My mother has moved in with me. It seems like only yesterday that we were just like this, her in the drivers seat, her being the one to keep me steady on my feet, her keeping me balanced so that I didn't go careening off into the dark night, bad decisions, high fevers, or swampy creeks.
Now I'm the one that is trying to keep things balanced. Keeping them from tipping over. We are having such a great time. Really, we are. You laugh? You doubt it? I can see why. There are days that I stomp through the house exhasperated by her every sigh or comment. Days where I turn fourteen and want to go to room and slam the door. But my door doesn't slam because its just one more thing I have to fix in this house so there's no point. Instead, we find something we can agree on to watch or we tell old stories and laugh. Thank God she has a sense of humor. Most days I have mine. She follows me around the house with lipstick trying to get me to just "put a little color on" and reminds me to use lotion on my face. A lot. Like every time she looks at my face. She is also the Queen of the List. There is always a list of things we need. As soon as I leave for the store a new list has begun. Daily trips to the store are a bizarre part of my family history. It's as if we can only buy one thing a day. Or three. But never all of the things. When I was in high school and was sent to the store that was fine because Cousin Deb was with me and we always took the really, really long way which means we did everything we wanted to between the house and the store. Now the store is a chore. Particularly when someone is following your around the house with a plastic bag that has the name of a particular brand of three ply double roll extra size super soft paper with no truck tracks in the middle of it so that you can "READ every word so you get it exactly right." This is why I studied literature. I just know it. It's come to this.
But I get it. The little things matter when they seem to be the only things you might possibly have control over. The pressures of giving up your home after fifty years, making a move to the mountains after being a flatlander all your life (her words) and giving up so many shades of independence are challenging in every way. Trying to still find things when many are still in storage, reaching for the light in the middle of the night and realizing it's in the wrong place. That everything is in the wrong place. Mourning an old house like a family member. Because it was such a part of the family for so many years. The shelter for every tropical storm and hurricane. That little brick house held every family member far and wide while the storms raged outside. It was our lifeboat and our arc. Through the literal Florida storms and from life's storms. When grandparents grew sick and elderly and moved in with us. When there were car wrecks and bad news. The death of pets. Of bad grades. Broken hearts. Celebrations. Birthdays. It was all right there and my mother was the captain of that ship. Period. My Daddy was in the Army and away much of the time until he retired. Then he came home and took his place without ever removing her from hers.
Now so many things fall to me. Just cause this is the way that life shook out. It has a way of doing that. Taking a road we didn't expect but then that is life. And as family we make the best of it. As a writer I empathize with my mother making a change so significant we don't discuss it too much. The decision to let go of the car keys - one of the hardest of a lifetime. My mother's parents never owned a car, never drove. If I felt the day I had my own set of keys and eventually my own set of wheels represented freedom - for her that had to be a kind of rising up and driving out that came from a much deeper place. It represented more than sixteen year old I gotta be me. It represented a rise out of poverty, a way to have a job and keep a job, a success that meant she could buy a little house, build a family, have a little girl that would ride shotgun some day.
And, I did. Those were glorious times. My mother finally bought the car of her dreams. A big Oldsmobile convertible. White with red leather interior. A dream machine. She drove with confidence behind the wheel wearing scarves over her hair and streaming behind her, cat eye sunglasses. She was amazing, looked like a movie star. Riding in that front seat beside her, the sun shinning down, the radio playing, I knew that Mom was in control, that we were traveling down that road, and that all was well with our world.
Now, a blink of an eye later, I'm behind the wheel. She's riding shotgun. And I can only pray that I will exude just a little of that air of confidence she possessed. The kind where she can truly I believe that it's okay. In spite of her home being shifted beneath her feet, her keys having slipped away. That in spite of it all - all is well with the world. That the road before us is a long one. To trust me enough that I do know the way. That life is still a great adventure. We just have to take it one day, one moment at a time.
