Sunday, February 19, 2012

Snowy Memories

It's snowing. That's not too unusual this time of year in Virginia. In fact, it is possible to get snow here any time between October and March. It doesn't usually amount to much; just a pretty show, a little slush, then muddy yards. But today it's snowing a good amount. The yard is turning white, the cars are covered, and even the street is disappearing.
I don't know why, but snow makes me restless.
I'm more of an indoor than an outdoor person; always more content to curl up in a comfy chair with a good book than to run around outside. But when it's snowing, I want to be out in it. Maybe it's because the world looks so clean with all the Virginia red clay buried under a field of soft white. Maybe it's because the air is crisp and sharp. Or maybe it's because days like this remind me of my Grandma Asher.
When I was a kid, we traveled from Tennessee to Idaho for Christmas twice. I don't know whether our home state was trying to show us what we were missing by living so far south, or if we were just lucky, but it snowed to beat the band both times. My 3 siblings, our cousins and I would bundle up and go play in the yard for what seemed like hours: making snow angels, having snowball fights, and just running through the snow. We would run between and under the lilac bushes that graced the yard when I was small, marvelling at the grass still untouched by white under the biggest bushes. Eventually, we would get tuckered out, and Grandma (being as psychic as all grandmothers are) would call us in for hot cocoa.
We would all run around to the back so we could take off all our wet things on the much easier-to-clean linoleum floor in the rear hallway. Then we would pile into the kitchen and have a short scuffle over who got to sit on the coveted barstools, and who got consigned to the table. Being the oldest (and the meanest, according to my siblings), I always got 1 of the 3 seats at the bar. Then Grandma would bring us our hot cocoa, loaded up with extra marshmallows. Sometimes we would have cookies too, or toast to dip into the cocoa. Always, we had the comraderie of cousins and siblings, the warmth from the kitchen, and the love of our Grandma.  
After I graduated from high school, I went to Idaho and spent 5 1/2 months living with my grandparents. My favorite memories from that time are of sitting down with my Grandma Asher after she got home from working the swing shift at Hewlett Packard. Getting home at 11:30pm, she didn't want a traditional heavy dinner. So I would have cocoa (with marshmallows!) and toast ready for us to consume while we talked or just sat in companionable silence. Since I was engaged to be married, she almost always had some good advice or a funny marital story of her own to pass along. I got to know her then as I had never known her before, and I loved her all the more for her treatment of me as not just a grandchild, but a fellow woman. I have often put her advice to good use in my marriage.
So when it snows, I want to go outside and throw snowballs, and make snow angels, and build a snowman of epic proportions. And when I come inside, there is always a small part of my child-within that hopes Grandma will be standing at the stove making cocoa and admonishing me and my children to take off our wet things before they drip all over the house. Of course, she never is, nor will be again. So I fire up the kettle, admonish my children myself, and then sit and laugh and pass on a tradition to a new generation in honor of one of the sweetest women this world ever knew.
Grandma and Grandpa Asher

Saturday, February 18, 2012

In Memoriam, and In Celebration

Dan and Terry

        It has been over a year since we lost Dan White on January 26, 2011. I've tried to think about what to say to convey what I, and many others, feel about his loss. I simply can't find the words. He was a great man, but you wouldn't have known it to look at him. He looked pretty average. He was a pleasant looking man, who often wore a baseball cap to cover his receding hairline. He was almost always smiling, and he was always ready to listen. He was a carpet layer, but most people didn't know that. After meeting him and talking to him, most people assumed he was a pastor. And he was, in the truest sense of the word. He didn't have a framed diploma on his wall from any seminary, but he helped God's family grow, and was always doing whatever he could to tend to the Flock. I have known many pastors in my time, but I have only known a few through whom Christ was clearly seen. In everything that Dan did, you could see a reflection of Jesus and his teachings.
        His loss at such a young age- 47- was devastating. I lived in fear of losing my own husband for a few months afterwards. There were no indications of any kind of health problem until he died, very suddenly, and with no fanfare. He was talking on the phone and just fell out of his chair, his heart having quit working. I guess that God blessed him in death as he did in life, by saving him the agony of a long drawn-out death. I have often said that I want to go that way. Just quietly pass away with no deathbed confessions, no pain, or tears.
        Dan and Terry had a beautiful marriage that resulted in 3 wonderful children. Terry told me that she and Dan had talked often about what the other should do if one of them die. Each wanted the other to find someone to love again, to not live in mourning for the rest of their lives. A few months after Dan died, Terry began praying that God would send her a man who would love her and her children, who loved God, and would love her friends. About 6 months after Dan died, God answered her prayers by sending Greg Lawson into her life. Then she prayed, "Lord, really? Now? Isn't it too soon?" She prayed for guidance in these uncharted waters of being a recent widow with 3 children still at home. And God kept pointing her back to Greg, the handsome man she had noticed across a crowded church sanctuary. They began dating in August and became engaged a couple of months later.
        Then she had new challenges to face. Many of her friends were angry and hurt that she dared to fall in love so soon after Dan died. Was she just so ready to forget? Did she not ever truly love Dan? How dare she not wait the proscribed 12 months before putting away her widow's weeds?! Her children were confused, but honestly handled it better than most of the adults in her life did. The kids liked Greg, and he liked them. Finally everyone realized it was going to happen, there was nothing they could do but be happy for the blushing couple, and it wasn't really any of their business anyway. Then the planning began!
        A wedding was planned for December 31, 2012. What started out as a small church wedding with only their closest and dearest, turned into 250 people being invited to share their joy. There was going to be flowers, a huge cake, and a church full of people to celebrate their union. And that's how it went. The weather was fairly nice, the church was full, and there was laughter and joy. A year of so much heartache, pain, and soul-searching ended on a very upbeat note as the happy couple drove away to spend a week in Tennessee.
        At the reception, the pastor of Terry's church stood up to say a few words before the cake was cut. He said that after Terry and Greg walked back down the aisle as husband and wife, he heard Dan's voice in his ear saying, "Thank you, brother". And I think that is the greatest blessing of all.

