February 15, 2018
Ash Wednesday, also Valentine’s Day, as we sat at the little restaurant just a few miles from our home in Laurel Fork. In the corner, the national news headlines flashed across the television screen. With the volume set on low, I could not hear what was being broadcast, but I could read the captions and see the terror. I wanted to avert my eyes but I kept glancing back. Another school shooting. More innocent lives lost to the violence has become our norm. This is our reality. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist and that our children are going to stop killing each other. We can’t pretend our world is safe. The blame has begun as the right and left lash out at one another. I find myself again contemplating where I am supposed to be in the midst of all of this and I come back to this thought, so appropriate for the season of Lent:
That’s not the easy way out. Love is the hardest road to walk. It is often misunderstood, condemned, ridiculed, and spat upon. It is often seen as weak. Sometimes standing in love means even friends deny association. Love means standing in truth when being flogged by a crowd who are seeking to find a scape goat, who have the need to lay blame at the feet of something or someone so they can feel vindicated.
Love often doesn’t make sense. There are a lot of other things that make more sense in a desperate world and we can make a thousand excuses as to why we need to choose some other way rather than love. That road to the cross is pointless. In the end, what does it matter as Love hangs there abandoned by disillusioned followers and darkness covers the earth?
Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Without faith, love makes absolutely no sense and it is in our most desperate of times, when we have nothing left to which to cling that brings us to the foot of the cross where we can choose a path that seemingly makes no sense.
I’ve been there when the world turned dark. For me it was the night my son was shot. I will never know the truth of that night but I know enough to know it was the darkest day of my life and brought a darkness that I must battle for the rest of my life. In the darkness the only glimmer of light I could see was Love. It was and is my only hope.
Love keeps believing when there’s nothing left to believe. Love keeps on giving when there’s nothing left to give. Love never fails.
It was a beautiful day in the mountains. We started off with just a bit of rain but the sky cleared and the temps reached near 70 degrees. We have had the house closed off for what seems like months now to conserve heat, but it has probably been more like six weeks. Having the sun porch shut off (by hanging quilts) and shutting all the doors to unused rooms made it warmer but also made it darker. I hadn’t really minded but when the quilts came down and I opened the house up today, it was such a relief. I opened the windows and let the fresh air blow through the house for most of the day. I thought I would carry out the ashes from the fireplace and deep clean the bedroom and work until around noon with housework. Once I got started, I didn’t want to stop, and I didn’t. I worked until five o’clock just cleaning house. When I finished, I stood looking out the windows toward the east from the sunporch and saw a large flock of turkeys in the meadow with the mules. It was nice to be able to watch them from the windows again. Mike went out just after breakfast and worked on clearing and burning brush among other things. With sunset being later, he is able to stay out until well after six now and we are eating our supper later. I made Delmonico steaks from our grass finished beef, limas and corn from last year’s garden and a fresh salad. It was a peaceful day.
Our days in Staunton this past week were especially busy. Kristin had some things she needed to do and I watched the twins along with Alissa’s girls on Monday morning. The kids had a good time and the twins were not ready to go home but we promised them they were coming back Tuesday for a Valentine Party. Hudson was so cute when he got in the car. He said, “I’ll be right back, Tita”. Rory was so wound up with the twins there that she would not settle down and take a nap until after they left. Then, she slept for two and a half hours. Analia slept too and I might have taken a little nap with them. I was so tired. I had the girls until Alissa got home at 8:30 but Gabino did help me with them when he came in from work at 6:30.