I am bona fide sick. And been stuck that way for what seems a month. (Cough, cough, cough.) My family is quite sick of me being sick and husband and now, cousin Deb have come down sick and they are trying to pin the blame on me.
"Hey, I tell them, there are other, (cough, cough,) sick people, (cough, cough,) in this world.
And, it's almost Thanksgiving. Which means it's almost Christmas. And, I am so very, happy. Mostly. Really.
Particularly, for an Eyore child. (I have a beautiful little book on my desk - 'Eeyore Be Happy' that sits next to a little pensively smiling stuffed Eeyore courtesy of that great reader Denise Mitchell to remind me to be - happy, happy, happy.)
And while I'm not all Tiggerish crazy happy, in the middle of this messy life and struggling to accomplish all running on a quarter tank of well, I am still pleasantly peaceful. I made it to Florida to gather Mom, her mighty little Scottish terrior Duncan, and her things and return to Nashville. We had an uneventful eight hours or so on the road. No breakdowns. No bad weather. But hours full of stories.
I would ask Mom one question and she would answer. In the quiet, rolling miles, that uninterrumpted space that road trips provide, she was able to fully answer me. To remember things that she hadn't thought about in years. And to take the time to actually finish the story.
These are stories I may never hear again and I try to tap them down to memory, to hold on tight, to help some of them get to the page. My mother is carrying an entire generation before her and I'm thinking how to protect all those tangilble things they saw, they carried, they left behind. I want my grandchildren to know what came not just before them through their parents, and through me, but the before, before. The stories or as Cormac McCarthy might refer to in, The Road as the light.
At my middlin' age of this beautiful between, I have begun to appreciate things in a new light. A grandbaby's giggle or silly dance, my mother watching the sunset or staring at the moonlight. And I'm so aware in the moment that I am standing there with her, holding her hand, staring into the sky that everything has become both now and forever. The moments timeless, and a bit heaven sent.
Except for this perpetual coughing. I think it comes from the pits of hell. And that it's also why God made good Kentucky bourbon.
In my morning time I often go to prayer sites on the web and read the prayers that others have posted there. And, usually one stands out to me that I will think about throughout the day and say a prayer for that person, also.
One of these sites is Sacred Space, an Irish Jesuit prayer site that I visit on a regular bases. The daily prayers are beautiful and the chapel of intentions list heartfelt prayers from around the world. It immediately takes my eyes off of my issues when I realize how many people have so many needs and concerns.
What strikes me this morning as I'm reading is the fact that most of the time the prayers are for someone else. Not the person jotting down what's on their mind. Not for beauty or fame. Rarely, for love. Most of the time those prayers requested for the individual are for strength and courage in the face of adversity. For wisdom in their daily life and decisions. For employment to care for their families.
The majority however fall into the category of praying for others. These simple short prayers of, please. Of, thank you. A woman undergoing chemo for her first day gives thanks for it going well and asks for God to bless her family and friends caring for her. Another for a baby, 'little K' who has been diagnosed with leukemia. For the doctors caring for her and for her parents. And so very, many more. For an elderly father. For a grieving mother.
In the middle of all these requests, I paused this morning and thought about how good we are, we humans. How much we love, how much we care. How humble our prayers can be and how passionate for those around us. We may be broken, but we are so beautiful.
For those who think the human race is rushing toward a cold, soulless oblivion - I would encourage them to think again. In so many ways, we've only just begun.
I miss the Halloween I used to have as a kid. So does my mother. She decorated the front yard, put on spooky music, dressed up and played the piano. The sidewalks were full. Trick or treat was a family affair and it went on for hours.
Every year she continues to buy candy "just in case" but the neighborhood has changed. The children have grown and moved away. And let's face it - Halloween in many places has become either taboo or confusing. No one knows what to do anymore. Trunk or treat? Say what? Go to the mall? Wander Wal-mart in costume?
