Pushing the Reset Button

As I sit here typing, the dog is stretched out on the couch like an ad for a taxidermy company and rain is falling softly like Christmas confetti as it moves the lazy river water downstream. It looks like winter, but it’s not cold today. It does feel like Christmas. Finally.

I haven’t written much this year. It just hasn’t felt writable, most of it. And truthfully, much of it still isn’t. I struggle to dance along the line of what’s my story and what isn’t. When it isn’t my story, then it isn’t my story to tell. And writing my reactions to someone else’s story is crossing a line. So I follow the advice of my mother quoting Thumper and sometimes I just say nothing. 

It’s a challenge. Cuz I’m a talker. 

But here I am with a lazy rain and dog, thinking about the next two weeks.  I’m grateful that finals are upon us and almost over. The kids are not nearly as stressed as I am, which I’m well aware is messed up.  I’m grateful that we have an opportunity as a family of 6 to create a little holiday magic when we felt like we were lacking it. 

To look at us, you wouldn’t know we were lacking in spirit. We went to Home Depot the Sunday after Thanksgiving and picked a tree. We usually like to walk through the choices and really consider our options. This year, we picked the very first one our eyes landed on. The first one. We named him Bert. We walked out within 2 minutes of walking in. That’s a record. Bert is doing his job. He has some gifts under the tree. He has kids gathered around him every afternoon as they recount the boxes with their names on them. There’s one particular kid who has been slightly naughtier than the others. I actually considered returning a gift last night. 

But, of course, I’m not gonna. Because that’s so mean.  And I might be having an off year, but I’m not mean. 

And though I’m not usually accused of meanness, I have been grumpy for the last couple of weeks.  Grumpy about homework. Grumpy about carpools. Grumpy about stale snacks. Grumpy messy rooms. Grumpy about stains on white shirts that I am tasked with getting out. Grumpy about my too short pajama pants. Grumpy about stuff. 

I think I just had some hurdles to trip over. I don’t think my race has been graceful or particularly impressive, but I have continued to trip along. And there’s something to be said for not quitting. I am past some stress. I am past all of the “firsts” after my mom died. I am not past my kids’ finals, but we’ve already decided it’s disturbed behavior to fret about someone else’s test schedule. 

So here–now–on this rainy, lazy-dog, swollen-knee kind of day, I declare CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. I declare gratitude and joy and peacefulness. I declare contentment.  I look around and see only blessings. I have to step out of my own head. I don’t know who will read this. Maybe nobody. But if you’re reading and you are having an off year too, find a way to get back on. Crank up the Ella Fitzgerald music.  Pay something forward. Say Merry Christmas to the dude walking into Hibachi Express.  Eat Mexican food. Take pride in the stains you get out of shirts. Keep people on your nice list even if they don’t deserve it.

And Happy Holidays. From me. (And Bert.)

Come on, 2019. It’s game on. 

Bert, guarding his bounty. 
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Thankful Nitty Gritty

I hate diets.

Obviously.

I’ve lost some pounds over the last 10 years, and done so with such repugnance that I found them all again and brought along some friends to spite the diet that I had used to lose them in the first place.

Diets don’t work for me. The main reason is because I have just a small percentage, almost undetectable some might say, of Rebel Blood in me. I mean, I’m mostly a go-with-the-flow kinda gal. But tell me I can’t have the slice of cake and I’m all up in your face with the other ¾ of the entire cake hanging out of my mouth, icing in my teeth and crumbs cascading down my shirt. Because you told me I couldn’t.

I’ve learned something from all of this. I struggle against the DON’T statements. I do better with DO statements. I do better if I’m attempting to drink 4 bottles of water in a day than if my rule is to not drink a single Diet Mountain Dew. Not drink Diet Mountain Dew? What are we, animals?

