Taste of Summer . . .

Just sitting here drinking an icy glass of lemon tea, thinking about this wonderful summertime we’re experiencing!  Oh, I know it’s hot and humid, but who can smell that honeysuckle, hear those cicadas, and see all the lovely green earth the Lord has given us and not be absolutely thrilled?  If you can’t work up a good thrill, at least try to be thankful!  My goodness, it’s a banquet of absolute gloriousness we have to behold!

We are so blessed here in the south with all the lovely fruits and vegetables that are available right now. The foods of the summertime are almost shameful in their deliciousness!

I’ve been thinking about the quintessential summertime food and drink, and as a Southerner, if I had to choose just one of each it would have to be my iced lemon tea and perhaps a big, red, juicy, salty, beefsteak tomato.  Oh, I know some of you might argue it’s lemonade and watermelon, and you’d have a great argument there.  In fact, I might could be persuaded to agree . . .

Tell me, please, what you think is the quintessential summertime food and beverage, and tell me why you chose it.  I can’t wait to hear from you. Y’all have a blessed day now!  And get out there and enjoy the sweetness of summertime!

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Tobacco and Old Spice

It’s Father’s Day once again, and I’m celebrating without you for the 31st year.  I’ve bought my father-in-law a beautiful card, and our children have come and shared their love with their Daddy. We couldn’t have a happier family, because I married a wonderful man who became a wonderful, loving father–who told me once as we lay with our infant son between us, I don’t know how your father ever could have left.  I could never, ever leave you or our baby. Powerful, meaningful words to the ears of one who has been abandoned!

I congratulate myself sometimes on how well I remember you. Your hands were very much like mine, with long, fine fingers that probably could have learned to play the piano or to type even faster than I can; your eyes, so dark and expressive–I always could read those eyes as clearly as if they were speaking audibly to me!  And that head of thick, dark hair you insisted on shaving down to the scalp every summer; that thick, wavy mass you took even to your grave.  Yes, I congratulate myself on remembering you, but the truth is, I’ve forgotten your voice, and I’ve tried really hard to remember if you ever said I love you.  It hurts, this slow progression of erasure that’s happening. I thought I’d locked away those precious memories of you, and that no matter what, I’d never forget!

When you left the first time, I was only three years old. I look at baby pictures of myself, and I wonder what was so bad about me that you couldn’t bring yourself to stay? I used to try to get you to commit to staying, but you’d mark days on the calendar, and you’d tell me you never made promises.

When I was eight, a stroke put a stop to your leaving, but there never was a moment that you didn’t wish you could still be on the road, independent, footloose-and-fancy-free. Yes, I could always read those dark eyes!  The day you died, it rained so hard the ditches filled and flooded the streets. I thought our car would float away!  I felt the angels were crying for what might have been, and now never could be.  And then the sun came out, bright and beautiful.  There was even a rainbow.  God was speaking to me words of hope and healing even then.

Thank you, Daddy, for teaching me so many things.  You had me writing before I ever started kindergarten. You taught me that I can do anything I set my head to do. You taught me to be very careful whom I chose to marry! You also taught me what not to do. Each time I held my babies, and now when I hold my precious grandson, I wonder how you could have left, and I know now in my heart of hearts that you were the poorer for it.

Mom always said the truth will set you free! I know now the truth, and the truth is that I shouldn’t have taken it so personally.  After all, it had nothing to do with me.  It was all about you.  You wanted no responsibilities; you wanted your freedom; the road called, and you answered with a resounding YES!  What happened to me was only peripheral damage.

Daddy, I see your dark eyes every time I look in the mirror.  And believe it or not, I’ve come to terms with your leaving.  I understand the siren song of independence and freedom.  I even heard the call a few times myself over the years!  The payoff for not following that call has been enormous.  I only wish you could’ve resisted long enough to know the real joy of a loving family.  I’ve also learned forgiveness.  I love you, Daddy. Whenever I smell the scent of tobacco and Old Spice, I always think of you.

Author’s note:  My dad was 73 when he passed.  He had been bedfast for seven years. My mother took care of him all those years at home.  During that time of reflection that God so graciously gave him, Daddy accepted Christ.  He died peacefully on July 6, 1979.

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Wild Muscadines

While searching for some jam to enjoy on my toast the other morning, I came across a jar of muscadine jelly that I knew was very old.  Almost seven years to be exact.  There’s only a tiny amount left in the bottom of the jar.  I almost threw it out, but then I placed it lovingly back on that little bottom shelf of the fridge door.  I don’t know when or if I’ll ever have the courage to throw it out.  You see, that jar of muscadine jelly was the last gift my mother ever gave me, and to make it even more special, it was something she had made especially for me.