I got in bed about 10:30 on Monday and then got up around 4:30 Tuesday morning to clean the house. I knew Mike’s mom was coming up to see the kids and I thought his sister might be coming as well. The house was pretty much a disaster from all our activities the day before. The kids had built a blanket fort by draping blankets over all the living room furniture and I had a lot of blankets to fold and put away. I gathered the toys in a heap for Analia to put away when she got up. Then, I swept and mopped the house. The house in Staunton is about 3800 square feet. Of course, not all of that is living space but it is still a very big house to clean and just getting the floors swept and mopped seems like such a huge accomplishment. The house looked decent and was halfway clean when I made a run to The Dollar Store in Verona to grab a few last-minute items for our Valentine Party. When the twins arrived at 11, I had everything prepped. I let them help me make mini pizzas out of English muffins which we had for lunch. Then, we rolled out cookies and cut them out. The had a blast doing that. Hudson had been wanting to do that project for a long time and was by far the most dedicated to getting it done. We had flour everywhere but the kids had so much fun. I had a few cookies already baked so we were able to flow right into decorating. I had bought new little paint brushes for them to use to coat the cookies and that worked out well. After we finished with the cookies, we made Valentines. We had ribbon of various designs that I had found really cheap at the thrift store and stickers to decorate our hearts cut out of construction paper. The kids seemed to really enjoy that project as well. After we finished with all the planned activities, everyone played first upstairs and then down. At one point, the older three all had their balloons and were running around the room making them bounce up and down. The balloons were tied to weights which were covered in some type of red tinsel. With three adults sitting right there, Rory popped a piece of tinsel that had fallen to the floor in her mouth and swallowed it before any of us could move. There she was gagging and struggling to get her breath. Alissa go to her first and turned her up and pounded on her back. Still she struggled. I grabbed her and stuck my finger back to her throat and made her gag. She managed to catch her breath and we all were greatly relieved but took the tinseled weights and got rid of them. The kids all stayed until late afternoon and Rory refused to nap again. The twins and Kristin left around four and Alissa went to class around five. Finally, Rory slept for a bit but Analia never took a nap. Tuesday is Alissa’s late class and she didn’t get home until around 9:30. I slept well Tuesday night. Again, I was exhausted.
Wednesday morning, I went to The Factory Antique Mall and worked for about two hours. Wednesday was Valentine’s Day but Mike and I rarely celebrate holidays for the two of us. We do things for the children or grandchildren but neither of us care anything about “Hallmark Holidays” when so much emphasis is put on spending money for flowers and gifts. I told Mike I didn’t want to go out to eat because I didn’t want to fight the crowds on Valentine’s Day. I am a true introvert and the older I get, the more I just really want to be alone. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy intervals of interaction with close friends and family, but I tend to be extremely selective these days. We had to make several stops along the way and by the time we were getting close to our home in Laurel Fork, we decided to check the little restaurant just a few miles from our house and see if there was a “big crowd” there. There was a “big crowd” of probably 20 people in the restaurant but even an introvert like myself can handle a crowd like that. It was nice not to have to worry about “fixing supper” when we got home. A couple from our church was finishing up their supper and spoke to us as they left. It was good to see them. Arriving home, as usual we had a car load of things to unload and get put away. We continue to sort through items in Staunton as we give things away, donate, trash, and move the things to Laurel Fork that are important to us. For Mike, more than 30 years of living in the same house and being someone who doesn’t throw anything away has resulted in a lot for us to sort through. Having moved multiple times in my adult life (having been previously married to a military man turned traveling plumber/pipefitter), I have never been one to accumulate a lot, although having been living with Mike for the last thirteen years, I have a fair share of things to sort through as well. We are fortunate we can take this a little at a time. The contrast between the recently, nicely organized place in Laurel Fork and the general disarray of things in Staunton as we sort and move is quite pronounced.
February 17, 2018
Today is a day of grace. Every day we draw a breath is a day of grace. I am overwhelmed with the feeling that I need to embrace life because time is running out. It doesn’t matter if I have another fifty years, it is simply not enough to embrace and enjoy life fully! Clearly, the events of this week have caused me to recognize once again the brevity of life. I rarely immerse myself in national or world events but I do listen to the radio in the mornings when we are in Laurel Fork and the local, classic country station gives news highlights on the hour. The voices of parents bewildered and devastated at their incomprehensible loss who are trying to determine how they will face another day without their child made my heart spasm with pain for them………..for me………..for all of us. Without even realizing it, I spoke aloud to an empty room offering empathetic words that were, in an odd way perhaps, a prayer for peace.