But, I’m going to set physical dieting aside. Because tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Only evil people discuss dieting the day before Thanksgiving. I’m actually thinking about the concept of dieting in relation to gratitude and positive thinking. I haven’t done myself any favors here. And I keep thinking things like, “I’ve got to stop thinking this,” or “I need to not complain about this thing,” or “I shouldn’t use sarcasm anymore.” Etc. But that puts me in my rebellion against diets zone and I fight against that.

Instead, I need to go down the DO statements road. I need to spend 10 minutes a day listing the things I’m thankful for. I need to season my speech with grace (Colossians 4:6) by looking for kind things to say or ways to build someone else up. I need to take my thoughts captive and make them look more like unicorns and rainbows than CNN’s reporting on the 4 year old that stabbed his cat to death.

I can choose what goes in, for the most part. I can’t choose what I hear crossing a parking lot, but I can choose my movies, my reading materials, my news outlets, or my friends. And I can choose to lasso my plumb donkey foolish brain into working for a good cause.

Instead of noticing the bloody molar that Jenna pulled out and dropped onto the porch table, I choose to be thankful she didn’t ask ME to pull it.

Instead of noticing the EXTREME noise level of 7 rowdy children, I choose to be thankful for my ear buds.

Instead of being grumpy that the guy at the next table in Fuddrucker’s had clearly not showered in well over a year, I choose to be thankful that Fuddrucker’s still exists in Texas. And that I was able to escape to a table across the restaurant. That was a life and death situation. I am not kidding you. Not even a little. 

This went off the rails. So I’ll just end with this.

It’s been a YEAR for my family. And James Dobson’s people haven’t called me once for an interview on any of their podcasts. And I’ve had to restart my positivity regime 17 different times. But standing off in the gravel as I get up and brush myself off to get back on the rails are a host of friends and family. People that love me in spite of the fact that I am winning all the wrong awards. People that are happy to put their boot against my backside and push me back into the game. Who somehow make failing at life fun. For this, I could not be any more thankful. For these people and for the God who put them on my path, I raise my forkful of cherry pie and my can of Diet Mountain Dew, and I say a sincere and heartfelt thank you. 

Thank you.

Thanksgiving Inventory

Growing up, every year I spent Thanksgiving in Lakeland, FL with my parents, my brother, and my grandparents. Every year but one. I don’t remember why we didn’t go that one year. I’m sure I didn’t care. This only serves as proof that my kids really don’t care what we do from year to year, either. They probably won’t remember.

Every year, there was a big meal around my grandmother’s cherry-wood, clawfoot dining room table. Every year I sat at that table and ate it.  I don’t remember a bite of it.
Not one bite.

What I do remember is the breakfasts. My parents and grandparents made as big a production over a breakfast table as they did over Thanksgiving. The sausage was cooked first so that the scrambled eggs could take a leisurely swim in the sausage grease as my grandmother rolled them around the skillet. Those eggs took time. We were willing to wait for them.

I always slept on a pull-out couch, less than 5 feet from the oven in that concrete block house on Belvedere Street. I shared the bed with the bar that protruded up through the tissue paper mattress. But I never minded because I loved being that close to the operational center of so much good smelling food. Waking up to the clanking of pots as they were pressed into service by hands that knew exactly what to do with them became one of the most comforting zones for me. Those mornings I teetered peacefully between sleep and wakefulness with 0% responsibility and 100% hope.

I loved being close to my family, in house so small we had to flatten against the wall to pass each other in the hallway. I loved taking walks along a road canopied with camphor trees, while listening to U2 through the Walkman I saved up for on my own. I loved hearing stories about the life they lived in Kentucky before they moved to central Florida. I loved watching college football with the entire intense extended family. I didn’t care as much as they did then, so it was fun to watch them freak out.

I haven’t been to Lakeland for Thanksgiving in more than 20 years. There’s no one there now. My grandmother died in 2008, 2 weeks before my fourth child was born. My grandfather died in 2011, just shy of his 96th birthday. Their daughter—my mother—died 6 short years later. How strange.

