Sunday, December 10, 2017

What I Wish I Could Write

At the end of a long week of waiting,  of hospice, of not knowing but knowing, my father-in-law died last week and my mother-in-law asked me to write the obituary.  Really, what she wanted was for me to type something that she had written.  That was fine - I think most obituaries are written in silly, stilted language and I wouldn't have written at all what Jack's very traditional mother would have wanted.  As it is, she got a neatly typed digital version of exactly what she wrote by hand (with a very few choppy sentences combined).  It was traditional and appropriate and perfectly fine.

When I think of obituaries, I shudder.  Such odd phrases abound, things like "wife ____ of the home" . . . where would she be if not of the home?  Do husbands keep their wives under rocks?  Stashed away in some remote place just to be trotted out in times of need?  Or maybe it means that she is still at home and not in a nursing facility.  In that case, the phrase is forgiven.  I hope someone has the sense to not write that I am "of the home" when Jack dies.  Phrases like "she loved spending time with family" or "he enjoyed hunting" just seem to gloss over what must have been such a full life.  "He was dedicated family man" is so hollow in comparison to the man that must have read bed time stories and helped his child catch tadpoles.  I suppose I just shudder to think of a whole life summed up in a few lines.

I also never get a sense of who that person really was.  I think if an obituary is going to be written and say more than I died, then I want it to be honest.  I want people to pause, to consider, and then to say, "Why yes, that was Sarah for sure."  Thinking about what I would have said about Harold would not have given us a very proper (for public consumption at least) write up in the local paper, but I have been thinking about it none the less.  It goes something like this . . .

Harold Rucker was crotchety, but he had lived long enough to earn that right, his political views reflecting his age.  Harold was narrow minded when it came to any race or religion or political affiliation other than his own, and his comments to others sometimes made me want to crawl under the floor and hide.  He was prickly.  Just plain prickly for a man that I never heard curse.  As crotchety as he could be, if he liked you, he was loyal and generous to a fault.

Despite this prickly nature, he knew everyone under the sun.  He was gregarious and never met a stranger wherever he went.  At home, he never failed to tell me I looked nice (if I actually did) or act pleased to see me on my daily visits.  He would act like he hadn't seen in me weeks and was sorely missing my company when really we had argued about politics just the day before.  Harold Rucker could dole out scathing criticism of everyone from the president to his own children, but he also could be lavish in praise.  He loved a good cookie or pie - I once heard a several minute rhapsody over the snickerdoodles a friend made for him.  He admired hard work probably more than anything else - he loved to tell about how hard Mary Jahn works and how hard his uncle the tailor worked. He despised anyone being lazy or mooching off the system, but he also had some compassion for people who deserved it, especially kids who didn't have parents to help them.

 In the last years I got to know him, what Harold seemed to enjoy most was a good drink and telling a good story.  It didn't matter if it happened eighty years ago, Harold could tell a story like it happened yesterday.  He was so firmly rooted in his past on the farm where his father grew tomatoes and his mother canned peaches; his narratives relived a lot of his days on the farm.  One of his favorite stories to tell was about the time he went to Paris for a few days and bought a car because it was cheaper than a taxi leaving it unlocked and running at the airport when he left.  He told tales about flying to Russia and his children and grandchildren - I think he was equally proud of all of them (the flying and the family).  Stories about Tony and his escapades as a child and teenager were frequently retold along with accounts of what felt like every bakery job he ever did.

Harold was a teaser - if you couldn't take it, you weren't going to get along well at all.  Brook could take it and dish it back, so they got along famously.  Other people could get their feelings hurt because he didn't handle people gently.  You just learned to fight back.  Harold didn't really respect people who didn't have common sense - either he didn't pay attention to them or his teasing could get almost mean. I think we got along because I let him be cranky when he was ill,  but I could stand up for myself at the same time.