Grief is such a difficult thing to explain and my place in this journey is hard, I think, for others to understand. Raw grief is somehow easier to understand perhaps than mature grief. I can only speak for myself, but as the years have gone by, my grief is something I have learned to accept rather than reject or try to push aside. In the beginning of a loss even those who are not especially close to us may be able to connect in some way. As time goes by, it is only right and natural that the world moves on but for the one who has experienced a great loss, their world is never the same. Rejecting those feelings of loss, trying to mask them, or distracting ourselves from them only leads to more pain. Because ongoing grief is not something that people are comfortable with and because many people feel that one must “get past” the grief and do not understand there is a natural maturity that takes place with time, the reactions of people who are honestly trying to be helpful can sometimes be completely off base. After almost ten years of living with the loss of my Josh, while I have moments when I may cry out in deep agony over my loss, mostly it is something that I have learn to accept having learned to balance those feelings of intense pain with the joy that life offers. As I reach out and try to share some of my experiences with others, I am aware that many times they cannot see beyond the mention of my loss. They miss intention of my words as I try to share the richness of what I have learned on a difficult journey because they are so horrified by my loss or because they think the mention of my loss means that I have not found a way to “get past” what has happened in my life The loss of a child (or anyone with whom an individual has a close bond) is something that doesn’t just go away. The joy is that one can learn to live with that loss and in some ways perhaps, even live more fully because they understand loss. That is where I feel like I am at almost ten years into my grief journey. The paradox is that the secret to being able to experience joy after a great loss lies in actually making friends with that loss.
And as I contemplate the brevity of life, it hit me like a brick that Mike will turn 58 this year. I mean, I know he is 57, has been 57, and 58 is a natural progression after 57 but it just kind of hit me how fast the years are going by and how I take for granted all that Mike is physically able to do. I am sure that my constant interactions with my grandmother, even though she lives two states away, are also influencing my thinking. I looked at a picture of her from just four years ago and thought of how much she has declined not so much physically, although the difference is quite marked in the worry on her face now, but primarily mentally. The reality that we are aging and that time is moving quickly has caused me to want to grasp on to as much life and as much joy as we can possibly hold. Yes, life is filled with sorrow. That is a fact. It is also filled with a tremendous amount of joy. We need to deal with the grief. We need to address the sorrow. We can’t push it aside or it will come back in various ways to destroy us. On the other hand, we must be open to all the joy that life has to offer and not let trivial things keep us from experiencing that joy. If there is one thing I could change about my life, it would be that I would let go of all the things that don’t matter. My son, whose life ended at 18 years of age, was an old soul. Many times he said to me, “Mom, the housework and all that other stuff isn’t important. Time with family is what is important.” I have thought about his words many times since his death. The most important thing to Josh was family time and time spent with friends. If there is one thing I would tell those younger than myself it would be to really determine what is important in life and make those your focus. Mostly, I think I have done well at determining what is important in life because mostly I have revolved my life around the people I love. But, I wouldn’t worry about what people thought of me. I wouldn’t let churches control my relationship with God. I wouldn’t spend so much time on house work. I would find more balance between work and fun. I think, at 50, I am more aware, but I wish that I had been there at 20.
Mike were driving this morning and talking about getting things in order to move the Jersey cows to Laurel Fork. I told Mike that I did not want him stressing about getting things done. It will all work out, even if they need to calve in Staunton. We will just deal with wherever we might be in the progression of our transition. It is just the two of us and always has been. We can only do so much and we don’t HAVE TO stress about it.
Mike continued to work on the chicken house this week. He moved out the rolls of old carpet someone had decided was a good idea to keep. I am guessing from the style, it was probably from the 60’s. Old rolls of carpet kept in an old chicken house means a lot of mold and mildew that needs to be trashed. We still have to haul a truck load of trash out of there but it is all in one place and easily removed at this point. We talked about it and decided to go ahead and section off the front third of the chicken house making it into a feed room and a place to start peeps. Everything he used to build the wall including the old screen door Mike installed was repurposed. I am excited now to find some pullets. We are almost ready. Even with the rain we had this week, Mike worked outside every day pushing brush, burning trash, and just general clean up.