Two holidays ago, we brought my ailing mother over to my brother’s house to eat Thanksgiving dinner. It didn’t go well. She was too sick to be there. And last Thanksgiving, she ate in the dining room of her assisted living facility, with my dad feeding her, and with her assigned tablemates that, to her, were strangers.

She didn’t care about that meal. She couldn’t care that we came to visit that night. She was no longer with us.

She had her eyes on a heavenly country.
We had our eyes on her.

I am writing this from a plane to Austin, sitting in the midst of two rows of the people I love most on this earth. We are days away from gathering around yet another dining room table, with more people I love dearly. There will be no slow scrambled eggs. There will be turkey and dressing and everything quintessential to the holiday. There will be a Macy’s parade in the living room and a staggering pie-to-people ratio. And I know without question that there will be laughter that comes from the stories that fly around the table as we eat. Not one of us is normal, which makes for some pretty colorful tales about catastrophes gone by.

I am eager to get started.
I am thankful.

But I have to acknowledge that this is the first Thanksgiving without my mom. Without the opportunity to call the her she was toward the end and hear her try to speak back to me. Without even her shell on this earth with me. I have to turn my face to it and wear my memories like a warm fleece around my shoulders.

I’m not sad– just solemn.
Not melancholy—only reflective.
Not wistful—absolutely thankful.

———————————————————–

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Wherever you are this week, whomever you are with, embrace, enjoy, appreciate.

And eat pie.

Staying in the Race

I was looking through some old posts and thinking about where I am in the year. We are more than halfway through 2018. I’m starting to see posts about how many Mondays there are until Christmas. And, of course, the dreaded back to school shopping is looming. My kids go back in 2.5 weeks.

And yet, where am I? I signed on with Nanowrimo and wrote a novel in 30 days last November. I finished it on November 28. My mom died December 8. I put the book in a drawer with my husband’s notes. I pushed the laptop closed. And that was that.

Sigh.

But it’s time to stand back up. Get off the curb. Stop spectating. All of this reminded me of a post from 2.5 years ago that I’m copying below, in case it is of some use to anyone else.

I took me years to truly grasp how much I love a new year. It’s because I live in constant fear of my own mistakes and in constant regret when I make them. I am bad at letting things go. And the beautiful thing about a new year is that you get a free pass to crumple up that previous one with any exponential number of regrets and drop it in the nearest trash receptacle. And then you get to take out that fresh, white piece of paper and pretend that maybe this year…this year...it will be different. I will be different. I will do that thing. I will make the change. I’m sorry this turned into Man in the Mirror. That was subconscious, I assure you.

Every New Year’s, I see the memes all over Facebook  that “Today is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” There is something to this. I usually buy in 100%. Especially on January 1. Because on January 1, I haven’t done a single thing poorly. Not one thing! I am 100% successful in a new year.

Currently, on July 25, that’s not my story. It’s been quite a year. I’m not unproud of it. I’m not ashamed or rueful or even indifferent. But I’ve become more a non-participant than I’d like to be. I am reminded of January 1, 2016 when, wanting to celebrate my 90 minutes of mistake-free New Year’s Triumph (it was 9:30 a.m.), I took my new fitness tracker and went out on a walk.  Shortly into this walk, I encountered a runner wearing a race bib. This person wasn’t exactly running. Nor were the stragglers behind him. It became clear to me within moments of my first racer sighting that this was the end of the race. The very end. These guys had been at it for awhile. They had been BEAT UP by this race. And as I climbed the only hill in my flat central FL tinytown, I saw the last place runner coming toward me. I know she was last place because she was being followed by a police car with his lights on. So either she was being arrested for running too slow, or he was the cop signaling the end of the race.

