Remembering Virginia Tech 4.16.07

Last year on this day, I wrote a memorial post to mark the sad anniversary of the tragedy that occurred during my daughter’s second year as a student at Virginia Tech. The Ways We Remember, Those We Cannot Forget details more from April 16 and the days that followed.

When we moved into April a few weeks ago, I noticed my daughter had changed her profile picture on Facebook from her regular photo to the image below. It is familiar to many associated with Virginia Tech and the one I have seen most often in the three years since the Virginia Tech shootings.

After seeing the change on April 1, I asked her about it when we spoke later that day. I usually switch to the same image on my Facebook profile a few days before the anniversary, but never so early as the beginning of the month and I wondered why she had changed hers so far in advance. Miranda told me in so many words that in the month of April, the anniversary is always at the forefront of her thoughts so she wanted to note the significance for her.

When I hung up the phone, I considered that while most people were celebrating spring and new beginnings, she was remembering the day when so many died. It saddens me to think that this will likely always be a rite of spring for her. I wish there was something I could do to change that, but it is beyond my control as are so many things for parents when children grow into their independent selves.

Miranda is generally pretty quiet when it comes to that day. When people ask about it, she is polite and almost matter of fact. She tends to keep her feelings to herself. I imagine these kids, now adults walking around like war vets in a way … only really discussing that day with people who were there and lived through it too. As a mom who believes in the healing power of conversation it is difficult for me to stand back and wait to give comfort when needed, although I smile as I think, I am always at the ready.

I take comfort in how she chooses to honor the memory of those no longer living with her desire to risk more and live more fully for those who lost that opportunity on 4.16.07. I didn’t know she felt that way until I saw something she had posted on Facebook the other day that suggested that sentiment as a way to remember those who died.

I understand that thought completely as it is something I have tried to do when grieving the loss of friends and family who died too young. It gives me some measure of peace to see that we share a similar idea because I know it has been a source of comfort for me when I could not understand the why of premature death. I cannot think of a better memorial for those lost than a life well lived when searching for ways to honor those we can never forget.

Dixie Carter – A Strong Southern Woman

(Internet photo)

When Dixie Carter died last Saturday, Julia Sugarbaker breathed her last too. Although Julia Sugarbaker was only one role she played during a lifetime as a working actor, it is the one I will always associate most with her. Writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason may have created the feisty southern character, but it was Dixie Carter who made her come alive.

During the late 80’s and early 90’s there were several television shows I tried never to miss, and Designing Women was one of them. While I always pictured myself as more Murphy Brown than Julia Sugarbaker, my step-mom Cullene could easily have been the model for the well heeled, articulate character, who was always willing to fight for the underdog or let someone know when they had pushed her just a bit too far.

As I’ve gotten older, I know there have been times in my life when I might have been channeling versions of all three women, calling on some secret source of inner strength that even I was not always aware was waiting in reserve. Take a look at this video where Julia speaks her mind one more time if you are not sure of what I mean. Dixie Carter may be gone, but she lives on in her children, in the roles she created, and in women who cheered each time Julia Sugarbaker stood her ground, leading the way for southern women who were watching like me.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Photographs of Mollye are lifted from Facebook

I am stealing a song title from a Beatle’s tune this morning to say a few more words about the post I wrote here a couple of days ago, which I followed up with this one yesterday where I thanked everyone for their supportive comments. If you are someone who reads comments left by others as I sometimes do except over at Pioneer Woman’s place because one post can garner thousands of comments and who has time to read that many … anyway, if you happen to be reading the comments left on the post, Are You Judy’s Daughter, you will see a comment from someone named Mollye, that could do with a bit of an explanation.

My dear friend Mollye is one of the sweetest souls I know. We met about ten years ago when we were both working with folks who were either infected or affected by HIV. While I worked mostly with the physicians and medical providers who managed their care, I also had an opportunity to meet people like Mollye who worked at the time for one of the AIDS service organizations in Atlanta. After reading her comment on the revealing mother-daughter post I wrote, I decided it might be a bit confusing without a little backstory.