Dan and Terry

Mr. and Mrs. Greg Lawson

Greg and Terry feeding each other cake

Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas in February...or March...why not April?

Yes, my tree is still up. And who said it was any of your business, huh? It's bad luck to take it down before the New Year starts anyway. I guess that hails back to when people burned the Yule log until New Year's and then kept a small portion to start the next year's Yule log with. A lot of people take their trees down the day after Christmas. Even more wait until January 1st. A few wait until Epiphany, aka Three Kings Day or the 12th day of Christmas, on January 6. Me? Well now, that depends.

There was that one year we had a large boxwood wreath with a red bow on the front of our house until April. But you see, it was so beautiful, so we left it up thinking the red bow could also be for St. Valentine's Day. Well, we didn't get it taken down right after February 14th, and a bird built it's nest in the bottom curve of the wreath. Since it was right in front of our living room window, we got a bird's-eye view, so to speak, of the wonders of  life. We got to watch the eggs hatch, the babies grow, and the bird poo build up against the window. Oh yes, they might be small, but they sure go a lot. We learned our lesson, though, and have never left a wreath on the front of the house after New Year's.

Then there was the year that we left the outside bows and tinsel up until March. I had two small toddlers who could not be trusted to behave themselves while I went outside to take down the decorations. So, I waited until even the mailman was making snide comments before I finally packed the kids outside on a relatively warm day and took down my Christmas decorations.  
Our darling daughter was born a week before Christmas in 2003. Believe it or not, I believe that tree came down pretty early in January. The following year, however, it was still up on St. Valentine's Day. I even have the pictures to prove it. I guess when you have a child who is still breast-feeding, a preschooler, a kindergartner, and a fifth-grader, you're just too pooped to tackle things like Christmas trees.

Most years, the tree comes down in mid-to late-January. You see, I'm so busy once December starts that I don't get to just sit and enjoy it. So after Christmas, I really take advantage of the fact that I have a very real-looking artificial tree. It won't become a fire hazard like one of those sweet-smelling real trees that I'm so allergic to. I decorate for all the major holidays: St. Valentine's, St. Patrick's, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and, obviously, Christmas. But what I really love are Christmas trees and decorations. They bring me a quiet joy and sense of peace that no other holiday decoration can give me. I surround my family with Christmas throughout the house every year. This year, I have 3 separate villages, a grouping of Saint Nicholas figures and Nativities, a 7.5 foot Christmas tree, a 6.5 foot Christmas tree, and a 2.5 foot Christmas tree. My "magic" lighthouse ornaments adorn the greenery going down the stairs, and I have ornaments scattered in almost every room of the house. In fact, I just got my kids trees on clearance for their rooms. I was going to save them to put up next year, but they begged to have them up last night. So now the only un-decorated rooms are my bedroom and the bathroom.   

I don't understand people who hate decorating for Christmas. If my house was big enough, I would have a Christmas room where the decorations stayed up all year. For now, I go through the house in the evenings and turn off all the lights. Then I just bask in the warm glow.  Every year my children and the nieces and nephews on my side of the family get an ornament from me to celebrate who they were and what they did that year. To me, the decorations on the tree are much more important than what gets put under it. Is it a lot of work? Oh yes, I won't lie to you. It takes me a couple of weeks to finish decorating. If I could just be at home devoting time to it, I'm sure it would go much faster. But I work on it in free moments, and eventually, I can step back and say, "Voila! My masterpiece is finished!" Then I pour a glass of wine for myself and my darling husband, and enjoy the lights while we snuggle. My children love to ooh and aah over the decorations, and have asked me why we ever have to take them down. Well, my house is small, and to get all the Christmas into it that I manage to, I have to re-arrange things. Other rooms in the house become more crowded with excess furniture that simply wouldn't fit in the rooms with the trees. And that's what eventually causes me to take down my decorations. When I bang my shin one too many times on the things that had to be moved to our bedroom, I decide to take everything down. It's funny that it takes so much less time to disassemble than it did to assemble, but it seems like only a day or two later, everything is packed up and in the attic. Then my house is back to normal for another few months, and I feel a little sad. I start to look forward to the weekend after, or sometimes before, Thanksgiving when my dear husband helps me cart down over a dozen boxes and tubs of Christmas cheer to be spread throughout the house.

