This post first appeared on The Daily Grace on Thanksgiving Eve 2011. So much has changed in the time since. All of the grandparents have passed on. Eliza is 26 (and living in another state). The memories are still warm, however, and so I repost it every year in honor of my mother–my tradition, I guess you would have to say.
I pray your Thanksgiving is filled with all the things that bring you joy and comfort. XXOO, Cathy
THE PAST THREE NIGHTS I have had dreams of my mother. In each, I was the age I am now, living my current life. But her age changed—early 40s, then 80s, then some age in-between.
I know these dreams came to me because it is Thanksgiving and I will not see her. She and Dad live in a retirement community in another state, and for health reasons, no longer travel. We are staying here because it is my daughter’s first holiday from college. She needs some “home” time, and she will spend Thanksgiving day with her Dad and his family. Those grandparents, who face debilitating health challenges of their own, will be filled with joy to have her there.
It is the right decision.
Nevertheless, my mother is heavy on my mind. My dreams mark that small, tight space in which I live, wedged between aging parents and maturing children. I want more time with both, and still the demands of our lives—mine, my mother’s, my daughter’s—pull us in three radically different directions.
Here is what the dreams were about. In some pretty obvious ways, and some veiled, the situations represented traditions my mother established when we were a family of six: Mom, Dad, my three brothers and me. While “tradition” infused all aspects of our family’s life, from sports superstitions to station wagon vacations, the most vivid to me are still the holidays.
Thanksgiving at our house in Virginia was exactly the same every year. My grandmother lived next door, and my brothers rolled her wheelchair down the tiny hill that connected our yards to bring her to dinner. La-La wore fur in the cold mountain air and brought with her a green cut glass bowl of homemade cranberry sauce. She also made pineapple fritters, a treat reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom roasted the turkey, always in a brown-n-bag (70s) which meant it could not be stuffed—a choice over which my father expressed disdain year after year after year. Still, he was the carver, and I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday “testing” bite after juicy bite in our formica-countered kitchen while my mother instructed my oldest brother, Sutton, on the finer points of making giblet gravy. (“Stir like hell!”) When we were seated, and Mom complained once again about not making the dining room big enough when they built the house in 1965, my brother Randy would ask of the table:
I wonder if next year we’ll remember asking, I wonder if we will remember next year?
IN MY FAMILY TODAY—the one in which I am the mother—we have no such traditions. Instead, Thanksgiving is a surprise every year. In the early days I made my way back to my mother’s house, first as a single girl, then married, then divorced with a small child in tow. Then the small child learned to dance and Thanksgiving week was filled with an endless schedule of Nutcracker performances that kept us bridled to South Carolina.
I married again, bringing another branch to our beautiful, complicated family tree, and our celebrations diversified once more. I especially loved the years Tim’s mother, Dorothy, joined us for Thanksgiving. I can still see her in the kitchen, making the Monetti family’s traditional creamed onions—a novelty to me. One year, just after a break with the ballet company, we found ourselves with no Thanksgiving plans at all. Along with our dear friends, the Coles, we hopped a plane for New York City and the Macy’s parade. I ate pumpkin ravioli for Thanksgiving dinner; it was divine.
AND SO, you see, my daughter has grown up rather traditionless. Instead, her life has been filled with a cornucopia (forgive me) of holiday celebrations. And I ask myself why it is that I now regret this? Why has this thought invaded my dreams? I think it is that space that we find ourselves in, we Mothers Squeezed Between The Generations. Guilt lurks on either end. I regret that I haven’t established the traditions of my childhood in my own home, for my daughter; I feel guilty not abandoning all for the mere opportunity to be with my parents—a remarkable blessing in itself.
As it is tomorrow will come, and Eliza will head out the door toward her Ellis family. I’ll pull the big turkey from the fridge, overstuff it with dressing, and load it on my Williams Sonoma roasting pan. Then while I watch my husband carve the big bird, sneaking bites every chance he gets—I will smile and stir the giblet gravy.
WE’VE COME TO THE MOUNTAINS for a long, slow holiday week. My sweet Eliza is here, a glorious treat, along with Ellie, the dog; Little Bit, the dog; and Tim, husband extraordinaire. We’d hardly gotten the groceries put away (this took a minute–there was a car load) when Eliza announced she was headed for a walk with Ellie and any takers were welcome. Of course I grabbed my boots and coat and off we set, we three.
We didn’t talk about anything in particular. There has been time for that lately, my adult child making the difficult decision, recently, to move on to a new job in a new city. There are new priorities. How grateful I am for the honor of helping her work through that process; what a gift that is to a Mom.
Ellie ran. And ran and ran, in the cold crisp air. We marveled at her strength, her excitement and spirit.
OF COURSE WINTER has come to this high ridge. The trees are bare, the colors are browns and greens and grays. We were making our way back toward home when I happened to glance right, down the old Ogle Meadows Trail. It’s a view I’ve seen a million times, a trail I’ve walked a hundred. But in this moment things seemed different, somehow, the offering something new.
It called to mind a blessing I hadn’t considered in a while.
How lucky we are that seasons change.
That leaves fall and light shifts and a new view opens before our very eyes.
It’s something I want to remember as we move through these last days of November. As we approach the reverence of Advent, and December with its sparkle and expectation. I want to notice as the world offers itself anew in a thousand different ways, large and small, grand and ordinary.
I will keep watch.
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I’ve missed our time together over the past several months! I’ve had a bit going on (of course, who doesn’t?) plus there have been some technical issues with the blog that have taken a while to work out. I am hopeful things are fixed now and we can resume normal operations! Thanks for your patience and for coming back here to meet me.