I was itching to get in the kitchen and spent the day making French bread, cinnamon rolls, and a good supper. There was plenty of organizing, cleaning and laundry to do as well. We hadn’t had built a fire on this trip, but as the temperature began to drop, I made a fire in the fireplace. The house felt like home with the sound of the open-hearth fire crackling in the bedroom and the smells of bread baking in the kitchen. It’s these gentle comforts of home that soften the harshness of an often-cruel world. Truly, these moments of peace are a gift and it is our choice to recognize them as such or to pass them by.
February 18, 2018
Sunday mornings are a bit bittersweet for me. By nightfall, I will see the girls and be immersed in the bus world of preschoolers and toddlers with hardly a moment to catch my breath. Being able to watch them grow is a blessing. Yet, I hate to leave the quietness of our little, mountain home. Yesterday morning while we were getting ready to go to an auction, we saw that large flock of wild turkeys that is sometimes in the meadow across the road and sometimes on the backside of our property as they casually walked through the barnyard. They could have appeared to have been a flock of domestic, free ranging birds had someone not known the difference. A couple of them perched on a wood pile, several Toms displayed their beautiful tail feathers, and most of them scratched the ground for something to eat. We watched them for quite a while just a short distance from the house. I have never been able to get an accurate count with some of them always behind a tree or two or three standing together making it difficult to decipher as they move along together, but a rough estimate is that the flock is about 20 birds.
There was a cold rain falling with maybe a touch of ice here and there, but mostly just rain. The temperature hovered above freezing all day. We couldn’t work outside and we were ready to get out a bit. Well, Mike was ready to socialize and I was ok with that. I would have been happy to stay at home but once we were out, I relaxed and enjoyed the interaction. After attending this same auction for almost a year now, we have gotten to know a few people that attend regularly. Once I can get past the initial phase of meeting someone, if I feel comfortable, then I enjoy teasing and joking. I am at that point now with some of the folks at the auction and it is always nice when someone understands and accepts my sense of humor and we can laugh together. The atmosphere at the auction house as been a little tense the past few weeks. I am not sure what is going on with the owner, but he has been stressed and a little short tempered with folks. Yesterday seemed more like “old times” and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was a quilt that went up for sale that I really wanted but I had already set a price of 25 dollars max in my head and when it went higher, I regretfully stopped bidding. There are few things that I bid on that I just really care whether I get or not but for some reason, that old quilt really caught my eye. Mike got several “shelf lots” with smaller items on them. Often when we buy a shelf lot, we don’t even know what is in some of the boxes. We are required to take it all, the good with the bad. However, this is often how we get some really good deals and are able to make a small profit when we sell in our booths. I always complain just a bit because it requires a lot more time and involvement when we buy shelf lots or box lots. Initially, everything has to be packed and carried to the car. Once we get it home, everything has to be carried into the house and sorted. There are always items that are simply junk and of no value at all. We have to decide what to do with those. If it is truly trash then we just dispose of it. Many of the items are not something we can use at our booths because they are neither vintage or antique. We then have to decide if these things are worth holding onto for a potential yard sale or if they should just be donated to a thrift store. Then we begin the process of separating and identifying the items of interest. Many times we must research things and try to determine their use or application so that we can identify and price them. As we price the merchandise for resell, we give each item an inventory number and I enter it into my computer with a brief description as well as what we paid for the item and what we are asking for the item. I also identify at which antique mall we have placed the item. I didn’t use to be this organized about it, but I have learned that keeping good records helps us fight against theft and loss as well as manage things better. After everything has been sorted, identified, priced, tagged and recorded, then we must box it up, carry it back to the car and haul it to Staunton where we divide it between our two booths and the one booth we share with a friend. Mike manages the smaller booth at Verona Antiques simply because they are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday which are the only two days I am available to work the malls. I manage the booths at The Factory Antique Mall. In the beginning when we first started sharing booths with our friend, we managed things for him as