We had been out driving around that fall afternoon when I’d spotted a roadside vendor selling beautiful pots of mums–gorgeous golds, deep burgundies, bright oranges–and I couldn’t resist stopping to buy some.  I bought some for myself and a pot for Mom’s porch, and just as I was walking away, I noticed he was also selling muscadines.  I am a woman of few vices, but I’ll have to tell you that I have an absolute passion for muscadines!  The wild, sweet juiciness bursting in my mouth is a thrill I’ve enjoyed since childhood.  There’s just nothing like muscadines!  The vendor only had two quarts, and I bought them both.  I gave one to Mom and took one home with me.

Mom said she was going take a stab at making jelly, though she hadn’t done that in years.  I told her I’d try as well.  When I got home, though, I kept eating them one by one until I had just a hand full left.  Needless to say, I did not make jelly.

The next time I was at Mom’s she greeted me with a big grin.

“I’ve got something for you!” and she handed me my pint of muscadine jelly.  “Isn’t it pretty?”  She was obviously delighted with herself.  “It is, Mom!”  I gave her a hug and told her just how much I loved muscadine jelly.  “I knew you did” was her quiet response.

We took our usual drive that day, had lunch, and I dropped her off at home.  The leaves were turning that November day as I drove out of my childhood hometown.  The sun was bright; everything was just as it should be.

Mom had a massive stroke on Thanksgiving Day, 2003.  She slipped away quietly in her sleep two days later.  For all those out there who’ve lost your mom, you know what I’m about to say is true.  You feel as if you have to work to take your next breath, and to put one foot in front of the other.  A massive hole tears your universe, and you cry–and cry–and then at odd times and in odd places, you cry some more.  You feel the separation of your body from hers, just as if you were being born again, only this birth is into despair.

But, as we know all too well, life must go on.  You get up, take a shower, get dressed, go to work.  You hope that something you’re saying makes sense, because you seem to be on autopilot.  On one such morning, I got up, got ready, made myself a piece of toast.  I reached into the fridge for some jelly, and there it was, as bright and pretty as the day she’d handed it to me–my muscadine jelly.

Have you ever wished for a do-over?  If I could do that November day over, when Mom handed me that jar of jelly, I’d grab her, dance her around the kitchen, kiss her and say “Mama, you have no idea how happy this makes me!  I love you so much!  Thank you, thank you!”  Sure, it might seem like overkill, but that’s exactly what I wish I’d done.

I had my morning outburst of tears, then I smeared some of that sticky wonderful-ness on my toast, thinking how happy Mom would be knowing I was enjoying the fruit of her labor.

A few weeks later, as we were cleaning out her pantry, I came across another jar of the muscadine jelly.  I asked my brother and sister if they minded if I took it home with me.  I enjoyed every drop of that jelly, and when it was done, I washed the jar and placed it lovingly in the cabinet, but the other is still in my fridge with that smidge of very old jelly in the bottom.

I’ve thought about washing the jar and putting a label on it that reads, “Things My Mama Taught Me.”  I would fill it with slips of paper with things like Always trust in God, A little hard work never hurt anybody, and You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar written on them.  There would also be a slip that says, Do things absolutely right the first time, so you don’t wish for do-overs, and for sure there’d be one with A true gift is one given from the heart–and that’s exactly what my Mama gave me in that jar of lovely, wine-colored, sweet and wild muscadine jelly.

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Tasting Salt

It should have been a really good day, and maybe it is–after all, all’s well that ends well.  It is that last day that every teacher looks forward to, and all that was left for me to do was to turn in my grades and to do that last interview thing with my principal.  When the phone rang and I saw it was from my husband, I was a little leery.  A call from him during working hours is hardly ever good news.  You see, he always considers it “bothering” me if he calls at school, so I know if the phone rings and it’s him, something’s up.  He called this morning while I was in the process of entering final grades and told me that he was sick.  The last time he told me he was sick, he was having a heart attack!  Needless to say, I jumped in the car and headed home immediately.  Oh, the wild imaginings I had on that five-minute trip back to our house!   The fear crept in again, like a stalking, sneaking tiger, waiting to attack and devour me!

He had been at work, up on a scaffold, when he became dizzy, nauseous and broke into a cold sweat–scary stuff for anyone, but really frightening for a heart patient.  After a visit to the doc, who performed an EKG, it was determined that he is suffering from an inner ear infection.  A simple inner ear infection!  Is it crazy to be thankful for an inner ear infection?

We’re back at home now, and he’s in bed for the remainder of the day, but not before I tell him just how special he is to me, and how happy I am that we’re sharing this journey together, and that if it all falls apart tomorrow, I have no regrets.  He just smiles, nods, and I know he feels the very same.  I look up at the framed verse above our bed that reads:  “May the bond between you be so great that when one of you weeps, the other will taste salt.”

There’s something really wonderful and really awful about this love thing.  It’s risky.  It’s scary.  It’s the best thing ever, and the worst.  Young love has no idea what it’s getting into!  Someone described love (I think they were describing the love of a parent for a child) as seeing your heart run around outside your body, and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment, whether it’s your child or your spouse.  Love–it’s the only thing you take with you into your next life.  It’s the only true and lasting thing.  Love is God, and God is love.