This woman was struggling. She was barely in it. I visually took her in, as much as I could, in the few moments we intersected. I somewhat unintentionally locked eyes with her briefly as she continued her woggle (jog + walk + wobble–I am familiar with the sport) down that hill, and she managed a weak, sheepish, almost apologetic smile at me. It was a smile that said she was embarrassed. She was sorry she wasn’t faster, thinner, nimbler, edgier. She seemed sorry it was her in front of that cop car. She seemed sorry I saw her. Sorry we made eye contact. She’d been caught in last place. But I wasn’t sorry at all. Because right then it hit me: A last place finish is still a finish. She was slow, sure. She was struggling, clearly. But she was IN THAT RACE. She had a bib on. She wore the sweat like a trophy. She had the cop car behind her. She was going to finish that race. And she did.

Me? I didn’t even know about the race until I turned off my street to take my January 1 Victory Walk. I wasn’t in the race at all. Last place was ahead of me. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s still half a year on my calendar and there’s still plenty of racing yet to do. So with school just around a dirty little corner and 21 Mondays until Christmas, I think I better grab a race bib and slip in just ahead of the cop car.

Peace, friends.

Throttled Seeds

I have not even logged on to a blog in more than 6 months. That makes me a fake writer, with unstable ambitions and fluid intentions.

I don’t think the dream is as fake as the life has been real. Oh, the stories I could tell. If no one I knew would ever read them. But only people I know read this, so I best just leave it alone.

Summer is more than half over and instead of whining about that, I’m embracing the back to school shopping and staying home as much as I possibly can in the next 3 weeks. They start school 3 weeks from tomorrow. The incoming freshman (aka Mama’s Boy) starts marching band camp on Monday. It will go 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for 2 straight weeks. If he doesn’t die, or quit first, there will be a parent performance on August 4. He will have to love it to endure it. Time will tell. He’s never done anything from 9-7. Except breathe.

So since I can’t tell stories and since I didn’t drive through Louisiana this summer and since I haven’t written anything longer than a sentence in 6 months, I guess I’ll start with a dream I woke up from yesterday at 6:30 a.m. I had woken up at 5 and and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. I did fall back into sleep, but I paid dearly for it. So did a few other people.

It all began on a hazy Tuesday morning on the front curb of Lewis Elementary. I leaned over to catch my breath, because I had run from the car. My partners were already in the office, securing the building. We had to get rid of the office personnel if we were going to take out the troublemakers. There was a PTA family that was ruining everything. They had to go. When I say they had to go, I mean they had to GO. Permanently. And I was written in as the contract killer. I thrust the glass door open wtih my right shoulder while digging into my jeans pocket for my weapon. 

There it was.

A white packet of throttled seeds, limp and sweaty because the pocket of my jeans is a bad place to be in July. I ripped the packet open from the top, grabbed the PTA mom, dad, and baby (Listen, I’m not proud of this. Just keeping it real here.), and poured the seeds into their mouths before dashing back out the door into the sultry quiet of a schoolyard in the summertime. 

They aspirated.

I went back about my regular day. 

I did nothing to conceal my tracks or go into hiding. I think I was under the impression that the two partners who had secured the building were going to turn themselves in and leave me out of it. 

Somewhere along the way, I stopped dead in my tracks and said to myself, “Oh, shoot. I killed three people with throttled seeds. I’m going to prison.” 

Seems like I should have thought, Oh, shoot. I killed three people and those three people are no longer alive and that’s evil.

Or maybe I could have thought, what the heck are throttled seeds?

But it’s a dream. And apparently the beginning of school is not stressing me out, so leave me alone.

The next thing I remember is the courtroom scene where I was being convicted and sentenced, all in one sitting. Very typical American trial. Principal Rabeiro was in attendance, shaking her head  a lot. She couldn’t believe things had come to this the very moment she was transferred to another school. I mean, you step away for one minute and the throttled seeds come out. 

I was panicked at this point. I had ended the lives of three people. Wiped out an entire famiy. I had ruined my own life. I was going to prison for a long time. 