Harold was dismissive of his intelligence, but he had a brilliant mind.  He retold every bad joke he ever heard, could recite poems from his youth that were pages long, and could repair or re-engineer nearly anything.  Even when he was old and sick, his children would still ask him how to go about solving mechanical problems.  I hope Isabella's inheritance is his analytical engineer's brain and his generosity.

I hated to see him sick and hurting.  I fretted when wasn't himself. And now, well now, I will miss him.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

One Year

Today is September 19th.  It isn't lost on me that one year ago today, one year ago right now, we were waiting in a room at OU Medical, waiting while dad was in surgery, waiting to be told that life as we knew it would be over.  We were offered the services of a chaplain.  We were told to make calls.  We did make some calls, but we declined to pray with the chaplain because we had something better.  We had the prayers of the Saints, some holding our hands right there, some praying from afar. Through the mercy and greatness of God, the faithfulness of my parents and the body, the prayers of the Saints we were given a miracle, and I don't think a day has passed that I don't remember that.

The terrible thing did not come to pass, but life as we knew it was gone because now we were aware of our fragility. Now we had been reminded how temporal life is. I had no idea how for granted I took it that my family would always be there, that we were safe.  Before, I had the luxury of ignoring a ringing phone or the beep of a cell phone.  Now, I never turn it off entirely.  I did not know how fragile we were, how dependent on each other we would become.  I might be needed.  I might need one of them.  So the phone stays on.  I also had forgotten how much I loved to just be with them.  Just to sit next to my brothers or my sister.  Just to sit and know we all have the same beginning, the same foundation, the same stories, the same remember whens. So even in the darkest days of the past year, there was joy.  We found joy in each other and  joy in the Lord as we were reminded of his blessings.  We found laughter.  We made sure to work harder at loving in the moment and not assume the tomorrows would come.

There have been hard things in the last year for all of us in all areas of our lives. Even as dad got better, life kept happening and it wasn't a smooth ride. But it has also been a year of great mercy and joy and grace.  We have been given so much.  I look at what where we have been and where we are going. Tuck and Lexi just had an anniversary.  Jack and I have our 15th in a week and a half. This weekend Harley and Ian will marry and begin the next branch of this family that my parents have worked so hard to nurture.  I look at houses being built, literal and familial. I look at spiritual journeys.  Jobs lost and found.  Miles run. Harvests made. Children taught. Loss and blessing.  So very much for one year.

This one year has been a year of tears - I cry at everything now.  I have wept in fear and grief and despair.  I have wept as encouragement and solace came.  I have weput in relief and thanksgiving. In a few days, we will cry tears of joy and gladness with Harley and Ian.  For now, I want to simply put this year away and look forward to a new year of us.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Life in General

How can it have been four months since I have posted here?  During the day, I get sucked into work and life and plan out posts in my mind but never seem to commit them to the page.

Where do I start? The rant in my head all morning has been to ask the woman on Facebook who wants our school to start an after school program for her kids until she gets off work if she voted for tax increase to give teachers a raise.  Or maybe I will ask her if she wants us to feed her kid supper and teach him to brush his teeth while we grade papers and sponsor a club all at the same time? (I might need another cup of coffee.) I won't though because I don't get into ugly things on social media and I do get it.  I really do.  What do working parents do who have little kids?  It's a problem and there simply isn't a good solution.  I am really blessed that my mom was Bell's safety net and I didn't face those problems. I am just not convinced that it is the school's job to fill yet another gap though I don't know who will if not the school.

Do I start by telling you that living with my entire family for a week (2 parents, their 5 kids each with a significant other, 5 grandkids) in one big house with 30ish more for dinner every night made me love my family but bite my tongue . . . a lot and still probably not often enough?  We just got home from the big Wilson family reunion at a Grand Lake and it was an experience, almost all good.  We rented a huge house in the same area that the cousins were staying so our house and Cousin Wes's place  became a hub for eating, drinking, laughing, swimming and tubing and just general Wilson craziness for Wilsons from North Carolina and Florida to Hawaii, from southern Oklahoma to Denver.   I already miss them. I miss getting to have four sisters instead of one.  I miss my late night talks with Cousin Mo.  I never even got a good visit with Cousin Ryan.  I grew up with so many good memories at the lake with family and am so thankful that we are continuing the tradition.  It was different though - my siblings and I haven't had that much forced togetherness in twenty years.  A few toes may have been trod upon.

