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Posts Tagged ‘family’

He was known as the mean cousin. But I liked him. When we were little, we used to play together at my grandmaw’s house. The warning was always the same. “Don’t knock over those spit cans or you’ll find yourself cleaning up a mess.”

For those of you not familiar with spit cans, they are either peach or coffee cans whereby one can spit snuff or tobacco juice. Conveniently placed between platform rockers, we learned to avoid them at all cost. The best way to do that was to take our rowdiness outside or into a back room.

The den, or the front room as it was called, had the only heater. That room was hotter than a hooker’s doorknob on payday.

Wait a minute. Everybody knows I am a follower of Jesus. Should I say stuff like that? I told David what I wrote and asked what he thought. He commented, “I’ve been in your grandmaw’s den and remember how hot it was. That sounds about right.”

Anyway, the front room was hot, and crowded, and hazy. Those who weren’t dippin’ or chewin’ were smoking cigarettes. This was North Carolina in the early sixties after all. So me and my mean cousin would go elsewhere to see what we could get into.

Upstairs was haunted. Every kid knew that. Plus one of my drunk uncles was usually passed out up there.

Yes, mine was a magical childhood.

Grandmaw’s bedroom downstairs was off-limits. But she had a cedar wardrobe that I thought smelled like heaven. I’d send my cousin off to the barn or somewhere and slip into grandmaw’s room. The few church dresses she owned were hung neatly in that wardrobe so I’d climb in behind them. Sitting quietly in my hiding place, I’d breathe in the scent of cedar. By the grace of God, no one ever caught me or I would’ve been labeled the sneaky one.

I bumped into my mean cousin recently at a Christmas gathering and had to ask who he was. The last time I saw him he didn’t have a beard down to his chest. He reprimanded me for ditching the past holiday dinners where the bulk of the cousins get together. I think in his own way he was saying he missed me. At least that’s how I took it.

After the meal I found my mean cousin again. He warned me not to skip the party next year then added, “It was good to see you.”

For a moment we were seven years old, running through grandmaw’s backyard toward the barn. We climbed the ladder to the loft and hid near the trap door for a quick escape. I always felt safe when he was around. Suddenly I missed him very much. In fact, I can’t even remember why he was considered mean. Perhaps part of Christmas is about learning to give grace. Every family probably has at least one crotchety old guy, a drunk uncle, or a mean cousin. Maybe they’ve worn that label so long they don’t know how to be anything else. At the first Christmas Mary was likely labeled immoral, Jesus illegitimate, and Joseph foolish. Thank God He is not interested in outward appearances. Labels fall away and we’re welcomed into His fold.

Grandmaw’s Wardrobe

He sees through both the tough exterior and the self-righteous façade. He pulls us from our hiding places and loves us where we are. Whether you’re considered mean or just down right sneaky, may you draw near to the Savior this Christmas.

He misses you very much.

Oh, and stay away from those spit cans at all cost!

 

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Similar Yet Different

I love the beach, especially during off-season. My autumn love affair began when our daughters were young. David’s vacation days landed in October and the weather co-operated enough to enjoy the surf. Apparently kids don’t realize how cold the water is when they’re having fun.

Fast forward about thirty years. Our firstborn lives in Illinois and her youngest daughter Kianna happens to love the beach too. However, they seldom get to visit there since it’s at least a fifteen hour drive. Kianna turned sixteen on Halloween so her parents surprised her with a long weekend at the coast. She is such a great kid and was thrilled with the gift even though it included me [her Grammy], her mom Stephanie, and Stephanie’s sisters Amanda and Hannah. Together the five of us stayed in a beachfront condo on Ocean Isle for three days. The Lord graciously blessed us with gorgeous weather: sunshine and mid-seventies; a beautiful harvest moon shining down over the sparkling water; and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. Watching the waves lap at the shoreline was the best therapy of all.

We capped off Saturday night with a Bob Ross painting party. Stephanie collected the supplies we needed beforehand plus a YouTube video on how to paint a seascape. Though all of us watched the same recording, listened to the same instructions, and by the end of the day even had similar hairstyles as our teacher Bob, our paintings are very different. It is actually rather surprising how different they are. As the mother/grandmother it reminded me of an important truth. No matter how similar the parenting, our kids are going to grow up to do their own thing. Just as we were given freewill by our heavenly Father, so also were our children. With each personality, set of circumstances and choices made, our character is developed. It seems the best Parent of all loves variety.