After the trial ended and I was in the parking garage, about to drive myself home to pack my things for prison, my principal and friend drove up in her beat up  Ford Exporer with the busted out back window (not at all what she drives, by the way). I peeked into the back of her truck and said,

“Hey, look at that! You cleaned out your car. I can see the bottom of your trunk.”

“Yeah,” she replied. “Getting there. You know what I don’t have?” She paused. “My thin mints. You owe me 12 boxes.”

No, I was sure that wasn’t true. I had made that right. I had delivered all the girl scout cookies. I tried to tell her, but she couldn’t hear me. Why couldn’t she hear me? Why did I kill people with seeds?

“I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now and I’m sorry you are going to prison…but I’m going to need those cookies.”

She drove away. I didn’t have the cookies. I had delivered all the cookies. All of them. There was nothing left to do but walk up the steps to the prison and turn myself in. It was the justice department’s way. I got to the top stair when I reached into that same jean pocket and pulled out my van’s key fob.

Oh shoot. Todd won’t be able to drive my car. I gotta get this to him.

So I didn’t deliver any cookies but I did run my key fob to Todd.

And then I woke up. Wondering what throttled seeds were and why I would do such a thing. Thankful I wasn’t actually going to prison and hadn’t actually killed anyone. Happy that the worst thing in my day was going to be some light cleaning.

All I know for sure is that school starting isn’t stressing me out and I don’t owe anyone any thin mints.

If you happen to be an incoming PTA parent, think nothing of this. Sign up. We’ll put you to work. Keep a good attitude and nobody gets hurt. 😉

#backtoschool

 

Riding the waves

Several people have mentioned to me that my grief would roll in like waves. I nodded, figuring they knew what they were talking about even though I didn’t.  Now I get it. A wave rolled in yesterday and I’m still on it, trying to surf, or swim, or just jump off and go sit on the beach. I’m not a fan of the waves, because the further I get from December 8, the less “normal” it is for me to be randomly crying at the dog groomer. And yet, there’s nothing I can do but just ride the wave until it lets me go. 

I miss my mom. 

A long time friend from as far back as my 12th year of life wrote me a letter when she heard my mom had passed. She had lost her own mom recently in much the same way. She said, “There’s no one like a mom. Is there anyone who fully has your back but your mom?” And she’s right. And maybe that’s part of the wave of grief…the realization that a layer of protection has been stripped away and now it’s just me and the world. 

For me, another part of it is the remembrances of this time last year. It was one year ago on Christmas Day that she last walked into my house. 

Today is the day before my 47th birthday. I don’t mention that because my birthday matters to me, especially not this year. I mention it because it factors into the story. She called me on the 28th to wish me happy birthday. She was a day off. She might as well have been six months off because my mom never got anything wrong. She knew the birthday of her nieces-in-laws. I took that phone call and was shaken when I hung up. I knew then where things were and where they were going. 

And here we are one year later and I’m trying to get through one family event after another. Without her.  I think if I can just get off this particular wave, I’ll be sunning on the beach until her birthday, a week from now. 

They say that grief is the price of love and I believe it. It’s worth it. So if you see me and I look a little lost, don’t worry about me. I’m just a kid who got separated from her mom. For a little while. But I’ll find her again. Thank God for that. 

A Celebration of Life – Ann Dawson White

Today was amazing in every way. Everything went just as I prayed it would. I made it through the day without the ugly cry. That’s been the last several days. But not today. Not yet. I believe my big moment is coming. The moment I realize what I had and what I’ve lost. It may even happen later tonight. But for the moment I will just reflect and wear yoga pants and try to fall asleep before 1 a.m. and bask in my gratitude. Gratitude that my mother was who she was and that SO MANY PEOPLE loved her. Gratitude that her friends and my friends came out of the woodwork and worked like carpenter bees to clean and cook for me and take care of the business of death so that I could take care of the business of saying goodbye.

Gratitude and grace.

