Sunday, January 30, 2011

Not Exactly What Anyone Was Expecting

My dad and Mike met in Kindergarten in Clarksville, Tennessee.  They became fast friends, grew up together and stayed “best friends” throughout their lives.  While in high school, my dad dated every girl that would go out with him.  He was also voted Biggest Flirt and has his picture in the yearbook to prove it.  He dated a mutual friend, Linda, and her mother sent a hatpin with her on the date so if he got out of hand, Linda could poke him.  That relationship didn’t last long.  He ended up engaged to their friend Jill and Linda became engaged to Dad’s friend Mike.  Then Dad went away to college in another state.

During Dad’s freshman year, he met Annette in drama class and they were in several plays together.  A little bit of heat developed and they fell in love and eloped.  Lives changed, Jill was hurt, his friends questioned his decision but they all accepted and grew to love this stranger named Annette and things moved forward.
I came along quickly, followed by my brother, and they struggled to stay in school and support themselves.  Eventually Dad joined ROTC because the small payment he received paid for married student housing and allowed them to remain in school.  As a result, Dad had to go into the army upon graduation.  Besides marrying my mom, it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Our little family traveled with the army and grew to include my sister and much later, another sister. Whenever returning to Clarksville to visit our grandparents, we always visited with Mike and Linda, Jill and her husband Phil and when they were in town, Reda and her husband Phil who was also in the army.  They had all been friends for years and they felt like family.  Kids were born and we Ellis and Cunningham kidsall got to know each other and became friends.  Mike and Linda and their 3 kids visited us wherever we moved and we have lots of fun stories about each other and things that have happened over the years.  You know, those stories that no one else really gets but you think are hilarious.  The photo at left is of a long ago visit and left to right is my brother Chip, Linda’s oldest daughter Michelle, my middle sister Mickey, Linda’s twins Mickey and Merci, and me.  My youngest sister Andie was not born yet.

In 2004, Mike got cancer and passed away.  Within a year, Mom died of cancer.  My dad lost his best friend and his life-long love in a year’s time.  Linda and Dad supported each other with what each of them was going through.  Dad began dating quickly.  He really could never be alone.  He reunited with a friend named Mary from grade school who had lost her husband a few years before and they have been dating since 2005.  This was a struggle for me and my siblings.  My dad adored my mom more than anything in this world.  It was hard to see him with someone else.  But he needed to be with someone.  So we were polite and supportive.  Well, most of us, most of the time.  The old friends accepted Mary into their group and everything went on as normal.  I got to know Mary, she was a nice person and really cared about my dad.  It was still weird.

About 2 years ago, Dad arrived at my house for Christmas before everyone else and we just hung out and talked.  The conversation turned to his relationship with Mary.  He said she was pushing to get married.  He said he would never get married again.  I asked why.  He said “I loved your mother more than anything in this world and I was devastated when she died.  At my age, you have to really love someone to watch them die.”  We talked about the reasons he did not want to marry anyone.  So he wasn’t getting married.  I have to admit I was a little relieved.

Last night, my phone rang.  It was Dad.  He asked what I was doing.  I said watching TV.  He said “I’m getting married.”  I could hear laughter in the background so I refrained from reminding him that he said he was never going to marry Mary.  I simply told him congratulations.  Dad said “Don’t you want to know who I’m getting married to?”  I told him I assumed it was Mary.  He told me to hold on and I could talk to her.  I didn’t really want to but I said “Ok”.  I heard laughter.  I recognized the laughter.  A voice came on the phone.  It was Linda!  Ahhhhhh, this was a joke.  They were punking me.  I told her they were crazy, still thinking this was a joke.  Linda said “Well we may be crazy but we are getting married.”

I was stunned.  She began talking.  I tried to process it all.  She shared that this could never have happened 5 years ago.  That things had just changed between them a couple of months ago.  They really knew about 3 or 4 weeks ago that things were different but Dad had to tell Mary.  He did that yesterday.  They were calling all the kids.

I started to cry.  I couldn’t figure out how I felt, if I was happy or sad.  I felt bad for Mary but this just felt right.  I told them I was excited.  I told them they would probably kill each other.  Linda agreed that might have been true at one time but said they would be ok now.  She said almost the same thing my dad had said those few years before.  “At our age, you have to really have to love someone to be willing to watch them die.”  We talked a little more then I congratulated them as they got off the phone to call my siblings and share the news.

My phone rang quickly.  First my aunt.  Then my sister.  Then my other sister.  We did a three way call.  Finally my brother called.  We were all shocked.  We still weren’t sure this wasn’t really a joke. But we were all ultimately happy even though we were confused.  We grew up with Linda’s kids.  We have a history together.  We all agreed Mom would have been surprised too but would also think this was a good idea.

