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Family Tradition

For nearly half a century we gathered at my mom-in-law’s house every Sunday after church for lunch. We’d try to have the food on the table by one o’clock at which time she’d announce, “Mute the T.V. and let’s grace the table.” As the family grew, the weekly event became more like the feeding of the 5000. And clean-up was a ginormous undertaking. Often we tried to convince Nina to let us use paper plates. She wouldn’t hear of it. And like her son, cooking required using every pot and dish in the house. Lord have mercy at the mess! Gradually we persuaded her to meet every other Sunday, then in her later years once a month. Bless her heart. It took her at least that long to recover. Plus it took a while to find everything once we washed and put her dishes away. I remember looking for her special ceramic slaw bowl that’s shaped like a cabbage for about six months. I think someone finally found it under the bed in her “craft room.” Thank the good Lord it was empty.

At her passing, we gathered in her home the evening before her memorial. Sweet friends and churches took on the massive task of feeding us all. Merciful heavens at the bread! We had so much that we had to load up a back bedroom since the kitchen could hold no more. As we stood there looking at the bed full of bread, a granddaughter-in-law suggested we give a loaf to the first hundred people attending the funeral. I’m guessing that would’ve been a first.

We also used paper plates that night. In fact there were more paper products used in the two days we met to say good-bye to Nina than the whole fifty-some years she lived in her home. I hope she didn’t mind.

With all those bodies in the house I got a little claustrophobic and stepped outside. One of my favorite nephews was there. As we stood on the patio he asked if I was okay. I told him I just needed a breath of fresh air. He smiled and confessed that he had stepped outside to pass gas.

Ah sweet family. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we cry. At times there’s plenty to eat but nowhere to sit. At other times we’re thankful just to stand upwind. But at all times we are to love. Because before we know it, this blessed time will pass and the gatherings will be few.

Often it felt overwhelming to keep having the dinners as our family grew to over fifty in number. But I’m so glad Nina continued to have us gather. As she always liked to say, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” I’m sure our family is stronger because of those wild and crazy dinners. For Nina’s sake I hope we can keep the tradition alive. Perhaps if we use paper plates we can.

I don’t think she’ll mind.

 

The Inheritance

My beloved mom-in-law passed away a few weeks ago. She was such a beautiful soul. And funny… oh my word! The things she would come up with. She had special names for certain things in her life; like the big white robe she wore in the winter. Often she warned us not to be alarmed if we saw a polar bear ambling around her house as it was just Big Bertha.

When she could no longer walk with just the assistance of a cane, she began using a walker with a seat. It had a little basket where she would load her gardening tools as she puttered around the yard. Inside the house she would load it with cleaning supplies or laundry for that long trip down the hall. She dubbed it her “Cadillac.”

She had a pink blouse which she always wore to the doctor. More accurately it was mauve, that dusty rose color which was popular in the eighties. Her daughters tried every way they could to get her to wear something besides that godawful shirt as it did her no favors. However she always went back to it. Though mauve is code for ugly, she brightened it with her smile.

We’ve begun cleaning out her home of over fifty years. You can’t even imagine the treasures we’re gleaning. So far we’ve only gotten to the kitchen. We checked expiration dates on the foods in the pantry and laughed so hard at the things she hung onto. David suggested that if the date began with the words “In the year of our Lord,” we could probably assume it was too old to consume. In the back of one especially low cabinet was an unidentifiable figure. It appeared to be a dried corpse of an animal from yesteryear. David’s sister bravely pushed it into the floor with a broom. The four of us stood hovering over it trying to make out what it could have been. David finally scooped it up with the dustpan and took it outside. It was larger than a squirrel and had a funky shape. The sisters told me I could have it as part of my inheritance. I was more than thrilled.

Later as I thought again about the dried up mystery animal, I remembered bringing Nina some driftwood from the beach many years ago. She had expressed wanting a piece to put a little ceramic bird on that I had brought her the year before. Apparently the two treasures never met as she always had lots of projects in the works. In fact that bird is probably buried somewhere in her craft room which our middle daughter lovingly renamed Nanny’s Crap Room. It is an accurate description and we can hardly wait to go through the treasures there.

What I love about Nina’s kids, Jo, Gail, and David, is that they’ve been able to maintain their mother’s great sense of humor as we do the necessary things. No pushing, grabbing, or resentment; just working together to honor their mother’s last wish of having a happy home. The closest we’ve come to fighting so far has been over a pack of bacon.

Very graciously I have been included in the dividing of assets. Along with the driftwood shaped like a varmint, I’ve been given her cement pineapple which was always her southern symbol of hospitality. Though I do not share that same sentiment, I love that she did. I tucked it by my side entrance behind a large hosta lest anyone get the wrong idea. You know how I feel about entertaining visitors I do not know. All you “angels unaware” might as well fly on down the street to someone more Godly. However, if you do happen to knock on my door, don’t be surprised if I’m wearing a mauve shirt. Too bad it didn’t come with Nina’s sweet smile.

