Today is the day my Daddy died. It's been years now but when I woke up, got my coffee, looked out the window - those were my thoughts and that's when I began to cry. Just like I do every year. July 5th - I can count on it.
There's no getting over some things. As a woman told me who had lost her husband six months ago, "I'm still not over it,"
Of course your not, I said. You aren't meant to be.
She nodded. Seemed relieved and said, "That's right. That's right."
She left our meeting in a better mood.
We aren't meant to stay stuck in grief to the point we aren't enjoying life but the getting over it. I'll leave that to the other people.
He was a life-long Army man. Loved Holmes creek where he grew up. Knew it better than the back of his hand. After his death I have replayed moments where I wish I had made a different choice. Conversations where I wish I had communicated better. Times he had put out an olive branch to a stubborn teenager or young woman with a wild streak - and I just didn't take it the right way. Those times echoed to long and loud after his death. I wanted to take them back. Over and over again. Fix them. Perfect them. Don't we all. Always.
I pulled in the driveway a few days ago from a family vacation. One of those family get togethers where I flashed all my disfunction obsessions. We must be together. We must all sit next to Nana. We all must pay attention to each other every moment and tell stories. And, and, and - - - this vacation time together must be . . . perfect. Again. That word. My determined expectations. I am precious in my passions. As well as a pain the butt. I'll save that little blog I call Dysfunction Junction what's your function (being mine) for next week but the thread here is the same.
I'm a family girl. One that wants to run and roam. But I'm also the girl that packed her bags when I lived out in New Mexico after Daddy's health took a bad turn. Me and the boys moved back home. My sister packed up her stuff where she was in Georgia and did the same. No matter how crazy our times together may get when we are trying to take a break from life, it's real life we get great. It's real life where we tag-teamed when daddy was in the hospital. She took one shift, I took the other. We rode up and down that elevator so much that people thought we were twins, clones, time warping. We confused them in our coming and going but that weren't at all confused about the fact that we didn't miss a beat. Daddy wasn't there alone.
Daddy died today. One day after the 4th of July. Fireworks now, the sound of them from inside a house brings to mind that night. That last night. I think it was his stubborn that kept him alive that night. A soldier that didn't want to die on Independence Day. He passed the next morning.
My stubborn streak. I come by it honest. I got a double dose. His kind - quiet final, conclusive and my Mama's kind - determined, hard-edged, tenacious.
When I pulled up in the driveway after all those days of family togetherness, after July 4th crazy traffic and traffic jams, heat and more heat, a broken air conditioner. Too many hours on the road. There was Daddy's memorial stone right there in the circle as I turned in. The flag I put up for Mama on the porch blowing in the breeze on the hill. Daddy's old boat sittin' on that broken trailer. Me and sister begging Mama when she moved to please not leave that boat. We couldn't leave that boat. We had to have that boat. No matter how long it had sat up. No matter if we couldn't use it, float it. We had to keep Daddy's boat. It was his lifeblood. It's a freshwater creek boat, the kind you'd use with a cane pole and a red bobber. It's worth nothing but everything.
They fished from that boat just like me and sister did. He took em up in the creek in it when their heads couldn't clear the edge. Showed up how to fish and where the clear springs bubbled up in the swamps. Where you could scoop a cup of water up right there and drink it down. Him grinning to beat the band. Those Cyprus trees rising to the sky, him skulling that boat with one hand, whistling through his teeth.
That man survived Korea. Survived Vietnam. But still --- time and time and time.
Today instead of those missed opportunities, those imperfect moments that stuck out in my mind for years where I didn't say what I wish I had said, I thought of all the times we laughed. Together. Of the way I'd say, Daddy that would light up his smile and no doubt his heart. I saw this wild, long tapestry that was us, our relationship, and I saw how very, very much of it was good. How most of it was really, really good.
And I think about those boys of mine. (Yeah, I call them mine whether they want me to or not.) And how I gave him the greatest gift I could ever have given him by making him a PawPaw. About how my boys became his boys. And as much as this gypsy heart of mine wanted to roam the earth and exotic places, this Southern girl stayed close to home so that they had each other. So we all had each other. While there was still time.
In Daddy's memory I went to chapel and lit a candle. Whispered a prayer. Then bought a watermelon to eat with my baby boy's baby boys. I'll tell them creek stories of their Daddy's Pawpaw and help them remember a man I won't forget.
I think I hear him whistling.
Wow! It has been way too long since I took time to write and share with you a little news from the hill. In my mind I'm always talking to you, sharing stories and the odd, quirky little things that fill my days. If only you could read my mind. And, I believe some of you can. :)
The green has come in so thick it's wrapped it's arms around the house. Near bout. Almost. The grass is so high out front and going down the hill that the rabbits have moved in. And they have to practically STAND UP to see them. Yes, the grass is that high but did I mention that now the rabbits have moved in and there isn't much more peaceful in the morning than seeing the rabbits nibbling out front while the rooster crows. Not my rooster and I don't have to feed him but I sure would miss him if the folks down there somewhere got rid of him.