This little gem floated by on Facebook recently, shared by Mrs. Howard, my high school World History teacher and one of the most influential people in my life. I hope it will lift your spirit and remind you, as it did me–every moment offers the chance for joy!
I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!
It has been that kind of summer. I have traveled somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,486 miles (I counted up) and that was just getting from city to city. It has been a time of grand excitement, heartbreak, pure exhaustion, and a whole lot of love.
But now it is October. And I am home. Momentarily I am home.
This most unexpected scene greeted me at the airport.
IT’S BEEN A LONG WHILE, friends, since I’ve visited you here, deep summer filled with such highs and lows it’s difficult to get my bearings. I’ve found it hard to write, impossible to imagine how I’d ever find the words. There has been so much sadness. And joy, overwhelming joy, and kindness and grace and gratitude, coming along in grand sweeps and sways.
A roller coaster, proverbial as that is.
There is no need for a detailed accounting. It is enough to say my dear Daddy, who spent his last years in a fiercely determined fight not to let demon Alzheimer’s get the better of him, finally succumbed. The last weeks were awful. Wretched. A NOBODY-SHOULD-EVER-HAVE-TO-GO-THROUGH-THIS kind of time. But also, an open state which gave us some of the funniest, most tender, most beautiful moments we ever spent.
And there were the sweet days following, remembering, with my brothers.
And the outpouring from Dad’s broad and beloved circle.
THERE HAVE BEEN a thousand other worthy-of-mention occurrences over the same period. I spent a few glorious days at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop–the highest of highs–where the focus on craft (and particularly that of the talented and generous Michael Parker) impacted my writing and clarified the tough requirements of the dreaded novel edit. (I regret I was called away before Nikky Finney‘s keynote. It would have been a great honor to meet her.) During this same time many, many dear friends faced mountains of sorrow and stress. There has been an unusual frenzy of sickness and loss and change. Still others are dealing right now with the wonderful/horrible transition of a child leaving home. I will never, ever discount the deep emotions that result from this college drive-away; it has been seven years for me and I swear, it still hurts.
And yet the fog lifts, time and again.
THIS, THEN, is what became of my summer.
The rises and falls, the scramble for footing.
The full surround of grace.
And still the loss. The deep, deep loss of my Dad.
It was as if part of the message, itself, was Look here. I’d like to make this perfectly clear, and so He had it delivered by a handsome young preacher, a Princeton scholar who spoke with ease and an earnestness that was as disarming as it was charming. All 1100 of us in that Presbyterian Musician’s Conference congregation leaned forward as his Puerto Rican heritage story crescendoed.
I waited, and watched.
Diversity is not a problem we need to solve, he said.
BOOM there it was.
And this, which will be with me for my lifetime.
God’s truth is we are burdened with each other’s stories.
We prayed the Lord’s Prayer in seven different languages simultaneously, as a congregation, as a people connected, in love.
When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.
You know I do love my South Carolina birds, the bluebirds in particular. They are elegant, tasteful, devoted.
But let me tell you, up here in these North Carolina mountains the world is quite different. We’re learning a great deal about a lot of new things, a new collection of feathered friends among them.
Take this guy, for instance.
He’s a house wren, of course, but since we’re more familiar with the gentler Carolina version, I didn’t know much about his…ummm…habits. Then a friend (who happens to be an ornithologist) stopped by. I excitedly pointed to the nest and he was quick to explain these are not great neighbors. They make a mess, are not considerate, and they make a practice of visiting other’s nests and poking holes in their eggs (oh my). As if that were not enough, there are lots of shenanigans that go on between the Papa and the Mama which are generally unbecoming.
It all just broke my heart.
We didn’t disturb the birds, of course, and we’ve returned to the mountains to find they’re still right there. But these days the Papa is spending his time hopping hopping hopping all along the top of the nest box, here, then there, belting out a beautiful (albeit insistent) tune.
He’s fiercely defending his territory, is the truth.
But I’ve decided I will look at it differently.
I’m going to let the sweet song bring me joy.
It’s his heart that’s overflowing, that’s what I think,
and in this happy state he can’t help but share
his own joyful news
the babies have been born!
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I WANT TO BE All In.
To jump at the chance.
To go full-tilt, full-bore, full-on.
I want to grab life hard, and fast, and as my inspiring friend Tim Floyd reminds me–yell YIPPIE taking the sharp curves.
But I am not that person.
Instead I move slow, questioning reason, searching for nuance in every little thing (then analyzing its role and significance). I want to know options and variables and alternatives.
I want to see the whole picture.
This is why it’s such a surprise I’m a moth to the flame of any social media community/creative challenge. The idea of pushing and producing and sharing (while NOT perfecting) is terrifying but also wildly exhilarating.
It’s healthy, I know, adding a little wild abandon to my life. It also nourishes a spirit that’s hungry to make.
Plus it’s just so fun to find community in the midst. (Hi, Laurel!)
THAT’S A LOT OF PRELUDE to say when this beauty rolled by
Lordy I’ve found it difficult! (I am not fast and loose–see paragraphs 1 through 5 above.)
Still–it has been so much fun.
It’s cool to see the collection I am creating, my on-the-fly decision to do twenty series of five paintings each. And I am woefully behind as life and travel and other responsibilities have gotten in the way. (It is much smarter–albeit not on brand at all for me–to make this a more simple exercise one can complete anywhere in just a few minutes.) Still I believe the intention of a challenge like this is to give it a go and do the best you can.