So yes, my decorations are still up. Come enjoy them with me!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I love Halloween! Don't you?

I believe that the last time I went trick-or-treating, I was 17. I dressed up and went with my baby sister, Hillary, because Nate and Annie were above those things. I had a great time just being a little kid again. It had been a couple of years since I had gone, but it all came back quickly: You hold out your bag of choice, say "trick-or-treat", and people (random strangers!) put candy in your bag. Amazing! How had I stopped doing this? Why on earth did I feel that I was too "old" to get free candy? Isn't it funny what a little peer pressure can do?

My two oldest boys do not trick-or-treat any more. My oldest, Marc, is 17, so I guess that's normal. But my next child, Patrick, just turned 12 and considers himself too old for such frivolity. I had to talk my 10 year old, PJ, into going with us and his sister. Is it just me, or are kids growing up much faster than they used to? I was still a "kid" when I was in high school. Now, your average 13 year old expects to be treated as an adult. (Of course, said 13 year old probably dresses like an adult, but that's a whole other rant!) When did that happen?

I miss my kids all dressing up. I wish I could still take group pictures of all 4 of them looking cute and excited before heading out for the evening. Before I know it, they will all be "too old" to trick-or-treat, and will be wanting parties thrown instead. In Danni's case, that might be best since I can then provide treats that are safe for my poor food-allergic child. But I will still miss that cute little girl that wants to dress up and tromp up and down the streets for food that she can't even eat, just so everyone can see her adorable costume.

I'm going to thoroughly enjoy the next few years with Danni, since PJ has already informed me that he wil NOT be dressing up in some inane costume next year. I am going to take all the pictures I can while I still have a child that just wants to dress up and enjoy this one day of the year that is all about being whomever you wish to be, whether that's a princess, a hero, a monster, or (creepiest of all) a clown. Then, I guess when my kids are wanting parties thrown at our house, I will finally get to be the house that is just a little too spooky. You know, the one with the music, the fog, the lights, and the extras that make your blood chill just a little...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I miss her

A few weeks ago, on September 29, I lost my Grandma Asher to a stroke. She was a wonderful woman who loved me in spite of my faults. I was not the best granddaughter. I didn't call often enough, or write often enough, but when I did, she was always happy to hear from me. On the rare occasion when I would call, she would always get on the phone with "Hello? Valencia? This is Grandma." in that voice of hers that always sounded a little unsure of itself. I loved to hear her voice and her laugh.
I think that in spite of everything, she had a good life. She was always on the go, even at home. I remember when I was staying with them for a few months after I graduated, she almost never sat down except to eat. She couldn't understand how I could sit and read for hours without getting up. She was always working, or cooking, or cleaning, or straightening, or just making sure that everyone in her family had everything that they could possibly need at their fingertips. I think that my Grandpa Asher might possibly have been the most spoiled husband on earth. And she enjoyed every minute of that spoiling. She was happiest in the kitchen in one of her aprons making coffee for everyone. (You want to see some people drink coffee, get the Ashers together. They'd make a Starbucks run out of coffee in a few short hours.) You see, she had the heart of a servant. You know, that heart of a servant that Jesus calls all of us to have? She was born with it. No one around her ever lacked for anything if it was in her power to provide it.
Since her death, I never leave my house without some piece of her jewelry on. When I did forget one day, I almost panicked. Will I forget her if I'm not wearing something in remembrance? Certainly not, but I have no control over it. My husband adored my Grandma, and she adored him. He was so distraught that he couldn't go to her funeral, but it was not possible for him to. My son Marc has many memories of her, as well. They were both so off-kilter while I was in Idaho, that they took it out on each other. After one argument, David went to our bedroom and slammed the door while Marc went out the front door and slammed it. He broke 3 panes of glass when he did it. They were going to keep it from me, but Marc called to 'fess up and apologize. Isn't it funny what grief does to each of us in different ways?
In the weeks since her death, I've found myself in tears quite often. The Sunday after I got back to Virginia, I attended the first Mass since her funeral Mass in Idaho. I cried almost the entire time. There are certain things that are constant in every Mass, no matter what it is being said for. Those similarities had me coming undone. When my son PJ called me from school last Wednesday in tears saying that he didn't feel good, I assumed he was sick. I immediately rushed to get him only to arrive and find out that he was heartsick. He hadn't seen Grandma since he was 5, but it suddenly hit him that he wouldn't see her again in this world. So I still signed him out and took him with me. We talked about it a little, and he started to feel better. I, on the other hand, felt my grief anew.
I've stayed very busy since I got home, and haven't had the time to just sit and remember. My subconcious has been very much preoccupied with Grandma, however. I dream about her funeral, although not always the one she had, almost every night. In my dreams, I keep feeling like I'm forgetting something. I wake up disturbed and regtetful that I was not better at keeping in touch while she was alive. I know that at some point, I will begin to feel more normal. I know that at some point I will only remember the good times we had, instead of the ones that I missed. I know that at some point I will stop crying at the drop of a hat. Until that point, I miss her.