I wonder why we struggle with that. We look at others and wish we were like them. They always know where they put their keys. When they pull off their shoes, their toes aren’t poking through their socks. They never take their kids to the grocery store with jelly on their faces. Their purse is not hiding last week’s banana and their credit cards are never declined.

Maybe it’s time we cut ourselves a little slack. Maybe those of us who march to a different beat are the very ones the Lord will use to make others laugh. Perhaps we’ll lighten a load and make the world a better place.

So to you who live on a continual guilt trip over your imperfect kids and your crazy life, I recommend jumping off that train. Lick your thumb and wipe the jelly from your kid’s face… or not. Relax and be glad that your offspring are different. At some point they’ll probably wonder why fruit flies are hovering around their purses and you’ll know the answer.

Paint the scenes of your life to suit yourself and the Lord. It just so happens, He loves variety.

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Mama’s House

We lost her last May. Our lives will never be the same. She fiercely loved her family, her home and her yard. In fact, my beautiful mom-in-law had a LOT of interests. Crafts, ceramics, decorations, gifts from a multitude of loved ones; it all had to go somewhere. We spent the summer cleaning out her house. Merciful heavens at the junk treasure! That old saying was never more true.

“No kid ever says when their parents die, ‘I wish they’d had more stuff!’”

Though we got the inside sorted, the outside would certainly not meet her standards. The woman would have surely cut back her giant snowball bush by now. Like all true southern women, she swept her patio every day. And even though she could hardly drag her bad leg, she would have already raked leaves several times. Yard work was her passion. When the pile of leaves got too large to push any further, she’d rake them onto an old blue sheet then pull them to the ditch. Then she would haul the hosepipe there so she could soak them down. That way they would stay put until the city crew came by to vacuum them up. Mama had a system. God forbid that anyone suggest otherwise.

We live across the road from her house. Currently her yard is covered with autumn leaves accompanied by a wreath in pink spring flowers on the door. Mama would not be pleased. She changed her wreaths religiously with each season. It comforts me however to imagine her in her new home. She made it clear that she loved the Lord so it’s easy to picture her in Gloryland visiting with my own mama. The two of them probably have more important things to chat about than leaves in the yard or wreaths on the door.

Man I hope so.

While I write this, an appraiser and a potential buyer are inspecting her house. Before they came, I removed the pink wreath. I left it as long as possible since it was the last one she hung before she died. Hopefully they’ll be able to see past the leaves to the lovely home Mama kept for over fifty years.

I know it’s crazy. Though I hope it sells, my heart hurts at the possibility. I keep thinking about taking her a loaf of cranberry pumpkin bread. It was her favorite and I have cranberries in the freezer that she bought me. My husband commented that we won’t know which yahoos to vote for this year since Mama’s not here to give us the scoop. His sister Gail still picks up the phone to call her as they were used to talking several times a day. His other sister Jo stops by sometimes just to sweep the patio.

Christmas will be the hardest I think. She would have turned ninety-two on Christmas Day. The whole family always met at her house on Christmas Eve for steaks with a side of mayhem. This year someone else’s family will likely fill the space. When they move in I hope they’ll love and appreciate the house as much as Mama did.

Maybe I’ll take them a loaf of cranberry pumpkin bread to welcome them home.

I’m sure Mama would be pleased.

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When I look at my hands I see my daddy’s. His are larger but ours are both rough and shaped the same. His are more calloused from all the work he does. I just use my little man hands to type and occasionally dig in the flower beds. But they are still pretty rough for such a delicate woman. I also inherited my daddy’s sense of humor, his feistiness, and his love for sharing a good story. Oh how I wish I had them all recorded so you could hear them too. He told me one the other day about sneaking out to swim off the coast of the Philippines when he was in the Navy. The next day they pulled a shark from those same waters large enough that daddy said he could’ve easily crawled inside it.

“Still sends shivers up my spine!” Daddy laughed as he recalled it. I’m just glad he lived to tell about it.