Then there is the wedding!  My youngest brother is marrying the sweetest girl next month.  I am so excited for them and to have another girl whom I really like in the mix.  That means the rest of us get to host a shower in two weeks.  I honestly have never hosted anything before - not really my thing, but I so want this to be special and pretty for Harley and Ian.  Rach and I have been plotting and planning food and decor.

It's summer so that means running, gardening,  and preserving.  My own running has been good - sometimes I manage a long one but I always at least manage intervals.  We tried to do couch to 5k with Bell but it got too hot to run at dusk and she is not a morning person.  In other words, a big flop.  The garden is so-so.  We tried some new things, new varieties, and even some hydroponics.  That is a whole post in itself.  Perhaps the highlight here is that Bell wanted to learn how to make jam this year and I had wild plums that needed dealt with.   I was her age when I first helped mom make wild plum jam so this created a satisfying circle of life for me.  I didn't care about "homemaker" type things until I was in college, but maybe I can plant the same seeds in my daughter that my mom planted in
me.  I want her to know the satisfaction in growing things and making something wonderful from them.

In 17 days, life as I know it now will end and I will be sucked back into school.  At times, I bitterly
dread it, but I am also excited to try some new things, see how far I can stretch young minds, see my own friends.  I have been revamping my AP curriculum and am really hopeful that I will hit on the magic mix for my students.  That is actually on my agenda today - I went to bed last night and my mind raced with ideas I still needed to tweak and develop.  I want to get those things on paper before I lose them.

For now, I am going to finish the Saturday bonus cup of coffee and get caught up with Elephant Soap and Cindy.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Fortune Cookie Confirmation

Coming down I44 today, Jack and I wove dreams of what we would like to do with a little  land some day. Feed out a steer. Have a few goats and chickens.  Greenhouses.  Self sufficiency.  I jokingly pointed out that he was already 51 and I was 41 so that we had better get on the ball and teased that I was having second thoughts about having married an older man.

In actuality, I might find a younger man but not one who loves me more.  This weekend was the perfect example of Jack's love for me and investment in our family. We were on our way home from a quick trip to see my grandparents in Bluejacket.  It's a good five hour drive away, depending on how many times we have to stop so we don't get to go often.  Jack Dear had a few days off this week and gave them up to be my driver and my grandpa's helper.

It was not a romantic trip since the kiddo slept on an air bed in our room. It wasn't even particularly lazy.   We just happened to pick the weekend that was slated for working cattle.  Jack's presence meant enough helping hands that  Grandpa and Grandma could watch and direct while my cousins and Jack did the labor.  It didn't matter that Jack was an in-law and that these were my cousins' cows and not his.  He spent the day cheerfully helping process the cows and calves, holding calves to be cut, worming, dodging crazy cows, untangling horns and fences all while slogging around in mud and manure.

He might have earned a break after the last cow scrambled from the chute, but he kept up being a family a man through the evenings. Years ago, Jack transferred all the old Wilson home movies to DVD, but we had never had a chance to sit down and watch them.  We had the chance now so Jack spent his evenings tape recording my grandparents as they narrated the videos for us.  I am sure three hours of vacations, Christmas dinners, and horse rides got old, but I never would have gotten all the locations, faces, and dates right on my own and it was a joy to watch how big of a kick Grandma and Grandpa got out of those old movies as they relived their early years. I know he was probably worn out from tromping around in manure all day, but he gamely set up the recorder and soaked up some Wilson lore.

