EULOGY FOR A GOOD MAN

My uncle Bruce Perry died June 1, 2019. It was a relief for him and everybody who loved him, because his body decided to quit before his mind and spirit were ready, and left him in great pain until his soul was finally released. Nevertheless, we all will miss him for a long time.

Uncle Bruce was one of those people that so many cynics would say, “Nobody is that terrific! You’re either ignorant or hiding something!”

He wasn’t perfect. He was always the first to admit that. He had a temper, he was impatient, and he had opinions that could put people’s backs up. But he was a solid family man, loved his wife even after she died, loved and worried about his sons and their children, didn’t drink, didn’t gamble, and only smoked cigars for a while.

Although he played for some time in a country and western band in honky-tonks, it was more for the pleasure of making music with his friends than any other reason. He worked hard during the days at various jobs, supporting his family and saving his money so that he and his wife could have a worry-free retirement. They looked forward to growing old together.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way. His wife became ill and their savings were drained. After she passed away, his health got worse and he spent more time than he wanted to in the hospital. His eyes and his ears began failing, totally frustrating him because he could no longer hear his beloved music, or easily read the Bible studies that were his main interest. He had to move in with his son Barney after his son Clay who had been living with and watching over him passed away. Such are the afflictions of age.

He didn’t like the change in his circumstances and it frustrated and annoyed him that he could no longer be independent, but he understood it. What he couldn’t understand was one anxiety that he could not get rid of and spoke to me continually about: Was he really saved?

When he first brought it up in conversation, I was astonished. I didn’t know many men who embodied the Christian virtues more than him. He had not always gone to church, but never stopped his prayers and Bible study. He didn’t smoke, drink, fool around, gamble, cuss, and very rarely spoke critically of other people.

I began to think he was sort of like Job. He was never rich with 10 kids, but there wasn’t much the Devil could use to torment him. He lost his wife, oldest son, and a grandchild , but that didn’t affect his relationship with God. He lost his savings and was cheated out of a lot of money by people he trusted, but he didn’t get angry with God. He lost his health, and then his independence, but he didn’t lose his faith.

What he lost was his confidence in his salvation. All the Devil could use was the guilt of a child and he used it well. You see, when my uncle was young they had preachers who, especially during revivals, would pressure the youths to ‘come forward and be saved!’ so they could quote numbers of souls saved. Services could last a long time until somebody came forward.

During one such service he and several other ‘unsaved’ boys were getting weary of the constant exhortations of the preacher and one finally suggested they just go forward and claim to repent and get baptized just so they could finally go home and get some sleep. Exhaustion won out over their reluctance to lie in church, and they went forward as a group.

Ever since, Uncle Bruce felt guilty about his lie and wondered if it meant he had never really been saved. He worried about it constantly. He knew and believed I talked with God all the time and asked me if I could find out if he was really saved. I told him God said, “He’d better wise up and stop letting the Devil get between them.” I had to repeat that often.

I don’t think he worries about it anymore. I figure if he showed up at the Pearly Gates and hesitated to go in because he wasn’t sure he qualified, Jesus might come out and grab him by the ear to drag him inside. I imagine he’s picking and grinning with an angel band now, and getting all his questions about things he read in the Bible answered. No painful failing body to bother him, no more anxiety, no more worries, but surrounded by love. A fitting end for a good man.

Deja Vu (What, Again?)

We survived another August.  Barely.  The aftershocks are lingering, keeping us from our rest, but at least the outside temperature has dropped 10 degrees.  Sure, it’s only dropped from 102 to 92 degrees, but you have to appreciate the small stuff or scream, right?  Right?  Excuse me, I have to press a pillow over my face for a moment…

I wrote a previous blog, The Ides of August, about the trials that strike my family during the infamous month.  This year is up for top awards in the “I’m really tired of this…” category.  My sister came down with her second round of ovarian cancer.  It’s been very painful for her, expensive, frustrating, and exhausting for her and me both.  She had surgery in May to remove the cancer they could find, then began chemotherapy.  It didn’t go well.  She has had strong reactions to the drugs.

But because August has to show up the rest of the calendar, the first of the month found her back in the hospital having major abdominal surgery AGAIN.  The rest of the month has had her in wound care and physical therapy, and me playing nurse, chauffeur, cook, housemaid, and donkey since she was ordered not to carry anything.  She still has all the usual ‘fun’ of cancer like uncooperative taste buds, neuropathy, weakness, exhaustion, and exorbitant medical bills.

Experience has caused our family to adopt a policy of never leaving members in the hospital alone.  I was staying with her but had to run home for a day to pay bills and wash clothes.  As anybody who has been there knows, you don’t get much sleep in a hospital. The hospital they put her in was almost four hours away, so I was even more exhausted by the time I got home.  I was going to spend one night at home, so I was rushing to get laundry done and paying as many bills online as possible.

Of course, I made a mistake.  It just had to be on the biggest payment – our mortgage.  I completely forgot I had just the month before set it up for automatic payments.  Yep, I paid it twice.  And I didn’t notice, until a week later when the overdraft fees and chiding alerts began arriving on my account.  I live on a fixed income and a very tight budget.  My sister’s bout with cancer left her unable to work and with no money to add to the family budget.  I immediately contacted the mortgage company and they said, hey, no problem, send us a bank statement showing both the payments and we’ll send one of the payments back.

You guessed it.  It is now September, and I just spent a very frustrating call with the company.   Frustrating first because the static on the line was so bad, I asked him to send me an email because I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.  Second, because, duh, I still don’t have my money so I am going to be short this month but they said my account shows the money was supposed to be sent to me August 25.  Then where is it???  Third, they took my September payment, but NOT ALL OF IT.  Why? They are researching. Gah.