I know the live stream didn’t work today and so many wanted to join in that way. I haven’t determined if they recorded the service successfully, but I’ll update once I know. For now, I will post the thoughts that were read in the service by my Dad, who did speak on his own and did a really great job, me, Bart, and Todd. I am also pasting in the program we handed out and a link to the Slideshow. Anyone who wants an actual program, message me your address and I’ll send you one. We have plenty. This is a long post, so consider yourself warned.

Thanks for loving all of us.

________________________________________

PROGRAM FROM MEMORIAL

Ann Dawson White

Thoughts from my Dad:

First I want to thank this wonderful church, and all of you and the people at Angels Senior Living where we live for all the support.  It has been amazing and so helpful.

Some of you have heard this story, but it has to be told.

I met Ann when she became a dental hygienist for my dentist in Tallahassee.  I was in a dental appointment with my dentist when Ann walked into the room to tell an elephant joke:  “Why did the elephant wear tennis shoes?”  That is all I remember.  She was the prettiest person I had ever seen.  I immediately scheduled an appointment with her for the next day.  At the appointment I couldn’t talk with her because she had her hands in my mouth.  But afterward, coming down the hall, I said, “How about going to a movie Saturday night?”  She said, “With who?”  If she were here she would explain why she said that, but it isn’t important…it makes a good story.

Ann wasn’t naturally an adventurer, but she was a real trooper and became an adventurer with me.  We sailed lots of boats in all kinds of weather.  Our first boat was a little wooden sailboat, bought just before we married.  We took it to the Gulf, got it all set up, two sails, ropes going everywhere.  But I didn’t really know how to sail and was worried about a pier just to our right; I didn’t know if we would miss it.  But we jumped in and off we went.  We just missed it.  She was a trooper to get in that boat; but only to a point.  Another day we were in the same little boat, out on the Gulf, and we were going nowhere; the wind wasn’t blowing.  She said, “Take me to shore and I will walk back.”  I had a little paddle with us.  I said, “But the wind will start blowing and we will have a great sail.”  “No, take me to shore and I will walk back.”  So I paddled her in, but just before arriving to shore the wind starts blowing.  I said, “Great.  We can sail.”  “No, take me to shore; I am walking back.”  She walked back and I had a great sail.  She could be definite….and we  hiked; she was a great hiker, always getting there first.  Rain, mountains, cold…she was good with it all.  We hiked all over the Tennessee and N.C. Mountains.  She wasn’t athletic, but she was a hiker.

Ann’s memory was amazing.  She knew most of your birthdays, and your children’s birthdays and even some where we were living.

It was a real blessing, a privilege, for me to serve her, and the Lord, these last few years. I am most thankful and have been blessed by God over and over.  I needed that opportunity and loved it….and I loved her.

Ann was as good a person as I ever knew.  She did what was right and lived her life for the Lord.  Now He is blessing her.

________________________________________________

Thoughts from Bart:

I remember my mother, Ann White, not for the last few years when disease took her health.  I remember her for the things she said and did during times of good health, things which mean so much to me and others.  My mother spent most of her life working hard at something, whether it was helping my dad at his business, being a devoted stay-at-home-mom, or just generally helping those in need.  As for the “mom” part, she was a staunch believer in the old fashioned homemaker approach, insisting, among other things, that my sister and I have a homemade hot breakfast before leaving the house every weekday morning.  In fact, thanks to mom I am fairly certain that during those formative years I consumed more strips of bacon than any other person in history.  My mother’s outlook was that if there was something she could do for us that would benefit us in a way that would help us to grow in body or spirit, she was going to do it, even if it was hard.  I am grateful to God for her and all she did for me, and am sure I didn’t tell her often enough how much I appreciated her.  More than anything, I am thankful for her dedication to the Lord, which she instilled in me continually.  She taught God’s word to me, my sister and many others, with a strength and sincerity that was formidable.  For that and for everything else, I owe my mother a debt that could never be repaid.