I cannot calculate the value of a man who every day shows his love to me and mine through not just words, but with his every action.  He was so patient with everyone this weekend.  The rain was miserable on the drive up.  Tempers flared in the corral.  Grandpa hurt too much to be cheerful company.  Bella was sometimes bored.  I was generally busy in the kitchen.  Through it all, including shoe shopping for Bell on the way home, Jack was ready with a smile, a kiss, a flirty pat, a laugh, a helping hand, whatever I needed, whenever I needed it . . . Even  if helping me meant he was really putting his shoes on to do go do a chore so my grandad didn't have to.  I think too many people never get past the idea of love being a sweet word connected to canoodling.  Jack can still make my heart go pitter patter with a look, but I think we would have a such a desolate life if that is all we had to offer each other.

On the way home, we stopped at a Pei Wei for lunch.  The slip of paper in my fortune cookie said "love is a gift that you can give again every day."  Perhaps some people would rather see "you will win the lottery," but I think I would rather give love and be given love in return.  I watch my grandparents with each other, the tenderness and care they show.  They may be in their late eighties, but, oh my, are they still in love.  That love spills into the way they raised their children, the way they hold their grandchildren, they way share their stories with their great grands.  This morning I over heard Grandma telling Bell "when your momma was little, we used to . . ."  And I stood in the hall, tearing up listening to them.  It's a family thing - it means that cousins help work cows and uncles give their nieces a ride on a horse. Watching Ben and Bell on a yellow horse reminded me a lot of Ben  riding his horse Babe with me when I was little.  I see the love my parents so carefully guard and nourish.  I see that love in the way my husband looks at me and  looks at our child, in his touch, in his word.   I look forward to a life of that kind of giving.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Girls Trip

   Really it has only been in the last few years that Rachel and I have hung out much together.  The twenty year age gap means that it took some time  before we had enough common interests and free time at the same times to really do fun things together without one of us being the grown up and one of being the kid. We have gone to my grandparents' farm for a sisters' visit a few times and had toyed with a fall trip but other family things intervened.  This past weekend, I had a long weekend and Rachel finagled days off to match mine, so off to Bluejacket we went. Jack can't really leave his parents now and I have a few hundred baby plants to tend, so he graciously opted to stay home to let me have a getaway with Ra.
     I think this was the most carefree and relaxed I have felt since our stolen day of hiking at New Years. Bluejacket is like going home for me.  It hasn't been in years and years, but my roots are there . . . holidays were spent there until fairly recently, summers sweated there . . It just feels like coming home when I round that curve coming out of Timber Hill and descend into town.  The rail road crossing, the sad little football field, the final curve before their farm is nestled in gentle slopes and held in by creeks at the edge of town.    When I pull up before that old brick house and the shabby barns, I can just feel all the weights of the world slide off my shoulders as I exhale.
     My grandparents are in their  eighties so it isn't as if this was a vacation where we were pampered and spoiled, though my Grandmother made some wonderful brisket and chicken stew and dumplings.  Instead, bright and early Saturday, Grandpa hit us up to fix up the fence around the chicken coop.  Several years ago, Jack, Dad and my brothers built this fabulous, huge chicken coop and yard for them, but eventually, they quit keeping chickens and it fell into disrepair . The coop became became a storage shed and cows invaded the yard. A friend recently gifted them with 9 fat red hens, and it was time to give that coop a face lift. We drove posts, put up cow panels (at Grandpa's decree though I felt like the chickens would escape)(and after we cut them out of wild rose bushes and green briars and  Grandpa  drug them through several acres of mud puddles and cow pies), scavenged old wire . . . It is the ugliest chicken yard ever but it is not going to fall down in a wind storm or be pushed over by a cow.  Those hens were so happy to be out of the coop and scratching in the grass and muck.
      Of course, the next day those wily hens did escape.  As fast as my cousin would grab a chicken and put it in the pen, two more would find freedom. We had to string the chicken wire I   suspected from the beginning that we'd need.  And of course, just like the old panels and old wire we  had to beat into shape, the chicken wire was bent and had tree roots frowning into it. I appreciate not having to buy materials, but it takes a lot more work to reuse old things that have been allowed to rust away. Ra and I spent the better part of the weekend wading around in cow and chicken poo while we made repairs, but oddly, that is the most content I have been in weeks.  Other than our hike, it is the most at peace I have been in months.  We chatted and joked whole we worked really well as a team despite the age and personality differences. There was something deeply satisfying about menial labor on the family farm, labor that might make my grandparents'  chores a bit easier, and doing the work with someone I love.
     It wasn't all chicken mess.  We helped my grandmother clear limbs out of the yard - so many had fallen over the winter from those trees that are getting old.  Grandma told us the stories behind them - the one that had been a seedling in her mother's yard, the one that was my grandpa's favorite, the ones that they planted when they first bought that farm. At one point I looked up to see my long legged sis scrambling up a tree.  Grandma says she is the only grandkid to have climbed that one. I was delighted that this girl who can make boys drool can still be a kid when she needs to be.
      We heard about the time my grandpa hitchiked to California and became a forestry service fire fighter and then joined the marines.  We heard a man sing Amazing Grace in Cherokee at church. We  got stuck in the truck when the doors jammed.  We went for a run together. We cooked together.
      We laughed, we ate, we hugged long lost cousins, we teased - we  just soaked up the spring like  weather and love that we always find on that farm.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Blue Sky Satisfaction