So is this investment worth the risk?  Unequivocally, and absolutely, it is!  It’s an awesome responsibility and a lovely burden.  The words of several songs and poems come to mind:

“He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

“Our bond is light as a spider’s web, strong as a thousand chains.”

“Come, my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

It started out as a good day, and here we are at the end, and it’s still a good day.  So what if I’ve carried a bit of a burden and had to fight off a roaring tiger!   I’ve rattled a few chains and tasted a little salt.  Yes, it is a very good day.

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The Grand One

Our phone rang at 6:30 a.m.  It was our daughter, giving us a “wake-up” call.  I bolted out of bed (this from a woman who has to have at least three bats at the snooze button), hit the shower and was ready to roll in 40 minutes flat!  And all of this on a Saturday, mind you, after a very hard work week.

What could possibly have given me this second wind, this burst of adrenaline?  I like to call him the Grand One.  He’s only two, and quite bow-legged and a bit bossy, but when he smiles at me or even gives me a look with those big brown eyes of his, I absolutely become putty in his hands.  Our early morning trip today was to meet our daughter and son-in-law to pick up Little Man and keep him for an overnighter while they take a much-needed weekend break.

Who knew that being Muzzie and Poppy would be so wonderful?  There’s just something so achingly sweet about grandchildren–or should I say that first and only grandchild?  When I know I’m going to see him, I feel the same anticipation as I once did on Christmas Eve!   So, no matter how early or how late or how far, we are always happy to have our Grand One with us. We would travel to the moon and back to enjoy a visit with him!  He helps us remember how to toss a ball, how to blow the seeds off a dandelion, and best of all, how to pucker up for a wonderful (if messy) kiss.  He keeps us young, entertained, and at the end of the visit–exhausted!

I am supposedly at the “Wise Woman” stage of my life, and I’ll have to admit I’ve gotten so much smarter since the Grand One came along!  He’s taught me to have patience, to plan ahead, and that no matter how much I plan ahead, and no matter how patient I am, things will never go exactly as I’d planned, but that’s okay.  Also thanks to him,  I’ve honed a skill that I didn’t even realize I had a talent for:  photography!  With a face like his, who could resist taking lots of pictures?

The next time I roll over and hit the snooze button for the third time, I’m going to imagine myself going to meet my daughter to pick up Little Man.  He is motivation (and joy) in an all-boy, busy, busy twenty-eight pound package!

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Nearing the end . . .

Here it is, my first attempt at this blogging thing!  I’ve been encouraged to give it a try, so here I am, for better or for worse!  I’ve entitled this entry “Nearing the end . . .” because we are so very close to end of this school year.  The end–it almost seems as if we’re wishing our lives away sometimes, especially those of us in academia.  We’re looking anxiously toward the end of the quarter, the end of the semester, the end of the term–without giving a thought to the fact that when that end (whatever it is) rolls around, we have exchanged a part of our lives for that time we have wished away!  The most valuable commodity of all is our time, and we daydream through it of a future time, a time when we will have more . . . time. I find myself thinking I’m too tired to worry about this now (cleaning house, completely unloading the car, getting a pedicure); I’ll do it when school’s out.  I can catch up on that in the summer! I hope with all my heart that I’m not just putting off my life until this or that ending rolls around!  Because we all know that one day there will be a final ending, and my heart of heart fears the question, Just what did you do, young lady, with the time I gave you? My sincerest heartfelt prayer for each and every day is that I will live in these golden precious moments, because they are all I really have.

Today I received a piece of purple construction paper from  a kid who had written on it with a red marker, “Goodbye, Mrs. R.”  I hugged him, thanked him, and with a big smile he proudly told me he had made one for all his teachers.  He was one of my special ed kids from last semester–a sweet, loving child who did everything I asked of him, and more.  I was clearing out my room, but somehow could not bring myself to throw out that piece of purple paper.  I’m thinking it will make its way into my box of treasures.

It hasn’t been an easy school year.  My thirteenth year of teaching has been filled with obstacles to overcome from day one.  My awkward attempts at teaching this group of students has, at times, felt as if I were struggling through hip-deep molasses.  I have wondered just how effective I really was!  I have looked longingly for June 7 since, oh, about last August 30th. That is why, last weekend as I read my 5th period essays, “Someone Deserves an Award,” I was astonished to find that one of my students had written the essay for and about me! I read and re-read that essay, and I’ll have to admit to shedding a tear or ten.  My strategy for the ’10-’11 school year?  Read that essay every day, and try with all my heart to be the teacher that at least one student thinks I am.

Nearing the end . . . Monday will be the last day of our school year.  We’ll put away books, make repair lists, turn in our plan books, and have that last interview with our superiors.  No more sounds of locker doors slamming, kids shouting out to one another, teachers calling them down.  The halls will be empty, my classroom silent, the markers capped and the boards cleaned.  I will have time, hopefully, to reflect upon the time I have spent here, and what I have learned.

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