my brother when they were little that he had to yell to Momma, “Momma, make her say goodnight to me!” We traded work stories, school stories, reminisced about the past. As the baby, I was the comedic portion of the show, a role I knew well. It didn’t even matter if I was being laughed at, as long as we were all laughing.

Then it was time for the gifts. Once Daddy got a poster of a beach beauty to hang up in his workshop from my teenage niece and we all thought that was hilarious. I used to pass out the gifts because the person who is the most excited about the gifts is the youngest, obviously. Before long, though, I became the person wanting to sit at the table with my coffee and pie and enjoy my family. I began to see why my mother would work all day to prepare a meal and ¬†then say, “Don’t worry about the dishes. I’ll do them later. I want to be with my kids and enjoy my family.”We gave and received nice gifts, for sure. I really only remember that poster, that bonnet, and a beautiful sapphire bracelet my brother got me the Christmas after my son was born.

The real gifts were not tangible gifts. If only. If only I could go to the store and tell a clerk, “Yes, I’d like a Christmas Eve 1990. I’d also like a Christmas Day 1990 to spend with my in-laws.” Again, with a song. “If I could save time in a bottle…” I know there are new memories to make, and because of my parents, my in-laws and the treasures they bestowed on our lives, I am able to make these new memories. I have to work to make my children have wonderful Christmas memories just as I have. It’s just that now with Daddy and then Momma gone, we have scattered to the four winds. I know people are busy and Christmas is a busy time. I know people have beliefs and we have to respect those beliefs.

I also know that relationships die if they aren’t cultivated. Once a year isn’t cultivated really, but never? Never being with people who say they love you? That’s not a relationship. That’s nothing. Momma always said you can’t make people love you, and I know that’s true, and I think I just have to come to terms with the fact that when I lost Daddy, then Momma, then my home, I really did lose everything in my past. From here on in, I have my husband and my children, and I will work and do my best to make our Christmases something for them to ¬†remember.

 

The Adoption Doll

Thinking about those days spent in the travel trailer when Daddy was working made me remember another precious event. ¬†Before the time of the Cabbage Patch Kids, there was another phenomenon. ¬†It was the Adoption Doll. ¬†They were handmade and were special ordered to look like what you wanted. ¬†The concept was the same, as in they looked like Cabbage Patch Kids, but they were larger and the hair was a little bigger too. ¬†Hey, it was the 80s. ūüôā

My friends were getting Adoption Dolls, so of course I wanted an Adoption Doll. ¬†My former neighbor Pam Whitaker (bless her soul, she is no longer with us either) was making them for $30.oo. That doesn’t sound like a lot of money. ¬†If you recall, during this time, my daddy was laid off. It was a lot of money. Especially for a doll.

It wasn’t even my birthday or Christmas. ¬†It was May 31, 1981. I was ten. I’m second-guessing myself on the year because ten seems a bit old to be playing with dolls, but then again my own daughter never really played with dolls, so it’s difficult to remember. It was definitely May 31, though. The date is memorable because I wanted that doll SOOO MUCH!!! I KNEW we really couldn’t afford it, so I would have understood, and honestly I was expecting the news that I was not going to get it.

Daddy shocked me three times in my life, and this was the first time. (The other two were at the end of his life…tell you more later.) I got the doll. I chose mine to have blonde hair and blue eyes. ¬†(Strangely enough I have ended up with a daughter who favors this doll…) I named her Patricia Alexis. ¬†Patricia was to honor my cousin who had been killed in a car wreck, and I just loved the name Alexis. I called her Lexie. Ironically, I ended up with a mother in law named Patricia and my son’s name if he’d been a girl was going to be Alexandra. The more things change and all that…

Thirty dollars doesn’t seem like much. We can pop that off at Chick-fil-a sometimes if we’re starving, but it really was a big deal and a momentous decision. Money went a lot further in Daddy’s day, and he had to work a great deal harder for less money. Although I gained a lot of pleasure from Lexie and know that Daddy was glad he could give me this gift, I am unhappy telling this story. It seems a waste of money. Here’s why:

Lexie is in a Rubbermaid tub in my basement. ¬†She has not aged well and was very difficult to clean. She is one of many beloved stuffed animals/lovies of mine that have been “put up.” For what purpose I do not know. I feel guilty that Daddy even had to deliberate when he was under so much financial stress about whether or not he could afford a doll for his daughter. He had other things to worry about, and of course, I knew that, but I didn’t realize it as I do now.

It’s really a shame that our parents are revealed to us in layers. We see bit by bit more of the sacrifices they have made, the wisdom they have given. Things that used to sound silly or boring now sound pretty smart. Our perspective changes, I suppose. I don’t think that it’s that Daddy was that smart all along. I think he grew in his fatherhood just as I grew as a daughter. I think I made him a better father because I would not go away. He was not a demonstrative kind of man, and my siblings never hugged him. ¬†I didn’t care; I was hugging him anyway.

I don’t know. Maybe I did pay him back that $30.00 after all. Then again, maybe what you owe your parents can never be repaid.