______________________________________

Thoughts from Missy:

I know every mom is special, simply because they are yours. But my mom was SPECIAL. Not just because of what she was to me, but because of who she was to everyone else.

I have been thinking about my mother for a long time now. I tried to recall every speck of every detail as I witnessed her disease stealing her from us. The more dramatically she disappeared, the harder I had to focus. But you can’t just erase someone like Ann White. She made an imprint on the heart of everyone she encountered and she certainly made an imprint on me.

My mom laughed a great deal. When she laughed, her dark eyes vanished into little crescent moons. She couldn’t laugh with wide eyes. When her mouth laughed, her entire face got involved. She wasn’t usually the one telling the jokes. Sometimes, because we were all a little strange, she didn’t even understand the jokes. She thought Far Side comics were completely stupid. But she laughed anyway. She laughed at me. She laughed at my brother. She laughed a lot at my dad, in spite of the fact that she was always telling him to “knock it off.” Even in her final days, when she was just a shell of her former self, my dad could still make her laugh. But I think the thing most notable to me was her ability to laugh at herself. She never got her feelings hurt when we made fun of her terrible, terrible dancing that we would sometimes walk in on in the family room with no music even playing. She didn’t mind us mocking the way she tried to speak Spanish in her thick Kentucky drawl. She didn’t care that we corrected her version of Minuet in G, which she always whistled in 4/4 time. She called us music snobs and kept on whistling it exactly like she wanted to. She always laughed right along with us, completely comfortable with the fact that sometimes she was the best joke of all.

My mom smelled like a perfectly southern mix of light perfume and Aussie 3-minute miracle. She worked crosswords and watched Jeopardy daily, never needing our help for anything but pop culture references. She knew everything. Remembered EVERYTHING. Every date. Every fact. Every Birthday. Every anniversary. Every address or phone number. Every child’s name and blood type. Every medical diagnosis. She diagnosed my Bell’s Palsy my junior year at FSU before the doctor did. And she had the nerve to take a no-cell-service Fall Foliage cruise to New England when I was curled up with Salmonella, wondering what to do. I broke down and called the doctor on call at 2 a.m. when I really just wanted my mom.

I can hardly remember a phase of life when Mom wasn’t singing. After an 8-day trip to Kauai, in July 2000, I hummed Melikilikimaka for more than a month, thanks to her.  For every occasion, there was a song. When I was young and she wanted to engage me in some way, she would sing her made-up song, “Sister Suzy Q White,” which is what she called me. I begged her not to; begged her to reserve this song for family only. But when the spirit moved her, she sang. From out of season Christmas songs to church hymns to made up songs using every family member’s name she could think of, she sang. We didn’t always join in…or ever. And we took every opportunity to make fun, but our world was full of music. And the nice thing about music is that the songs live on even after the singers have closed their mouths. Even here today, her song still fills the air.

There were countless times in my life growing up and even as an adult, when I wondered why my mom didn’t have more hobbies. More outside activities. She worked with my dad. She sewed when she needed to. She exercised. Played Solitaire. Alternated between Karen Kingsbury novels and true crime stories that made us all a little nervous. Researched her family history. But she never took off to do her own thing. She never went to dinner with friends, leaving us to fend for ourselves. Never took a weekend away. I wondered about that until recently when the truth of the matter came to me.  We were what she did. We were where she wanted to be. If Bart had a band concert, she was there. If I had a softball game, she was rooting from the stands, even when 7 innings turned into 22, which we eventually lost late that night. If there was a gospel meeting or a church picnic, she was there. Supporting us was her thing; her only thing. If we had enough…if we had everything we needed, then that was enough for her.

