Sunday, May 27, 2012

Good-Byes and Promises

I went to two funerals last month. My aunt died at the end of April and two weeks later, to the day, my uncle's wife died at the young age of 52. For the second time in two weeks I drove the 90 miles to Tennessee.

Many of my relatives on my father's side still live among the rolling hills of middle Tennessee, where the scenery is picture postcard pretty. I wanted to stop and take pictures along the country roads, but we were in a time crunch. Oddly, I noticed many small buildings overgrown with weeds and grass, when I realized that these little out buildings were former outhouses.

The relatives came from nearby and  from far away. Alabama. Georgia. Virginia.
There was the young cousin from Savannah. Instantly I recognized her, even though we haven't seen each other in 15 years. Sunny (not her real name) is grown now, tall like her father, and has the honey-colored hair of her mother. She also inherited her father's cleft chin.  

Another distant cousin, two years older than me, grins at me, remembering when we were 10 and 12. I was the oldest in my family and he, the youngest. I tell him that he looks like Jimmy Carter, only more handsome. His wife, a pretty 50ish woman,  shares her email address and Facebook page and we promise to keep in touch.

"Jimmy" has a twin sister and she squeezes me in a real southern hug. She is flamboyant, dressed in bright colors, and extroverted. Her Mama, my great-aunt, 80ish, has perfectly coifed silver hair, and soft hands, holds my hands and doesn't let go. She lost her husband six years ago and is in the early stages of Dementia.

My uncle is shaken at the sudden death of his wife. He is lost without her. He has aged, and is thin and frail, and doesn't look like the Elvis look-alike of his youth. The girls were crazy about him and he would talk for hours on the black rotary dial telephone, before call waiting and message machines. His only child is a pretty young woman in her twenties and looks like her father when he was younger.

Then there is Jewel, who just lost her mother two weeks before. She has long, black hair and could pass as a Cherokee Indian. Her daughter, another beauty, graduated from high school this week.

Cousin Rusty stands quietly to the side. He is 50 and doesn't talk much. He is the sole survivor in his family. Thank God for his wife of 30 years. He is proud of his son, who recently graduated from college.

Another cousin, Billy, will perform the funeral. He is a preacher and an evangelist. His older brother has fought the devil his entire life, but Billy turned to God.

My sister and I catch up with everyone, trying to remember names and faces. We listen to stories and share some of our own. We talk nostalgically about long-ago family reunions and childhood memories. We hope to plan a reunion, under better circumstances, we tell each other.

It is night before we leave. One of our cousins and her family take us out to eat before we go. We linger, talking in the parking lot under the street lights. Finally, we say our good-byes. And promise to keep in touch.

I think of all the good-byes I've said through the years, and promises to keep in touch.

And my uncle's wife - she was a military veteran. She served in the Army when she was a young woman and returned home to these Tennessee hills at the end of her tour of duty.

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies

All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

This Memorial Day may we remember all of men and women who gave their lives for our country. God bless them all.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Watermelon Seeds

(I wrote this several years ago, when my children were young).

I was going on three years old when Mommy announced that I would soon be joined by a baby brother or sister. I had known something important was about to take place because Mommy's belly kept getting bigger and bigger, and she and Daddy kept referring to "the baby", and they obviously didn't mean me.

Daddy explained that Mommy had swallowed a watermelon seed. I loved watermelon, but didn't recall eating watermelon the whole time we lived in Germany, when Mommy's belly first started growing. I figured he was just pulling my leg.

Mommy said the baby was "due" around Christmas. My old crib was dusted off  and set up in my "playroom". Next, Mommy bought some brightly colored fabric and sewed curtains for the new nursery. My former "desk" became a changing table, completely outfitted with diapers, blankets, lotion and powder. The worse was yet to come. Mommy reclaimed all of my old baby clothes, which my dolls had been wearing, and left their wardrobes sadly depleted. They sat on my bed like raggedy orphans, just wating to catch a chill.

The baby, which turned out to be a girl, was finally born and came home on New Year's Day. She settled into our home rather smoothly, too quickly, in my opinion. Here was this little stranger that entered our lives and overnight became the center of attention. Where did I fit in, I wondered?

I slowly came around, especially when I found out all the good things my Mommy was feeding my baby sister. Mommy caught me more than once licking the spoon clean for my baby sister, but that didn't phase me one little bit! At the next feeding time I would be right there again, waiting to taste the carrots or banana pudding. What I really loved, though, was the baby bottle. Whenever I felt sleepy, I would sneak into the baby's room and take the bottle out of her crib.Once, Mommy found me hiding with the bottle, looking like the guilty culprit that I was. I got one of Mommy's "You know better than that" looks.

Still, Mommy noticed when I was feeling left out. She smiled and gave me a hug, reassuring me that she and Daddy loved me. That made me feel better.

I realized that I was now the older sister when my baby sister was strapped into the car seat and I was promoted to the seatbelt section. I had always hated that car seat, but it sure looked comfortable to me now. My beloved stroller also became the property of my little sister. I was fighting back tears on the day that Mommy took us for a walk and I had to walk alongside my old stroller. I deliberately gave Mommy a hard time, running ahead, or planting my feet in one spot and refusing to budge.

I'm four years old and I've learned to accept my little sister, sometimes grudgingly, but mostly lovingly. She's good at a number of things, like pinching, punching, pulling, pushing, that I admit she learned from me. But she's fun to play with, too, and Mommy says that I'll never be alone, since I have a baby sister. I have to look out for her, she tells me.
She'll probably always want to tag along, and I'll be advised by Mommy to share my toys and set a good example. There is one consolation, though. I was here first!

Friday, May 4, 2012

The American Dream

Antonio used to be a dishwasher. He came to the United States with a suitcase full of dreams, dreaming of a better life. He left his country in the middle of a civil war, leaving behind a job in the business world. His first job in the United States was as a dishwasher. He didn't speak any English. He struggled for the first few years, taking whatever job he could get to pay the bills. His wife got a job as a seamstress, sewing thousands of American flags each year.

Antonio has a good job now, with benefits, and looks forward to retiring in a few years. His English is almost impeccable and his accent barely noticable. Still, he uses his hands a lot of times to make his point, a habit that is hard to break from years of trying to communicate when English is your second language.

Antonio owns a home now. He pays taxes. He has a smart phone. He supports his family.
He wasn't born in this country, but he is one of many who has found the American Dream, a dream that is still real to many people.

I know Antonio. I shake his hand. He is an American.