My mouth has gotten me into trouble more than once… mostly because I’m trying to be funny and something goes amiss. Two of my biggest regrets happened on Mother’s Day. As a kid, I remember making a card for my mama and putting in big letters “HAPPY MOUTHER’S DAY!” Daddy would not let that die. It got us both into hot water. Although I really don’t think I was at the age of spelling accountability yet, Mama was not amused.

The second mishap was all my fault. Mother’s Day used to be commemorated by wearing a rose to church. Red meant your mom was living and white that she had passed away. It was a pretty big deal to honor your mom with a bud. We’d ask a neighbor for permission to pick a blossom from her loaded bushes. One year I was especially cute… and unthinking. I came home with a pink rose and told my mom I’d wear that for her since she was always sick.

Not funny.

It makes me sad just remembering the look on her face. Funny is not fun if it is at someone’s expense.

Much later she overcame the sickness that had plagued her young adulthood. In those days asthma could not be taken lightly. Old Doc Shinn made emergency house calls to give her a shot of adrenalin straight in the heart. Times sure have changed.

Once her asthma subsided she was able to take up walking. She and daddy walked three miles each morning and repeated it some afternoons. They were very health conscious. So when a rare illness suddenly took her from us it was a terrible shock. Shortly after she passed away I went to look for flowers for her grave. She hated anything fake, so I was trying to find the most lifelike silk ones possible. Of course the prettiest happened to be pink roses. I stood there in the discount craft store sobbing like a baby.

Someday I will quit beating myself up for hurting her with my funny words. I’m sure if she could speak to me now she’d say, “Oh Lynna quitcha bawlin’! I’m fine! I feel better than ever!” … or something more heavenly.

Mother’s Day can be such a difficult time. A lady I know whose only son died, hurts terribly around this time of the year. Another friend in his sixties continues to grieve that his mother abandoned him and even though she lives near, still wants nothing to do with him. A young woman whose baby died before birth wonders if she counts as a real mother. Those of us with mothers who’ve passed on may find the sentimental songs at church unbearable. The pain for the childless woman, who must remain seated when the mothers in the congregation are asked to stand, is unspeakable. As she leaves and flowers are given to all the moms in attendance, she must shake her head, “Nope. Still not a mom.”

I don’t know the answer. Maybe there’s a way to do things differently. But how ever we celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s think a little. Maybe an extra prayer for the childless couple could be offered. Perhaps a card sent to someone the Lord brings to mind would be a good idea. Just be sure to check your spelling on those homemade cards. And stay away from pink roses.

PS-

I thought you’d like to know that the mother who lost her son battled through a very deep valley of depression. She got busy and sent out an armload of Mother’s Day cards.

The man in the story will no doubt spend the week-end enjoying his wife, grown children, and grandkids, knowing he has made a great difference in the lives of those who love him.

The young lady whose baby died will celebrate with her precious little miracle son Able, who is now a healthy five year old.

And the childless couple was blessed with two babies at once who keep them busier and happier than they ever dreamed possible.

I pray that God will bless you too, in some unexpected way, especially if Mother’s Day tends to stink.

My beautiful mom on the right with Aunt Termey.

Nina

David lost his beloved mother last week to a two year battle with breast cancer. From the first time I met her she treated me as a daughter. I tried to call her Mrs. Clark but she wouldn’t have it. “Honey that makes me feel so old! Please call me Nina!” And our friendship began. Her son would stop by a convenience store on the way home from our dates just to buy her cheese popcorn. At first I thought, “Really?” Then I remembered that old adage, “Watch how a man treats his mother for that is how he will eventually treat his wife.” It’s true. Both of them spoiled me rotten. Nina never resented my relationship with her son. In fact when our kids were little I was often too sick to do everything I needed to do. She’d come by and spend the morning cleaning house. She’d wash dishes, bathe the children then go to her second shift job in the mill. I had never experienced such kindness until this dear woman swooped into my life, loving me with all that was in her. The only thing we disagreed on was television. She believed in having it on 24/7. I am just the opposite. Often she tried to convince me that I could learn a lot from T.V. What I learned was to nod my head and try to change the subject. Now that she’s in Heaven, she finally knows that I was right.

Ironing was top priority in her life. She’s been known to iron dish towels and underwear. Her son is just happy if I iron the front of his dress shirt if he’s wearing a suit. For her funeral I ironed the whole shirt, sleeves and all in honor of his mom.

Nina had the sharpest wit. One of the funniest things she ever did was to suggest we lead the funeral procession for her husband through the Krispy Kreme drive-thru. As we passed it on our way to the cemetery she reasoned that it was a shame to miss out since the Hot Now sign was on.