Mollye is quite accomplished in many ways, in addition to working as a gifted therapist, she is an amazing artist and photographer. She specializes in pet photography when she’s not helping people searching for their best selves and I only wish I had more of her art hanging on my walls.

I sent Mollye a message yesterday with a link telling her of the dream I had a few days ago that prompted me to write the mother-daughter post. What I did not say publicly in that post was that Mollye had been in my dream too, showing up right at the end just as I was waking up. I told Mollye that I was not sure whether it was because I had looked at her art just before I went to bed which deals directly with ghosts and is titled “Spirits of the Field,” or because she is an Alabama native which is the last place I saw my mother who has lived only two hours from my former home in Georgia for about the last twenty years. For whatever reason Mollye popped in at the last minute, it was comforting to wake up with a sense of her nurturing presence after the familiar rejection by my mother in the dream.

When I woke this morning and sat down to check my messages as I do while the coffee is brewing, I read the sweet comment she left me and felt so lucky to have friends in my life like Mollye. We all have histories and ghosts that haunt us, but who we become in spite of it all is a true measure of a life well lived.

I could make excuses for my mother’s behavior, but there is nothing so horrible in her history that would have made her into the bitter narcissistic person that she is. She is what she is by choice and although I understand that intellectually, that knowledge has provided little emotional comfort over the years.

There is one thing I am very sure of and that is while we may not be able to choose the path we on which we begin our journey, we can choose which direction we take once we gain our own footing. The love and kindness of friends like Mollye are some of the gifts of my journey and an example of the good you receive in life when you choose to walk in the light.

Please feel free to share your story of someone who might be a ” Mollye ” in your life in a comment below.

Cleaning Out The Attic

Sometimes when you least expect it, a moment happens that reminds you of another life. A life you thought you had packed away, carefully folded, like clean clothes in an old suitcase. It waits, stuffed into a dusty corner with the forgotten bits of a past you no longer have use for, a neatly packaged collection of memories waiting to be discovered by another generation when cleaning out the attic after your death.

You forget it is even there except for the times when you feel obliged to shift the Christmas boxes or saved baby clothes to make room when the roof needs repairing or the pest control people come by to take care of the scratching sounds you hear late at night when sleep won’t come.

In shifting the suitcase to a new location, you wonder why you put it there and when you open it, you remember and you think, maybe I should get rid of these things that no longer fit me. So you shake them out and hold them up to the light. You might even step outside the attic where the light is better and you can see more clearly.

At the very end of it all, you may share some things with your friends who are happy to reminisce with you and remind you of all you have that fits the you that you have become. You consider what to do with it all after picking through the past, and after ruling out recycling, you stuff it into a large garbage bag and put it out with the Monday morning trash.

When I thought I had no more tears left for the sad mother stories that are at the very core of my history, I found myself wiping them away yesterday after reading your lovely comments. The sweetness and sensitivity you shared was healing and so appreciated. I hesitated for several months before sharing the accidental awareness found in a strangers question last January, but the dream of bowling balls and my mother pushed me to share a part of my life that sadly is similar to others out there. My deepest thanks to each of you for your support and kindness.

Are You Judy’s Daughter

A few months ago while out on a morning run, I paused to let a man in a small truck pass me near the village green. As he slowed he leaned out of the open window slightly and asked, “Are you Judy’s daughter?”  I smiled as I said no, not knowing who he meant or where Judy’s daughter might live. After hearing my American accent, he knew before I had finished saying,”No … sorry, I’m not Judy’s daughter,” that he had mistaken me for someone else.

