A Family Story

When my oldest sister C. was only 18 months old in 1964, our daddy ran over her on his "dinner" break.

C. had assumed all these years that Daddy had been drinking and didn't care enough about his kids to not run them over.  In the logic and structured she had created out of the shards and scraps of her childhood, it made sense.  Our sister L. had almost drowned a few years after that because Daddy had been drinking.  And Daddy and her mama had lost custody of the kids on June 3, 1974, one day before her tenth birthday, so it made sense.  Daddy had to have been drinking.

But he wasn't.  C.'s mama, not my mama since C. is actually a half-sister, now has dementia and sometimes forgets that Daddy is no longer living.  What's hard with C's mama is that she can no longer remember who is here and who is lost.  Her timeline is all jumbled up.  On a recent weekend when C. had brought her home, she just looked at C., truly seeing her, and started crying.

"What's wrong, Mama?"
"I'm just thinking about when you were ran over as a baby," C.'s mama replied.
"But I'm here, Mama.  I'm alive.  I made it."

Her mama gave her a few details, and C. confirmed from her mama's sister that she was ran over as a baby, just as she had heard all of these years.  But Daddy had not been drinking.  Her mama and Daddy had lived next door to her aunt and uncle, and Daddy and her uncle worked together.  One day when she was eighteen months old, they came home for dinner.  And when they went to leave, Daddy didn't see C. behind the truck and ran over her.

He walked into the house cradling her in his arms.

Her mama asked, "What happened?"

"I hit the baby.  I ran over the baby."  And he cried and cried.

In my sister's words--or maybe, her aunt's words--they "threw" her into the truck and took her to what is now Conway Regional Hospital.  Doctor Bob Bannister worked on her all afternoon.  He finally came out.

"We did everything we could."  They didn't expect her to live.  Two ribs were broken, both of her legs were broken, she was broken all over.

But she did live through the night.  And after three months in the hospital, she came home.

Today I talked to C. for over an hour and learned more about my daddy and mama's marriage than I probably ever knew.

And there are other things I didn't know about my daddy, my oldest sisters C. and L., and my oldest brothers V. and D. until we talked and I learned.  Like how C. used to collect bottles and turn them in to buy food for her siblings, how she used to beg to feed them, how she did anything to take care of them and she was under the age of ten.  How Daddy used to beat up their mama but never laid a hand on them.  How she used to cry and beg him to stop.  How her mama split V. or D.'s head open with a broom handle.  How Grandma made half their clothes and all their Christmas presents, and how their other grandma and aunts made the other half, but their parents just lost them all the time.  How they moved to Florida three different times before she turned 10 to escape the law.  How they lived in mostly good foster homes, except for one, and how their foster families got them involved in activities like volleyball.  How hurt the boys were because our aunt got custody of the girls later, and they were left behind.  How V. never felt loved growing up.  How close it was between the four kids being taken away and when our daddy started a new family after their mama went back to hers.  How resentful her brothers and sister were that she finished her education and settled down.  How C. kept so much of this from them...until now, until they had to know, to make them cherish their lives before they lost them.  How she has used her childhood to move on and how theirs has held them back even though it was just a few years.  How she wanted to grow up and have things and told our daddy when she gave birth to her son that maybe he could choose to be in his life since he wasn't in hers.  And how he was for awhile...until he took another drink.  And how Daddy never bought her anything until he was with my mama before he took another drink and was sober and had a job and owned a vehicle and could hold conversations and make you laugh and laugh until you cried.

And so we pray for those that are saved, but their lives here are consumed by their demons.  And we hope for a better future and more happiness for them, but Sis and I still guard our own.

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Last Day of "Spring Break"

What is this Spring Break that some folks have been speaking of?  I know some of you have a break from taking classes or from teaching, or maybe you have been excited to spend the week with your kiddos, who are home.