I think I owe her for the fact that I married Todd. We had been dating only a month when I went home for Christmas in December 1990. I remember sitting on my kitchen counter, talking to my mom about him. As usual, I was wishy washy. Should I or shouldn’t I? She stopped me in the middle of a rambling and looked me in my eyes and said, “Missy, please don’t mess this up.” My mother knew something I didn’t yet know. As usual, she was right. And never have I been more thankful for her advice that day than I am now that she is gone.

Of all the things she provided for us, what she knew we needed most was God. No one was more equipped to guide us than my mother. She knew more about the Bible than any person I have ever known. But it was more than that. My mom had the uncanny knack for instilling it in others. She was fantastic at teaching young people and getting them excited about it. Her favorite age to teach was the 1st through 3nd graders. Not too clueless, but not too big for their britches, either.  She had ways of remembering things that were mostly foolproof. Occasionally one of those would backfire. One day, while trying to tell Todd how she remembered the order of the kings, Felix and Festus, in Acts 28, she said, “First you feel it and then it festers.” And then she stopped in her tracks and said, “Or is it, first it festers and then you feel it…?” And then she went and looked it up and we just let her because we figured if she knew it, we didn’t need to. My mother’s mind was amazing and her heart was always on doing the right thing. That’s how she lived her life. The beautiful thing about my mother, though, is that she managed to impact so many people with her service and her faith. Scores of people have contacted me, telling me how my mom changed their life. She changed the world one person at a time. She left the world better than she found it. And she has exchanged this world for her true Home.

I had a conversation with a friend recently about her own mother, who was slipping away into the dark world of dementia. She said this: “I dream about my “well” mom sometimes, the simplest of dreams, where I say something and she laughs. It’s a sweet reminder that this is a very short phase of a well lived life.”

If I had been given my wish, my mom would have lived another 20 years and died peacefully in her sleep of natural causes. What a shame that she was gripped by something that twisted her into something she was not. But even so, she was so much to so many for so long. And that’s enough. Because she taught us how to walk and set us on the path to Heaven where we’ll see her again someday. She’d like it to be a grand reunion and she lived her life trying to make sure of that. I’m thankful for the sweet reminder that this was a very short phase of a well-lived life.

_______________________________

Thoughts from Todd:

I wanted to take this opportunity to just tell a few memories I have of Ann (or “Dear Mother-in-Law” as she forced me to call her)

The first memory I have of Dear Mother-in-Law is walking into the bustling Tallahassee office of Mike White Realty. She sat right inside the front door and helped manage a rag-tag group of agents who bought and sold a lot of real estate. Within a few minutes my thought was “She is holding this thing together.” What I came to realize over time was the she was SINGLE HANDEDLY holding that thing together. But always in a humble and thoughtful way.

That was really a good example of how she did things. When she was involved, everything was handled. Quietly and thoughtfully managed. Consummately prepared.

I didn’t realize how much I would miss that, but I do. And the moment that her illness took away her ability to do that. Everybody missed it.

There is no question that Ann’s top priorities were God and her Family but the rest of the list goes something like this:

  1. Florida State Seminoles
  2. Tampa Bay Rays, (don’t jack around about the Rays)
  3. Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake,
  4. Price is Right,
  5. Creepy Dateline Murder Mysteries,
  6. Strawberry Pretzel Salad,
  7. Saving and Reusing her (and other peoples) Plastic Cutlery after Every Party,
  8. and two words: ORNAMENT PARTY.

I need to give credit to something else very important that Dear Mother-In-Law gave me. If you want to know a major factor that brought me from the 6-foot 165 pound boy I was when I met her and made me the man I am today it is this: Sour Cream Poundcake.

The last thing I wanted to mention is probably the most important. Rarely does a year go by that I don’t meet a person or a family that Dear Mother-in-Law took under her wing at some point. Almost always they were an outsider, or lonely, or even an outcast in need of a friend. And then they met Ann and they were never an outsider again. They were family. To me if anything this is her legacy.

…..

Goodbye and Godspeed, Mom. I’ll see you. Until then, you’ll live on in thousands.