I went on with my run pausing to snap a few photographs of the misty January light that covered the low-lying land making it difficult to see clearly beyond what was close up. About a mile or so into my run, I stopped suddenly after I realized that I had answered his question without the slightest hesitation and had in fact given him misinformation because my mother’s name is Judy, making me Judy’s daughter. While he was clearly thinking of someone else, the irony of my response was not lost on me.

Most of the time I don’t think about my mother. She doesn’t exist for me except in memories, none of which are pleasant. Occasionally, she creeps into my subconscious like she did last night showing up in my dreams where she behaved as she has in real life. In my dream, she sat across a table from me refusing to speak or even acknowledge my presence. The table was designed to roll a bowling ball back and forth between two people making interaction even more necessary than the game usually requires. Bowling was something she loved to do and I imagine she still does. I would not know now what she does or doesn’t do only that she has no involvement in the lives of her two eldest daughters or the three children they share between them.

The last I heard, she was living in Madison, Alabama where she moved after marrying Bill, her fourth husband. I took my daughter Miranda to see them marry in 1994. It was the last time I saw her. She cut me out of her life twice, once at 14 and later at 34, covering a span of 28 years so that now she has been absent from my life for more years than she has been in it. When she cut off all communication with me the first time, a therapist said that after a while it would be as if she had died.

It wasn’t. It was painful and sad, but I felt hopeful when she finally responded after an eleven year silence only to struggle through ten more years of distant and difficult communication where only one of us seemed interested in building a healthy relationship.

By the time she stopped speaking to me the second time I was older, a mother myself with a daughter I loved so completely that I was even more confused as to how a mother could abandon a child in the way that my mother had. I stopped caring so much after that and found a sense of peace about her lack of interest that was easy to maintain most of the time.

A few years ago, my mother completed a detailed book of our family genealogy. She was still in contact with Margaret then and sent a few copies of Just Folks to her. Surprisingly after years of silence, she also contacted my daughter’s father so that Miranda might have a copy. It was her first overture to Miranda, her first grandchild, in many years and while she sent the two book volume to Miranda, she never bothered to respond after Miranda sent a note back.

The saddest and most telling piece was that she left all three of her children, me, Margaret, and Pam completely out of the family history. Since she did not include her three children, she also omitted her five grandchildren. When Margaret questioned why she had not mentioned us, she said it was her history and it was about her, making it clear that her children were not part of her history. It is interesting to note that the children of distant cousins made it into the pages of family history as did her husband Bill’s childhood pictures complete with his parents, brother, and sister. Family pets from as far back as 1951 can also be found there in photographs, having secured a place in the genealogy book that her children and grandchildren did not.

So you can see how when I said without thinking that I was not Judy’s daughter, it was because for so much of my life I have not been regarded as such and I think I actually forgot that once upon a time, I was Judy’s daughter.

She will be 70 later this year and with her history recorded as it currently exists, it is a sad legacy that it will one day it appear that she died childless when all around her were her children trying so hard to be seen.

Estrogen Overload

For part of last week and much of this one, my husband John found himself surrounded by a houseful of feminine energy. Did he shirk from it … not at all. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever seen him look as content as he did over the last week with both of his daughters and his granddaughter here for the Easter holiday. I snapped this photo quickly from a distance peeking over a bed of flowers while trying to hide behind the tree to the left. I wanted to catch the interaction without being observed, but John caught sight of me just as I clicked the shutter. I am not sure what was happening here, but I think John looks pleasantly overwhelmed by whatever the conversation was at the time.

This was the first time since our wedding that we were all together again and it was good to see them interacting without the stress of our wedding and first time meetings. While I had met his older daughter prior to the wedding, I did not have an opportunity to meet his younger daughter and granddaughter until a few days before.

I really enjoyed the chance to spend more time with them and to ask questions about their childhood to see what they remembered about their dad and the memories they shared growing up. It was interesting to be reminded how different a shared memory can be based on the individual experience.

Speaking of shared experience, our first visitor from America is coming over early next month … can you guess who it might be? Need a hint to narrow the field … our American visitor shares something in common with me besides estrogen.