I am a bit spoiled because I work in education.  We tend to get off holidays and snow days, and at least for faculty and students at our school, for spring break (and for fall break, starting this next academic year).

Staff, however, have to work...unless they take the week off.  It's kind of ridiculous how few people were there this week, especially today.  I prodded on because 1)  I had lots of do to get ready for my new job; and 2) I have no more vacation days to spend.  In fact, Zach and I worked until after five today.  And in fact, when I walked out to the parking lot, half of the hallways had dimmed because no one had used them in a long time, I only saw one other person, and our car was one of two in our parking lot.  It was kinda creepy.

This "break" was spent tidying up and following up on various projects, cleaning out and packing up, and mentally preparing for my transition next week.  (I didn't actually start much of the physical preparation, other than packing up my cubicle, because I ran out of time to begin researching.)

On Monday, I will be the new Associate Director of our Academic Success Center!  I'm honestly still kind of shocked that I am in this new position.  I never dreamed of being any kind of director per se, mostly because I feel like there is still so much for me to learn, but I do agree with the committee that I am more than qualified.  I will be hiring, training, and supervising our tutors; developing student success and academic workshops; advising students on probation; working with some other student success tools; and continuing to coordinate the mentor program.  I'll still be doing some things for the grant because they will still be funding part of my salary.  Sheesh...I hope I'm ready for these big changes and responsibilities!  I know I am ready to be working more directly with students again!

Here is what my cubicle looked like before:

And after:

It seems strange that it looks smaller without everything.  And I have soooo many files.  The day was particularly tinged with sadness, not just because I was leaving and wrapping everything up, but also because so many folks had taken off today, that I didn't get to say goodbye to.  I actually haven't even seen my boss since I interviewed, got the job, and worked my last week because she's been out of town for various things.  :( 

Thankfully, I will just be a few stairs away!  Bring it on, Monday!?
Until then, we're heading to Hot Springs for the rest of the weekend.  :)

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Menu...Tuesday: Braised Carrots

Every Monday, I think, "I need to get back to blogging."  And then I don't.  :(

As you probably saw with the last post, I lost my mama and have been dealing with that the last two months, which is part of the reason I've been away.  Just as things started to settle back down, I got a new job!  I start Monday as the Associate Director of the Academic Success Center!  So I figured I might as well dive in; otherwise, I will be waiting forever for things to get back to normal.

Speaking of normal--or rather, the abnormal--I've been rubbish about cooking lately.  I haven't been too interested, very little sounds good, and/or I'm too exhausted by the time I get home.  (I've been working until 6 for weeks now to make up for time I missed.

But, by George (the Duchess's baby!), I'm getting back to it this week.  Last night, we did veggies, and I made these braised carrots because my usual glazed carrots recipe was too much work.  I was too lazy/tired to pull out my fancy camera, so iPhone will have to do.

1 lb. baby carrots
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1.5 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. parsley

-Place carrots in the bottom of large skillet (so none are stacked on top of each other).
-Add water, sugar, salt, and butter.  Bring to a strong simmer and let cook for 15-25 minutes (depending on how thick your baby carrots are).
-Once the carrots are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, remove from heat, pepper and stir in parsley!  Easy peasy!

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Rest in love, Mama.

There is a price to pay for being born to older parents—and that is to lose them sooner than most. I have peers who have lost their dads, and I have friends who have lost their moms, but I can’t think of anyone I know that is my age that has lost both. Not even thirty and by the world’s standard, I am an orphan.

I had my daddy in my life for sixteen years and two days. And I had my mama in my life for twenty-eight years, nine months and one day. And now I’ll keep them in my heart forever, until I see them again. After my daddy passed, I had to learn how to navigate our new relationship, and in some ways, I think it’s stronger in some ways now than it was before his death. I treasure the things he gave me—most aren’t “things”—and I try to share these precious gifts with others. Like his love for learning and for laughing.