My mother missed the sound of a rooster crowing in the morning at the house where I grew up in Panama City. So my uncle got a little rooster and put him in the backyard for her. You just can't take the country out of people who grew up in the country. The rooster would sit up on the chainlink fence every morning and get his crow on. Which is steady and starts when the dawn cracks the edge of light. Mom could hear him bright and early from her bed and it sounded like good old home days. Until the morning that she also heard some neighbors feet running fast and furious past her bedroom window. Then the rooster went missing. No more crowing. Some people just can't appreciate when country comes to town.
I can see Nashville from my porch. Kinda. Well, at night I can see the lights of Nashville as a glow in the eastern sky. That's how close I am but also with all these big trees and birds and raccoons and rabbits and owls and roosters you would think I was a hundred miles away. I have put up bird feeders for Mom and there is a chance that the birds around here have gotten lazy. If the seed runs low they bang on the window and go, Whazup? The hummingbird wars begin right after the rooster sounds off so we have lots of wildlife activity. Some nights the coyotes take up a howl and it stirs me with a wildness. They are in sync and they know something. I think they sing the lament of their people. Of the woods going away little by paved little. And, like that rooster, it's hard to bring a coyote home.
Recently, I took up walking down by the river. There the breeze if there is one will find it's way and the water always brings me back to where I began. It's not salty and it's not the gulf but it's more like my Daddy's creek. It smells some the same. Last afternoon I was there about three or four people stood at the edge with their poles in the water and lines stretched out. Just their profiles, that scene, at once so familiar and a tug on my heart made me smile. I was raised with that simple refrain, What'chu catch? Usually preceded by my Daddy's whistle as he wandered down to meet a boat pulling in at the landing. You can while away a day looking at what people caught and what they used for bait and be the better for it.
Father's Day approaches. I saw a card that read - Still Daddy's little girl. If I could only give it to him. But I have to settle for whispering - Still your girl Daddy. Always will be. And then go on about my business.
That business has been a whole lot of Make Momma Happy Mode. Now, I know what you might say. You can't make anyone happy they have to be happy on their own right. BUT - surely you know some things that people have done for you that has brought love to your door and brought a smile to your face. Mama's soft spot is her plants! OF which she gave away and left many behind when she moved to the hill. So, I have spent some days helping her pot new ones and fixing up the porch for her and she has rocked some and smiled some and so I look at Daddy's picture and since he always loved my Mama something fierce I feel like he is smiling at me just cause I stepped out of my laptop box and did the dirt thing.
Ok, to tell the truth I lost my laptop. That is, I hid it from myself. No, I hid it from any laptop crooks that might break in and steal all my hard work. But then I could not remember where I hit the thing. Hide nor hair. So, I was forced to be constructive in some other way. It never would have happened if I had been able to put my fingers on the keys.
Alright, much more news afoot but I know you have things to do. I'm back on the radio live on Wednesday's at 1:00 on WRFN 107.1 and 103.7 in Nashville. Check out the link for the show to stream live under the ON AIR in menu. I'm working on the final edits for CONFESSIONS which will be out March 2019. The Undercover Reader Posse is such a good time it should be illegal. I'm loving our Secret Saturday calls and you can learn more about that in the link under Reader Posse. The Phonebook Writer Series is about to kick off a great Summer Session so for anyone interested in writing fiction or creative non-fiction stay tuned and check it out. PLUS I have promised to finish my Patreon page and intend to do so by Saturday morning. Mark my words.
Blogging - I am so proud of my students that kicked off their blogs with a bang. More on them and their links soonest! And I am introducing a new Friday Blog series titled - GO ASK MY MAMA! So that you guys can get some of that winning wisdom that anoints my life everyday. :) Get your questions ready. Move over Dear Abby and Lucy in her Psychiatrist box. No one breaks it down like my Mama so you have problems? Issues? Life little balls of string that you can't unwind - Don't worry - You can now GO ASK MY MAMA!
In the meantime - till tomorrow! Love and blessings Ya'll.
On the backside of Father's Day I have to write about what was heavy on my heart yesterday. It was father's day and this is a photo of my father better known as my Daddy and my sons who knew him as Pawpaw. He sits on his boat which after 22 years in the Army (including twelve years in Airborne) was the best place to be. Those cocky little kids on the boat were the best present I ever gave him.
All of our growing up years on Panama City Beach were spent making weekly pilgrimages a stones throw back up in the woods to Holmes creek. This eight acre little spread was down on the water lined with Cypress. The creek was filled with fish, nested by long legged herons and swamped enough to hold a few alligators. It was the beating of my Daddy's heart. And, now - it's gone.
This property has been in the family for generations. My great-grandaddy pulled the ferry across the creek with his old horse, Maude. Back then the creek was just slightly wider and cars would ferry on and ferry off. Years later my daddy as a young man would be one of the first on the crew that built the first bridge that went across. My young years were spent exploring the creek and like every kid and cousin for miles around hanging out under the bridge was a part of that ritual into adulthood. We read the names scratched underneath. Who hearted who. Years of graduation. Simple things. No F-bombs. Nothing crude, lewd or something you'd find in a bar at 2 am. Just kids being kids. The ground underneath the bridge was filled with piles of sandbags filled with cement that had solidified into a thing of it's own. This mound. Which is where we sat listening to the rare car coming a long way off and then thump, thump, thump as they slowly crossed the bridge checking the water.