She loved reading the Salisbury Post. Through it she kept up with all the local events, could speak intelligently about any athlete, and always knew when a new business came to town. When we moved across the street from her she insisted on bringing us the paper every day when she finished reading it. And I made sure to read it too because I knew she’d quiz me later on the local events. One afternoon I looked outside to find a line of cars backed up our busy road while they waited for her to make her way across. I teased her later that she should feel pretty good about being in her eighties and still able to stop traffic.

She loved church and music and preaching of all varieties. One time we took her to a service that ended up being rather loud. On the way home we asked her what she thought of the music. She commented that it made her pacemaker do something weird but other than that she liked it.

I think what I loved most about her was her optimism. Rarely did she speak a negative word. We took her out on my daddy’s pontoon boat not knowing that the transom would give way dropping the motor off somewhere in the middle of Lake Norman. As we sat there rocking back and forth trying to get a cell phone signal she commented brightly, “Oh what a nice breeze!” That was typical of my other mother.

Nina Clark, my “other mother.” I sure am going to miss you. Thank you for raising such a beautiful son for me to love. Thank you for taking me in and treating me like your own. Thank you for opening your arms and your heart to me from the very start, and never letting go. I can only imagine how lovely the gardens are around your heavenly home now that you’re healed and you don’t have to drag around your “bad leg” while you work. Heaven is surely more beautiful since you are there.

Nina with my daddy: A meeting of the minds.

The Rest of the Story

It was the first day of Spring. We had just received the terrible cancer diagnosis for my beloved mom-in-law Nina. The first surgeon she visited spoke words we were not prepared to hear. “I can’t do surgery because if I were to take all of the cancer out I would not even be able to close you back up.”

I began gathering photos of Nina in preparation for… I cannot even speak the word.

Anyone who knows her also knows that she hates having her picture taken. Therefore the task would not be easy. Oh we had plenty of pictures, but nearly all of them have her wagging a finger in the direction of the photographer with a death threat hanging in mid-air. This woman is not to be trifled with. I joked with her one happy day that if she didn’t stop putting the stink-eye on those trying to capture her pretty image we’d have to resort to using all those ugly photos at her memorial. That would teach her!

Beautiful silver hair frames her lovely face. Her skin is smooth and nearly wrinkle-free. She and her son joke that all the butter they consume keeps the wrinkles pushed out from the inside. She was able to attend the graduation of her granddaughter Desani where someone snapped a gorgeous picture of the two of them. She showed it to me and said, “When I die just Photoshop my head onto all those other bad pictures.” Note to self: Never try to teach Nina a lesson.Nina & Desi

For those of us who live in Salisbury, Dr. Black is a household name. He and Nina go way back. He’s treated many members of her family for cancer starting with her husband. Even now while Dr. Black is in the midst of trying to retire he’s committed to treating Nina’s sister until the end. The only criticism I’ve ever heard her speak of him is that she cannot understand why he doesn’t wear socks. Something about his naked ankles has always been a little disconcerting to her. Nina has baked him and his staff many a pan of brownies. She was saddened to hear of Dr. Black’s retirement, but took right up with his associate Dr. Brinkley. Perhaps the fact that he wears socks gives him cred. She loved him immediately because he joked with her and understood her sense of humor. The three of them have a running disagreement on whether brownies should contain nuts or not. Dr. Black poked his head into her exam room one day and said, “Don’t you let him talk you out of putting nuts in the brownies!”

What will Salisbury do without Dr. Black?

What will we do without our beloved Nina? My heart grieves at the thought.

Last Spring I wrote a story called Daffodils of Hope which ended with a request that you pray for her. Here’s the rest of the story. Dr. Brinkley immediately started breast cancer treatment which has shrunk the tumors so much that everyone is amazed. Nina has had no terrible side effects, has not had to endure chemo or radiation. We had no idea such a hormone therapy existed. At this point it’s looking like she may not even require surgery. God willing, Nina will be celebrating her ninetieth birthday on Christmas day.

Never once did Dr. Brinkley treat her as though she were too old to hope. With each visit he listened intently as she and her children asked questions and relayed symptoms. In fact he listened so well that at times there was actual silence in the room as he processed our concerns. How rare is that? If you know the Clark clan you’ll certainly appreciate that abnormality.

Thank you doctors Black and Brinkley for treating her and many others so well. Thank you to all who prayed for our beloved Nina.

And thank You Lord that I won’t have to be learning how to use Photoshop anytime soon.

PS:

The Lord took Nina home on May 3, 2017. Her memorial service included lots of pictures with stern looks at the camera. But they just made us laugh as we remembered this lovely lady. The picture above with her granddaughter Desani is who she truly was. We miss her so much already. Thank the Lord we know where she is as she fully trusted her Savior when He said He would never leave nor forsake her. Praise God she is pain free, smiling, and out of the way of all those pesky cameras.