I’m figuring out this relationship with my mama, now that’s she’s gone, too. Things like watching her favorite movies (Terms of Endearment), or listening to music she liked (Patsy Cline), or eating Mexican food (fajitas without the tortillas), and loving people for themselves, for how they define themselves rather than how the world defines them. It’s through memories, old and new, that I keep her spirit alive here.

The last few weeks have happened so fast while moments within them have dripped like a faucet left running for a snowstorm. I use that metaphor because this winter has been truly bitterly cold. I love winter, but Mama hated when it would get this cold, so I think it’s an appropriate image to describe how her life receded away from the shores of this world. And my friends were right when they said it was appropriate that it would snow (rather than rain) during her funeral, the ground receiving the soft feathery kisses. There are so many memories I associate with the snow, and now this will be another one. A good one and a bad one. I know I’m using lots of different metaphors all mixed together, but it feels right because water, in all its forms, is so often used to explain and experience the faith we have in Christ, our physical birth and our rebirth. It is true what they say: the days are long, but the years are short. That’s made in reference to children being young, but I think it accurately describes our relationships during our moment (yes, moment) on this earth. Drip…drip…drip…and suddenly, there is a flood sweeping it all away. I feel that way, too. There are moments when I am flooded with overwhelming emotions, my eyes brimming and then overflowing with tears and I can’t control anything for a time until I catch my breath. But worst are the longer and longer periods where I don’t feel much of anything, outside of feeling like I have forgotten to do something, or something is missing. It’s like one of us has gone on vacation, except this time, it’s Mama who has gone away.

At death, moments that didn’t mean anything at the time are recalled with crystal clarity. Just last week, I was almost been brought to tears at the Hyundai dealership because she was there when we bought our car. It’s harder being home and back to a routine because there’s less freedom to indulge those emotions or lack thereof. People continue to ask how you are doing and if they can do anything, but the automated responses are given a bit faster than the week before and the week before that. There’s work to be done, and while there are still tears to be shed, they can (and sometimes must) wait for the calm and the quiet. I am so thankful for the family and friends who have provided support to me, Zach, and my brother—my aunts and uncles for being there in the truly hard and mortal moments, for helping make plans and share burdens, for letting me know it’s okay to smile and laugh; my cousins who grieve the aunt Gracie they lost; my friends, so many friends, who were there to cry and pray with us and for us, to help me take care of my mama and myself, to bring me chocolate and food, to loan me clothes, to take us out lunch or bring us dinner, to send cards and flowers and gifts to offer some comfort.

I guess I am supposed to be mad at the cancer that took my mother’s life within a few weeks and just days after a diagnosis, but I’m not even mad, not yet. Maybe that will come with time. Maybe I’ll even have the audacity to be angry with God for a while. But instead, I think on what a fallen world we live in. I think that, even if we have favor on our lives from the moment of birth, we are still here and we will still die someday. Nothing bad or evil is of God. He created all things to work for His good. A lot of people comfort themselves by saying it’s God’s will that they are sick. Well, I say to that—it’s nonsense! Literally NO SENSE! God wants us to be healthy and well, but the thing is—we live in a sick world. However, He can redeem anything that is corrupted here, so long as He is chosen. God is in the spiritual business. The problem is, our flesh can tear us down, even spiritually, if we let it. All it is, in terms of mass, is mostly water with the dam waiting to be broken or shored up. We came from water (the deep) to become solid (as a human being) but will return as air (as just a spirit, our inner most being).

Living here, separated from God, is the cost of being human creatures. And death (spiritual and physical) is the price we pay to live again—though we may be separated from those we love here for a time. Just for a time. Really, when you think about it while trying to see forever, a lifetime is not so long. “They” also say that youth is wasted on the young, but recently, I heard that it’s actually maturity that is wasted, wasted on the old. As I watched my mama slip away, I couldn’t help but count my regrets and wasted opportunities, times I turned from her or against her, while I tried to hold onto those very precious hours with both hands as I finally realized what an hour with a loved one really meant. It’s priceless.