well as far as stocking the shelves and picking up items he had won on online auctions in the area. However, he now has a man he hired that comes out of South Carolina periodically to restock the booths and I simply manage our portion. I do manage all the paperwork however. Twice a month I get all the labels from the items that both parties have sold and I match them against the paperwork from the malls. It is not uncommon for them not to match. Often there will be items for which we have not been paid and I have to go to management, have them research it and make it right. I also take a lot of pictures of our booths and pay close attention to the possibility of stolen or misplaced item. Finding missing items in such a large mall is often impossible and there are times when they are simply stolen and can’t be found. However, I have been successful on more than one occasion of finding misplaced or stolen items. It is funny because when our friend Al and Mike started this, I told them there was no way in heck I was helping because I knew I would end up with the majority of the responsibility. I begrudgingly tagged along for a while and when Mike had shoulder surgery, I helped because he simply wasn’t able to do it. I ended up really enjoying it and now Mike and I have a good partnership and have a lot of fun sharing the responsibilities. We both bid on items and together end up with a good mix that appeals to a wider customer base. He will sometimes buy things that I think are just a terrible choice or even pull out something from a shelf lot that Al or I would reject and be able to sell that piece. Having two different sets of eyes and two different perspectives works well for us. We don’t make a living at this venture. It is a hobby. We do turn a small profit which pays for our booth rental, the merchandise, and allows us to add antiques and vintage items to our home without dipping into our savings. I think the best part for me is rescuing some of these items and watching them go into loving homes.
February 19, 2017
Before we left for church yesterday, the turkeys were back. Mike pointed them out to me, this time on the south side of our house by the stream. We watched them for a while before I decided to try to sneak out the door and take a picture of them. I knew I probably would not be able to get a shot without them recognizing my presence. I got one shot of a few of them and then the one turkey was aware and alerted the others. They immediately flew over the road and into the woods. We had a nice time after church visiting with folks. I had told Mike I couldn’t stand around long after church but an hour later we were still there. They are sweet, good people and we enjoy them so much. We got home and I was rushing around like crazy to get lunch, get our things packed for the trip home, get the car loaded with the things we are taking to the antique mall, and get the house closed up for a few days. We stopped to look at some chickens on the way home and told the man we would be back Wednesday to pick up the ten pullets he has for sale. They are a mixture of different breeds and a few mixed breed birds thrown in as well. It is a start. Most of the trip home I talked to my cousin who stays with my grandmother. We are so blessed to have someone who loves my grandma so much stay with her four days a week. My grandma is struggling with a lot of anxiety now. It is so hard to watch my grandma who was always so calm and a source of peace and comfort so many reach a point in her life when all the things she shared with so many people for so many years are not enough to keep her from experiencing what is sometimes debilitating anxiety. She was always quoting the verses from Proverbs 3:5-6 about trusting in God and leaning not on your own understanding. She always said them with such faith and finality that one did not question that everything would be ok. She wrote the verses on most every letter or card that she signed. She believed them and lived them in such a way that others never doubted their truth or her belief in that truth. But now, she is anxious and can’t find peace. It isn’t her. It is the struggle of age and the fear of losing control. She is unable to trust in the ways she use to trust. Watching her struggle breaks my heart. Life can be so weird. Why would life take the one gentle, trusting soul who never doubted and lived a peaceful life even in the midst of losing her only child (my mother) and bring her to a place where she is unable to find peace during her most senior years? There are some things that we just can’t understand and for me, this is one of them. Yet, even in the not understanding or perhaps especially in the lack of understanding, there is room for growth. It is not in “the answers”, but rather, it is in the searching, in the stretching, in the reaching for answers that brings growth. I think where we get hung up is when we think we have it all figured out and I think one of the big ironies of life is that about the time we start to feeling smug about having all the answers, we find out we really don’t. Just that thought would have made me feel uneasy at times in my life but there’s a peace in just accepting this moment for what it is: the good, the bad, the indifferent.