I love my little town. Salisbury, NC has so much going for it. Sure, that includes some crazy but don’t you think every family has a touch of crazy? It keeps things interesting. Sometimes folks refer to us as “Smallsbury” in a derogatory fashion. That’s okay. I think small is a good thing. In fact, someday when I write my book I might just title it that. Smallsbury, USA.

Many neighborhoods still exist here where we look out for one another. The other day I was standing at the kitchen window when I noticed a cop car slowing down. It proceeded to pull into my mom-in-law’s driveway. My heart just stopped. I alerted David so we both moved to the front window and peered through the curtains like Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched. What is going on across the road?!!

We checked our cell phones to make sure we hadn’t missed a call. As we watched to see what was afoot, David grabbed his shoes so he could run interference between the police and his eighty-nine year old mother. Not that we needed to warn her in case she was smoking pot or something. We just wanted to be there if she was going to be arrested while “Bad Boys, Bad Boys” played in the background.

However, before David could get his shoes on all fear was gone. The policeman turned out to be our nephew. Since he was in town for court, he decided to stop by his grandmother’s house to check on her. Then every cop’s worst nightmare happened. His grandmother sent him across the street to our house with a box of doughnuts. Talk about stereotypes. Bless his heart. Jay w KK

This would not be Nina’s first brush with the law. She was driving home from serving Meals on Wheels one night years ago, when she made a right turn beside a vehicle which was stopped for a light. Since there was no turning lane, the police pulled her over. When asked for her license she realized her purse was locked in the trunk. Exiting the vehicle into a night filled with flashing blue lights, there she was, guilty before God and everybody. As she opened the trunk she was sure that all who passed thought she’d been busted for drugs. Nervously she retrieved her purse. Suddenly matters got even worse. Dropping her pocketbook, as we say in the South, she watched as the contents spilled across the pavement. No telling how many tubes of lipstick rolled into the gutter that night. As she stood there mortified, two nice policemen chased down the contents. Her lifetime motto has always been, “Lipstick makes everything better.” That night might have been the one exception.

As you know, things aren’t always as they seem. The policeman knocking on her door was not there to interrogate. The cop carrying doughnuts across the road was just doing his grandmother a favor. And the lady in the blue light was not being busted for drugs. In Salisbury though, we already knew that. Word travels fast here because we’re all standing at our windows, peering out checking on our neighbors. I especially love that small town living includes policemen who love their grandmothers, deliver doughnuts, and chase lipstick for nervous women.

God bless Smallsbury!

*Special thanks to my beloved nephew Jason who allowed me to take his picture while in uniform holding a box of Krispy Kreme. What a man!

From March 2012:

My mom-in-law Nina gave us a little scare last week. She’s 86 and one of the sharpest funniest people I know. Her heart got out of rhythm and she had to go to the hospital. I told her she had been eating too many Javi’s Duros De Harina [chili and lime seasoned wheat chips]. She loves those things and stocked up when she found them on sale for a dollar a bag. No wonder her heart was doing the cha-cha!

Her nurse’s name was on the white board. What a beautiful young lady with a Jamaican accent, and she was very sweet to Nina. As she left the room, we asked Nina how to say her name. She said “It’s Hawa, as in Hawa ya?” Leave it to Nina to entertain us while she’s sick. Thankfully her hospital stay was short.

Lately she has also developed a painful knee. It sometimes gives out and causes her to lose balance. So she keeps her cane handy. I walked over to see her and she asked me to look for it. “I know I haven’t been outside today, so it’s got to be here somewhere!” She had hobbled all over the house looking.

After checking in all the obvious spots, then under furniture, and the places we’ve found it hanging before [on the back of chairs, kitchen cabinet handles, bathroom towel racks, etc.] I finally gave up.

The next day, her daughters came over to clean house for her since she’s still not feeling well, and they are giving Amanda a baby shower. Jo called. “You’ll never guess where we found mama’s cane. Gail found it in the refrigerator.”

Bless her heart. Nina had been cleaning out her fridge and had hung it there while she worked. Then it just blended in with the metal racks.

I love this woman.

As bad as she feels, she is determined to host the shower. In her thinking that includes waaayyy more than one might think. She’ll make about 50 tiny bows to pin on guests for a game. She will wrap small gifts for prizes and a blue hydrangea must be purchased for the guest of honor. Doilies will line the plates. Flower pots need to be painted. Blue sheets must be ironed so white lace can cover them and the tables. She is also hoping her blue and purple irises open in time for the guests to enjoy them. What a production.

David couldn’t get her on the phone the other night so he decided to walk over to check on her. There she was outside planting pansies in the dark.

I can’t imagine life without her.pansies