Checking the water has been a part of that ritual of growing up. Is it high? Getting higher? Reaching flood level? Is it low? Are the fish biting? If they are - what's biting? Catfish, shellcrackers, mullet? What you usin' to catch'em?
When I was a little girl this tiny place was an actual working farm-ish. There were plenty of chickens, a big pig that always had little pigs back in the pen, a horse named Maude (still alive) and a barn we called the corn crib. There were barn cats which meant barn kittens that were beautiful and ferrel and meant to be mouser's not cuddle cats. ON more than one occasion we caught one and took it home to our house where they learned not all cats are born to be barn cats. It's where my sister had a little horse, where old Maude went wild one day with me riding her bareback, where family reunions were held down by the water but where ever day was a reunion. It's where Memaw worked hard and then watched her stories then we would all take a nap with the box fans in the window cooling us in the heat of the day.
Our Memaw cooked three meals a day the old fashioned way. That means with a stove. Her's being gas and an oven that turned out seven layer peanut butter cakes that we would fight for. The supper meant fried chicken and peas, fresh corn, and cornbread. Or fish caught that day from the multitude of folks that paid to launch their boats. When my great-grandaddy was alive he had a few boats he rented out for the day. The last chore of the evening of his was to bail those boats out and pull them to the shore.
My Daddy was raised here, in this place. My sister and I also. My sons, her children. My grandchildren have visited, played in the creek, listened to the stories. All of them. Of the Christmases past and of old lying Uncle Eddie Lewis and of so many silly wonderful simple days.
I once asked my Daddy where of all the places he'd been in his Army days was the best of all of them. Without hesitation he said - right here - with a grin that was his trademark. He was serious. If a person can be a place itself then Daddy was the creek.
As we got older a slew of teenage friends went with us spring, summer, fall to paddle the creek. Kids swam near the bank and we hang out in this paradise that we took for granted because it always had been and therefore always would be.
When Daddy died there was a comfort in knowing that as long as we had the creek, we had him. That somehow having the creek tied us to the past of every good thing. It was our north star and our touchstone. Our taproot. it tethered us to our lives and to each other.
But times, they do change. Old people die. Sometimes way too soon and too young. The Corn crib barn fell to ruin eventually. There hadn't been a hog in the hog-pen for twenty, maybe thirty years. Maude died finally before Grandaddy Skipper. Memaw passed away. The little house that had housed a multitude and fed an army every week got older and tired like people do. Even though it was propped up and nailed and had a new tin roof, it still leaked and sagged. It was ready I think to give up the ghost.
We have a few photos that all belong in a big immortal album but they are yet to be collected. Of us growing up and then our children posing down by the water or running across the sandy yard in a game of something born straight out of imagination. The photos that are missing are ones that are still in my heart. The time my sister and I were on the boat with Daddy, fishing just there at the edge of the bank on a quiet summer day. The dragonflies flitting at the waters edge. The wind stirring the surface so that I'd lift up my pole, check my hook, plop the red cork back down. Daddy would say - It's just the wind, not a bite - but I couldn't tell the difference. I was more aware of the song of the cicadas, the sun on my shoulders, the sound of my mother a lullybye softly as rocked one of the baby's to sleep, the melody but not the words lilting and finding their way to our ears.
I once told my mom we could tear it down and build something new. Maybe just put a little trailer there. She said that she wouldn't even want to be there anymore without the house there. It wouldn't feel the same.
Last night I dreamed of I was driving in storms, lost and trying desperately to find my way home. I finally pulled over and asked someone to help me. "I have to get to North Florida," I told them. When I woke I understood. My crush and longing from yesterday filtering into my dreams.
The creek was sold last week to a lovely family. Word is they are distant relatives, that somehow if this is actually possible their people owned the creek before our people did and then the families married and so on. I hope this is true. It helps take the sting out of the heartbreak.
It was time. It had to be done. But as much as my sister and I, my sons, my niece and nephew and kept a stiff upper lip - I'm afraid we've come undone. At least for Daddy Day. Maybe this week we'll all get back on track. I hope so. There's things to be done.
As a writer I know that all our memories have not disappeared but will now cross over into the place of myth. Where the power of story grows stronger with each passing year. Nothing can take away this from us. Our stories are ours to tell and tell well. It's the way legend's are born and men like my Daddy live forever.
Once upon a time there once was a Creek - and that story is never-ending.
But if you happen to be out for a drive in North Florida and find that you've wandered your way back up in the woods, turn down Miller's Ferry Road and drive till you come to a bridge - you'll know the one. When you cross please do us a favor, slow down to a crawl, roll down your window and check the water. Honk the horn twice to let folks know you've arrived. That you are crossing that bridge, making your way home.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.