 Just look at that sky. No filters. It was the last day of Christmas break and the temps were closer to spring than winter, bumping 70 with only a gently breeze.  It was also really the first day that we weren't doing something with my family or Jack's family, that someone wasn't a little or a lot sick, or that we weren't tied up with actual work and repairs that needed to happen around the place.  I had so hoped to sneak in visits with more friends, maybe a cup of coffee with at least one, maybe multiple adventure days, but it just wasn't meant to be.  Instead, we traded head colds, used an extraordinary number of tissues, and didn't get out much at all besides trips to my parents or for groceries and chauffeur duty for the in-laws.  I did read a lot of fluff, we watched a million episodes of Mythbusters, and Christmas cooking and baking happened and just kept happening.  But those are not as deeply satisfying as adventure and outdoors, so on this last day of freedom we drove the nearly two hours to the Quartz Mountains and found that adventure.

Bella is not always a very enthusiastic hiker - she takes more breaks than she moves and if we ever do get her going, she over does it, takes a tumble, and then is weepy and never wants to go again.  Today was unusually perfect. No fussing, no quarreling, no excessive breaks.  She was up for anything.  We wandered very poorly marked trails without a map - there is one that I took a picture of but there was a distinct lack of markers and it wasn't much to scale. We were well on our way up one trail and hit a "closed for hunting season" sign so had to do some backtracking.  Jack snagged a geocache. We found the most wonderful walking trail around the bottom of Baldy Point.  It was strictly walking through the woods around the base of the mountain, but it was a really beautiful walk with all sorts of things to explore (caves) and to avoid (bee hives) and to look for (was it a squatch or just a rabbit?).   We made it around the base and almost up to the top of Baldy Point when Miss Bell had a mishap and sat on a prickly pear cactus.  Then we had about twenty minutes of Jack removing cactus spines from Bella's back and shirt.  She was a trooper.  We ended up not going to the top but going off trail around the upper third and down the other side hooking into a trail we had looked for that morning and missed.  Next time we will get the rest of it. Part way around and down, Bell saw a cool outcropping and had to mountain goat up nearly to the top of the mountain to it.  She and I explored up while Jack scouted a way off the mountain.  When she got to her outcrop, the sketch journal came out and she needed an art break to record the mountains across from us.