Finding The Roots In Our Stories

Seventeen years ago, my husband’s mother died. She had not been in the best of health, but still her death was unexpected when it occurred. It happened fast. She had put a bunch of cut branches from a twisted willow tree in her garden into a vase of water to use in a floral arrangement not long before she went into the hospital. The cuttings were still in the vase with almost no water left around the new roots when my husband John noticed them a few weeks after her funeral while stopping by to check on his dad. He picked up a handful on his way out and took them home to plant around his house. Over the last seventeen years, he’s moved five different times and always taken a few cuttings grown from the original twisted willow while leaving the the larger plants behind in the ground for the new homeowners.

I loved the twisted willow that John planted in the garden here, at first because it was so pretty, and even more after he told me the story of how bits of it had moved with him over the years. My grandmother was always picking up cuttings or passing them on and the story he told reminded me of her and how she would pinch off a piece of something I’d admired and send me off with directions on how to make it grow.

Last summer I met Sarah online when she left a comment on this blog post. Later on when she and her sister Suzanne came to Cornwall on holiday, we had a chance to meet in person. Earlier this week Sarah sent me the picture below after reading my blog post here. It is a piece of twisted willow that I gave her when they were here last summer.

She planted it in a pot and now it has new roots and another story to go with it should she pass a cutting on to someone else. Sarah can tell them about her American friend that she met online because of cows and caution and how she brought home a bigger memory than just a walk through the buttercup field with her sister Suzanne and their new friend Elizabeth who kept them late that day because she had one last story to share about John, and his mother, and the twisted willow.

Suzanne, Sarah, & Elizabeth 2009


Telling Your Children The Truth

Children ask a lot of questions and some are easier to answer than others. The dreaded ones for me were never about sex or the where do babies come from type of questions because I was ready for those. I had read enough books to feel confident and even practiced the answers years before I would actually have to talk about those subjects, but the questions that left me stymied were the ones I could not have anticipated. These would be the kind of inquiries from your child where you have a split second to make a decision as to whether to tell the truth or maybe stretch it a little or even a lot.

Example # 1,  A lovely little get together with a famous bunny taken about 20 years ago. It looks as if it was going well, right  … my daughter was holding hands with the Easter Bunny and having a sweet little chat and then she spots it.

” Hey,  what’s this …  ”   Three guesses what her next question to me was.

Hanging On When It Looks Hopeless

Last year for my birthday, my husband John planned a lovely get away to St Ives. Along with an overnight stay at the sweet little B&B below, he surprised me with a stop along the way to buy a Dogwood tree for my birthday because he remembered that I had talked about missing the Dogwoods that bloomed in my Atlanta neighborhood every spring.

This is what my Dogwood looked like when we got it last September. It seems to have made it through the winter snows we had here and has even begin to put out tiny new leaves as you can see below.

We would be seeing an explosion of color by now if we were in Georgia, but the Dogwoods here will not reach their flowering peak until much later. It was early June last year when I realized that Dogwood trees grew in England. They were in full bloom then which is long after you would see their flowery bits in Atlanta.

When we brought it home last September, there as a small piece about 4 inches long that broke off in the car. John slipped it into a small vase of water and put it in the kitchen window where it sat looking like a dead stick for the last five months. I almost tossed it a couple of times, but since John has the green thumb, I deferred to him and left it there.

A few weeks ago I considered dumping it again. It looked so dead that I wondered why he was keeping it. So I took it out of its watery grave and sniped off the end. I gave it a fresh bit of water like John had been doing for months and stuck in back on the window ledge. After all this time, I did not expect much. In fact, I thought we would be tossing it into the compost bucket soon, but today I gave it a passing glance like I have all winter and guess what I saw.

The top looks the same as it has all winter, but hello, what is that I see inside the glass.

It’s new life … welcome back my little Dogwood.