I guess that’s really what love is . . . to love someone so much that you are willing to watch them die.  To love them so much that you are willing to go through the bad stuff because the good stuff is so good.

I wish that for all of us.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Things I Already Knew But Learned Recently

My youngest sister had a baby.  She wanted her sisters there.  We wanted to be there.  We live nowhere near her.  My youngest sister Andie lives in California.  My middle sister Mickey lives in Louisiana.  I live in Tennessee.  As you can see, there is some physical distance between us.  There is also a large age difference.  I was in college when Andie was born and Mickey was 13.  Since our mom died 5 years ago, the two of us have kind of become her substitute for Andie.  Of course we would be there.  We planned the trip and my daughter, who lives in Atlanta, asked to be included.  Andie had been trying to get my daughter to come out to Los Angeles for several years and now would be a great time for her to join us.  We didn’t tell Andie she was coming.  We coordinated flights and arrivals from 3 different cities.  It was a great surprise and we were so excited as we waited for the baby to arrive.

Indigo_32We arrived the day after Andie’s daughter Indigo was born.  She is perfectly perfect, a beautiful baby.  Andie’s husband Josh and her 7 year old son Taj picked us up from the airport, we headed back to their house in Tarzana and Josh left to go pick up Andie and Indigo from the hospital.  Over the next 4 days we visited and shopped and did tourist stuff and held the baby and cooked and loved each other.  There were so many reminders of things I knew but forgot about all of us, the way you forget when you don’t see people often.  Here are some of those things:
  • Andie is married to an amazing man.  Josh waited on Andie, changed diapers, took care of the baby, took care of Taj, washed dishes, gave us the tour of LA, had very little sleep and never complained.  He is the most patient human I have ever met. My sister describes herself on her blog as “A fiesty, short-tempered, in-your-face lunatic that really wishes for peace and equality and harmony and love” and that’s a pretty good description of her.  When Josh took her on, he also took on her son Taj, the sweetest boy in the world.  You would never know that Josh is not Taj’s biological father.  He is an amazing father to Taj and he is already a great dad to Indigo too.  He is my idol.
  • We sisters are all very different.  We have always known this but when you put us all in one room, it is so comically evident.  Part of this is our age differences and life experiences.  I am the oldest and my brother and I were very close in age.  He was my best friend growing up.  Mickey was 5 years younger and we had very little in common.  As we became adults, our friendship developed and now we are very close sisters and friends.  As I said, Andie was born while I was in college and I am more like an aunt or mom to her than a sister.  My own children are just a few years younger than her.  Andie is kind of a rebel but as she has matured and I have mellowed, we have found we are probably more alike than any of our siblings.  And this trip showed that my daughter is more like Andie than any of us.
  • I need more private time than I think I do.  I am quite aware that I occasionally need some alone time.  As I get older and my children have become adults, I realize I am pretty set in my ways.  This trip reminded me that, while I love being around people and family,  I have to have a place to retreat.  I didn’t really have that and I struggled occasionally.  I’m pretty sure I was not the only one.  My daughter is the same way and I think my sister Andie also feels the same.  We are all control freaks and when one is not in control . . . well, our eyes give it away. There were no issues but it was a short visit Smile
  • We all miss Mom.  I kept thinking about how much my mom would have loved holding Indigo and playing with Taj.  She would have loved that we are all so close now.  She would be so impressed by Josh.  She would be so proud of Andie.
  • We will all make it without Mom.  We are closer now and have each taken on different “Mom roles”.  Mickey has her caring nature and giving spirit as well as her sense of humor.  Andie has her strong will, independence, and determination.  I have her love of cooking, travel, and new experiences.  The three of us together make a pretty good combination.
  • Andie is a good mom.  She is very traditional but also very non-traditional in her ways of motherhood.  She is a hand washing and hand sanitizer Nazi.  She is careful to make sure Taj is ok and is having fun.  She knows what is right for her daughter and will make sure the right things happen.  She is going to be just fine.
  • I actually CAN make Mom’s biscuits.  Our mom comes from a long line of amazing Southern cooks.  Mom and her sister inherited her biscuit making skills from our grandmother.  Their biscuits are legendary in our family.  Of course, there has never been a recipe so I had Mom figure out amounts and wrote them down.  We have all tried to make her biscuits with varying degrees of success but no one comes close.  Andie requested Biscuits and Chicken ‘n Dumplings during our visit and I warned her that mine were not like Mom’s.  But I gave it a try.  I thought about watching my grandmother, aunt, and mom as they made biscuits.  I remembered how they made a well in the flour for the oil.  How they kneaded the dough on the floured surface until it was smooth and rolled out the dough until it was just thick enough.  They must have been there with me because the biscuits were perfect.  My daughter said they were the best I had ever made.  I may never be able to do it again but I did it this time!
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