Daddy came from a family of twelve children. His generation raised their kids with a firm hand. Being blessed with three daughters, I’m sure daddy tempered his words many times though I can’t remember any examples of that at the moment. I don’t know how the man lived with three teenage girls in a house with one bathroom. We knew better than to mess around when daddy spoke. However, I never doubted that he loved me.

I remember warning a guy I dated not to be afraid of my father just because of his rough exterior. He picked me up one Saturday and admitted later that he had polished his shoes in hopes of impressing my dad. Bless his heart. I could’ve saved him the trouble. Daddy was not impressed with any of the young men who expressed interest in his daughters. And this particular guy had very long hippy hair. I’m sure daddy’s steely gaze never made it down to the poor guy’s polished ankle boots.

They say that a girl will ultimately choose a husband who reminds her of her dad. The man I married is nothing like my dad… except that he too has three daughters who knew better than to mess around when he spoke. He loved each one of them through the teen years, coached their teams and watched their suitors with a careful eye. Come to think of it he has a great sense of humor and loves a good story too.

Like my father he loved his wife unconditionally through the horrors and uncertainties of cancer; through good days and bad; through the raising of daughters and eventually their marriages. With a firm hand he taught them the importance of obeying authority and especially that of the Lord. They watched as he quietly started every day with time in Scripture and prayer for his beloved ones. Though his daughters did not inherit his giant man hands, they certainly inherited his heart; his gentle but firm leadership in their own families; his smiling eyes and great sense of humor; and best of all his love for the Lord.

I think that when I get to Heaven, the first thing I’m going to do is check out my Father’s hands. I have a feeling they look like my daddy’s: calloused and worn from all the things He’s protected me from. But when I look into His eyes, I bet they’ll sparkle like my husband’s with kindness and love.

Happy Father’s Day to my two favorite men! Because of your example your daughters chose well when picking men who would become daddies too. May the resemblances continue through the next generation. And may we all live to tell about it.

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Adventures at Sea

It’s been right at a year since the cancer diagnosis. Thankfully my strength has gradually returned. I decided to give it a try. We hadn’t been sailing since last June and the sparkling water beckoned. The Captain charted our course pulling out a map that made little sense to me. It hardly mattered. I was content with a comfortable place to rest where I could soak in the day. The first mate loaded all the gear. After tossing life jackets, fishing rods, extra towels and a picnic on board, she untied the boat and off we went.

The sun hit my face along with a stiff breeze and a gentle spray. I was glad to finally be over the sickness of chemo and able to enjoy one of my favorite pastimes. Just as I was beginning to relax the water became a little choppy. The first mate offered me a snack and looked at me with concern. I assured her I was fine. Nothing was going to spoil our day.

Suddenly the sky darkened and the seas became quite rough. The Captain assured me he knew a shortcut to our destination and took a hard right into the waves. I held on for dear life as the boat climbed each wave and landed with a monstrous splash. It seemed to me we were taking on an awful lot of water. The first mate advised me to put my life jacket on instead of just holding it in my lap. My heart pounded as I followed her instructions. Up and down we went over wave after wave. I tried not to think about it as my tummy reminded me of the omelet I had for breakfast.

Suddenly the Captain shouted, “There’s too much water coming in! I think we have a leak! I’m going to check it out!” Overboard he went.

“You stay here! I’m going to help!” With that the first mate abandoned ship as well. The two seasoned sailors disappeared under the boat.

Alone I waited.

There was no sign of either of them.

I closed my eyes trying not to panic as I wondered about the sharks they had spotted earlier.

A voice broke into my thoughts.

“Mom? Are you sick or just playing boat?” My daughter asked as she stood looking at my bed full of pillows and blankets and snacks. “Where are the kids?”

I clutched the pillow I was using as a flotation device and smiled. “They’re under the boat making repairs. But don’t worry. They can hold their breath a really long time. Besides, Jesse knows a shortcut to California and Marie brought lots of snacks.”

While my daughter peeked under the bed at her giggling four year olds, I rested against one of the extra life jackets. It felt so good to be back in the land of the living. After a year of cancer treatments, playing “boat on the bed” was way more fun than I remembered.

I’m just glad Jesse can read a map better than I can.

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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.

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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.

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