Add to it this year our weather became severe so many cities postponed the trick or treat event until Friday night. But some didn't. Our's was one of those NOT officially moving but so many other cities in our county had that it was just confusing. Some die-hard enthusiasts stood out on their front porches, homes decorated from yard to roof-top to meet the occasion. Them in costume and candy galore. I know because we drove past them, the wind howling, the Charmings in the backseat and me trying to suggest McDonalds for treats. It wasn't a fit night our for man or monkey.
So last night, in an effort to salvage the event for the children we piled in cars and went to my sister's neighborhood. Some neighbors were out in force, sitting on porches, candy within arms reach. We hit a few houses with the monkey running down the middle of the empty street turned loose and full speed. Do you know how long it takes a kid to learn to walk up the steps, knock on a door and ask for candy? One big brother ahead of him ahead of him and his two older cousins behind him trying to catch him and keep up with him all night.
My sister's house was in full holiday swing. Decorations, Party trays, and music. It was all downright festive. Even we Eeyore's put on our dancing shoes. So our usual Halloween door-to-door 'till you drop and carry home fifty pounds of chocolate routine was replaced by a little family party. And the monkey? How was his 2nd Halloween? All he knows it that for some reason we costumed like crazy, visited lots of friendly neighbors who liked to share, and made merry. And that he was born to dance to Motown Sound. He was captured and enraptured and baby has moves. (All attempts to upload video here have failed.)
Do I miss those Halloween's of the sixties? The ones that looked like the street scene in ET where every child in the world is on the sidewalk and in costume. You bet I do. But tradition is a funny thing. It carries on in it's own way. It evolves with the times, with the season, and with the circumstance. To me the value is in the power of story, of the family being together, and of the memories we make that matters most of all.
I'm back. And my brain feels both blessed and a bit bruised maybe from the recent SIBA trip. (See Radio page) I have had the extreme honor and privilege of interviewing - which for Clearstory is more like chatting with good friends with authors attending the SIBA trade show. The list is too long to type here without running out of time. It included some of my all time favorite authors like Elizabeth Gilbert and Lee Smith, favorites for a number of reasons like Joshilyn Jackson who has known me since college and the beginning of good words, and great new discoveries.
But - right now looks like me staring out the window at the rain and thinking - I need to make a doc appt for a check up. I need to write 5000 words today. I need to edit interviews from SIBA, upload, check social media to check on a the illness of a friend's husband, make professional appts about professional things, write a friend, call my Mom and walk her through using her smart phone, pick up medicine for me and the dog, cook dinner, blog, and pray and walk and breathe, and plan my funeral. (I'll save that for an upcoming blog but I'm not dying any faster than I know of - it's just a southern thing.) And complete a few interviews about an upcoming event in Panama City Beach next week. Which means I need to pack. Which means I need to shop because I am out of decent clothes to wear in public and my jeans from Walmart most likely won't cut it for this event. (I'm not a shopper unless it's for tech toys, purses from Italy, or Channel perfume. And the rest of my fun shopping is from flea markets, yard sales and Goodwill.)
Why are we all so crazy busy? Because I know it's not just me. It seems to be everyone I know. But the fact is - as Celia Rivenbark says, I'm living the good life, baby - because I am. I get grand baby hugs and kisses. And I get to talk to you, and to authors I love and you love, and to promote their work. And on my very, good days I work in a letter to a friend, a little treadmill time, and I write a few 1000 original words.
On my worst days where I don't meet any of my lofty goals, overdraft my checking account by 32 cents, lose something important on the way to the coffee pot (who can do that!?!) and be a total mess all day, I still manage to say a prayer for a stranger that crosses my path. An imprint of a face, of a name, of a something about someone that I may say nothing more to than How are you? But by God I mean it. And I think in the end - that's what makes all the difference in the world.
Peace to you as you go about living your sloppy, beautiful, messy life. We're living the dream, baby. Living the dream!
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.