It was a day of poking with burned sticks, squishing moss, determining what animal likely made what poop, being honked at by wild geese overhead, scaring quail, dumping scree out of our shoes, and throwing away a glove that was just to cactus filled to save. We went up rock faces on hands and knees and sometimes had to come down almost sitting.  We laughed and explored, and Lordy, it was a beautiful last day of freedom.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Mercy Beyond Measure

Here I sit, with coffee in bed on this first frosty morning of the fall; I should be cozy and content, yet I find myself snotty and teary.  I don't even know exactly why.  I am a mess of emotion, part worry, part thankfulness.  Part tired and stressed. Just weepy.

Partly,  I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for my dad.  For those of you who don't know, he came home about two weeks ago.  Dad is walking, talking, eating, putting his own clothes on, taking showers - all the normal things one does, just with a neck brace.  He will have more physical therapy later when the neck brace comes off.  We don't know if he will be able to return to life like it was before.  For certain, there will be some limitations but we just don't know what kind or how many yet. There are still problems that have yet to resolve themselves so we don't yet what the future looks like.  I do know this:  I have never been so thankful to hear anyone's chuckle of amusement as I have his.  I have never before been so grateful to hold someone's hand and have them squeeze back as I am with him.  We have been given a second chance in our family.  The terrible thing did not happen.  My mother still has her soulmate, and we children still have our father.

I think back to that first terrible day and night, that first week.  I think of watching my brothers, grown men who seem to handle anything, nearly broken.  I remember watching Ben crying silently and praying at 2:00 AM and thinking that I wish that driver could see him.  I wanted to take that man, lead him to my father, whose face was all that visible, body covered in tubes and machines. Take him to Rachel, still a baby at 21, still needing her parents whole.   Take him to Ben, tears coursing down his face, and say, "Look.  Look at what you have done. This is my family and look what you have done to them." I am not angry. I really am not bitter.  People kept saying that I shouldn't be bitter.  The thing is, when I think of the driver, I am not angry.  I don't wish him ill. I hope he will be wiser in the future, more cautious, but goodness, we have all been guilty of inadvertently harming someone in someway at sometime.   Instead of wishing him ill, I have been concerned - I cannot think what it would be to know I had caused this much harm to someone.  I think of all the things we are not careful in, things we are ALL not careful in, not just him on that day.

Do we live deliberately or do we float through life, careless in our thoughts and actions?  My dad has lived deliberately for a very long time, his choices in his work, where he lived, how he raised his children all a reflection of his commitment to God.  No, my father is not a perfect man, but he is always becoming a better man.  Both my parents live this way.  I wonder how confidently we could have prayed had my dad been a different man, how much faith would have held my mom up had she been a different woman.  I know that God gave us great mercy and I believe that mercy was given because my family, particularly my parents have been faithful to Him. Can we all expect great mercy?  Are we living deliberately?

I think of that driver - I haven't spoken to him.  I don't know him.  But I wonder if he was floating along or deliberately, actively focused on being careful.  Then these thoughts spill to me.  How often am I deliberately careful with my thoughts and words and actions.  Do I float along?  Do I work at thinking and doing and speaking things that are Christlike? Somehow the idea of not being careful enough driving has become this bigger idea of being careful with my life and the lives that have been put in my care - my husband and child, my parents and siblings, my in laws and extended family, my students and co-workers.  No, I am not deliberately bad, I am not deliberately careless, but I also think I am not always consciously choosing to be careful with what I have and who I am responsible for.

Deliberately. Carelessly.  Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately. I would like to think I am deliberately living - choosing for my life to be be  meaningful.  I know that mercy beyond measure has been shown to my father, to me and mine, in simply having Dad alive.  Perhaps equally merciful is a reminder to live carefully, to make each day matter in the right ways.  I want to have that peace and confidence in God's mercy and faithfulness toward me.  I want to know that better than only doing no harm, I did something good.  I think I needed reminding about the choices I make, while there was time to be reminded.

I look at this day of Thanksgiving that approaches.  I cannot believe that November is half over - I still feel like I missed half the fall. Blessedly, we have been given so much more and been reminded to savor each moment of it.