I’m so thankful I got to spend that week in the hospital with my mom. I wish we could have had more weeks, even days, like that, doing things she enjoyed. But we did get in a lot of talks and watched a lot of TV and movies, simple things we loved when I was growing up. We watched Steel Magnolias one of those days she was in the hospital. I can’t help but think of M’Lynn telling her friends: “I find it amusing. Men are supposed to be made out of steel or something. I just sat there. I just held Shelby's hand. There was no noise, no tremble, just peace. Oh god. I realize as a woman how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.”

I left my mama, but I promised I would be back. And I did come back. I got to hear her say, “I love you,” one more time, and I got to tell her how much I loved her and how proud I was of her for how hard she worked, and then I told her she could go because we would be okay and take care of each other. And we will. I will always miss my mama, but I wouldn’t give anything to have her here again. She is with her Redeemer. She truly lives because He lives. And for the time, I live here and carry on.

In memory of Gracie Irene Byrd
Sept. 29, 1944-Feb. 2, 2014
Rest in peace, Mama.  Rest in love.

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Prayers Needed

Please be praying for my mama. She is going in the hospital for some tests tomorrow and into a nursing/rehab home next week for physical therapy on her back. Her back has been so bad that lately she is having trouble moving and walking.  Her back started bothering her in October.  Several tests and X-rays were run, but they didn't show anything.  The pain continued to worsen, and when her doctor prescribed pain pills, her appetite vanished, and she was nauseated and vomiting.  She also had some raised spots come up on her body, including on her breast that was lanced earlier last year (It was not malignant or anything).  As such, she lost a lot of weight and is very weak.  So now that she is on pain medication that aren't causing her to be sick, her muscles have become too weak and the pain is still there, so she is having mobility problems.  She started PT a few weeks ago, but has been so weak (and with some of the winter weather and the holidays), she's missed some appointments.  She had some scans and an MRI, but her doctor still has not provided the results (and it has been a week and a half ago since the MRI!  I'm ticked about that!).  She was supposed to go to a surgeon on Wednesday to have those spots checked, but she could not drive.  This should be a temporary move (less than 100 days) until she can build up her strength, but she has never had much patience with herself when sick, and I am worried sick about her.  My mama lives with my brother four hours away, so I cannot just pop over every day to check on her.  I covet your prayers at this time.  Thanks.

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"Manchester, a city that thinks tables are for dancing on"

Remember how I went to Great Britain last summer?  And how I never posted about it?  Well, I've really been missing those green hills and lovely isle lately, so I decided to post about it every once in a while.  :)

We had quite the day of traveling.  It went smoothly until we got to Philly, and then the proverbial poo hit the fan with our plane getting delayed ten and fifteen minutes at a time.  We finally boarded after no dinner and freezing in the airport--and then I got sick on the plane.  This is the second time I've done this traveling overseas, so I have determined my body just can't handle eating so close to when I'm supposed to be sleeping, and yet I'm flying during my sleep time.  Make sense?  Likely not, but here is a cute photo of us from that first morning before flying out of NWA, May 29!

When we arrived in Manchester, we checked into our room over the Oxnoble pub!  It was marvelous!  Then we had lunch downstairs and went to get our phones ready to use at the Arndale Shopping Centre.  We had tickets to go see Iron and Wine at the Opera House that night, and it was a FABULOUS show.  Easily, one of the best concerts I've ever attended, and I loved that everyone sat in their seats and patiently watched.  (I hate how everyone stands up but doesn't dance in the States.  What's the point of that?)

On May 31, we went for lunch at Piccadilly Gardens, explored the Art Gallery, had dinner at a Greek restaurant in The Printsworks, and enjoyed live music and drinks at The Bay Horse in the northern district:

The next morning, we checked out and headed to the train station for the blessed Lake District!

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