My sister had her chemo drugs changed, and it helped, and her surgery is healing well.  But she still can’t work, she’s still in pain, and she still is pretty shaky on her feet.  Then our oven stopped working.  Then the hot water heater blew a gasket (actually, literally…).  Luckily (?) I noticed before it flooded the kitchen.  (Forty gallons of hot water? Eesh.  Welcome to the jungle…)  So no hot showers, no dishwasher use, and no baking until we get these appliances replaced.  Repair is no use, we were told.  Of course not.

We deal.  Life goes on, and we have endured worse.  I have a teakettle to heat water.  The air conditioner is working, the cold water still runs, and my sister lives.  We have a home.  We have a car.  We have food to eat.  We have family and we have friends.  My sister gets cheered by Skype calls from the newest member of the family born in May, and his grandmother, our sister.  Later this month an even newer member will arrive from our sister’s other daughter, who has triumphed with a second child after five miscarriages.

People shake their heads and ask how I can laugh about our travails.  Oh, I keep the screaming for my bedroom.  I hate watching people grab their ears.  But, mostly, it’s because God gave me a sense of humor to endure such frustration and constant tripping over life’s rocks.  What’s the point of being given a useful gift if you never get to use it?  Heh.  Careful what you ask for, trust me.  If He gives you something, you’ll usually get lots of opportunities to use it.

I noticed my year has been so chaotic I haven’t blogged for a while.  Sorry.  I need to write up a bunch during the odd moments I’m not dashing around doing and can actually sit and think so I can schedule them for publication.  I have been on Twitter meeting other writers and some admittedly odd characters, but it’s been fun.  If you’re actually interested, my Twitter handle is @ghostwriter4God.

I have finished my third book and named it Angels With Attitude.  Of course, it’s available on Amazon in print or Ebook, like Once Upon a Christmastime and Standing Next to a Miracle.

I have also contributed a story titled Sweet Talking Man to a sweet romance anthology called Cool Weather, Warm Hearts.  It will be released in Ebook form October 30 but is available for pre-order now.  The proceeds will go to two charities, The Magical Moon Foundation which helps sick children and their families and The Wounded Warrior Project which helps our Vets!  For those of you as ignorant as I had been about terminology, ‘sweet’ romances mean no sex.  I would assume it also means no vulgarities of speech or actions.  I don’t write that sort of thing, so I didn’t have to censor myself.

I hope your year is going better.

 

All Warm and Cozy

It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’ve just finished my first cup of coffee.  I’d love to go back to sleep, but I have a plumber coming in today so I need to stay awake and get some work done before he gets here.  He was here yesterday working on several plumbing issues, and one of them waited until he was gone to suddenly spout another leak.  Now he has to come back and check his work or fix yet another problem.  He told us yesterday to get an electrician to check the wiring in our house.  When my sister got home she moaned, “This place is becoming a money pit!” A little dramatic, but accurate.

It’s Christmastime, and we still have gifts to purchase and wrap.  Several of my friends are staring at empty chairs after losing loved ones this year.  The news is full of sad stories, bad weather, foolish politics, and stupid scandals.  My arthritis is flaring, and my sleep patterns are erratic.

But you know what? I DON’T CARE.  Life is good.  I’m working part-time as a substitute teacher at a local small school, and I find it fascinating.  Frustrating, annoying, and exasperating, yes, but that happens anytime you deal with kids.  I enjoy getting to know the kids and helping them further their education.  It’s not just babysitting while the teacher is away.  My favorite moment was watching all the young ones from 3-year-olds in the Head Start Program through the 5th graders practice their Christmas program.  I know it was maddening for the teachers to try to corral them and get them to practice, but I adored watching the children just enjoy their day, running around, climbing all over the bleachers in the gym, and just being children.  Too many adults have lost the ability to live in the moment.

I had a good time last week when the local book club reviewed my first book, “Once Upon A Christmastime”.  Here is a link to the article posted about it in the local newspaper: Once Upon a Christmastime Review.  I was quite chuffed to hear them complain it was too short and they wanted a longer collection for next Christmas.  I’ve already got some story ideas lined up.  One of the club members posted a review of it on Goodreads: Kacy A Jey’s Review.  More than one of the members ran local bed and breakfasts and inns and said they were placing the book out for guests to read.

It’s always nice to hear they like the way you write, but it warmed my heart to hear it helped them get into the Christmas spirit, especially when, as one member said, she definitely wasn’t.  I smiled when they said at least two of the stories would make good Hallmark stories because my stories always seem like movies to me.  I would love to see them made into movies because I like to help lift the spirits of people.  Having people in a good mood around me makes all of life so much easier.

Especially when I still don’t have a working toilet and I have to clean house.  Merry Christmas!

Talk To Me!

Communication is important, especially between large numbers of people all coming together for the same reason.  No, I’m not talking about protest marches or football games.  I’m talking about something much more important: pot-luck meals.  Don’t think that’s a big deal?  You must not have ever been to one.

If you’ve never come across the term, it means everybody attending brings some kind of food.  It is also referred to as a covered-dish meal, probably because not that long ago, you had to keep the food covered against insects and dirt until the meal started.

Family or friend pot-luck dinners are one thing.  You generally call around, checking to see what everybody is bringing, and the hostess usually makes sure there will be enough meat and side dishes and desserts.  But when the occasion becomes bigger, communication is even more important.

Church pot-lucks, for example.  All you have to do is go to one where the meat runs out before the line of eaters is finished to realize somebody should have been in charge of coordinating what everybody brought and figuring how many would be there.  The latter is sometimes impossible to predict, but at least there was a chance that somebody would be aware that there were only a couple of meat dishes and way too many side dishes.

These past few weeks I have been at functions that brought home the importance of communication.  In our area, the usual ritual is to have a meal after a funeral or memorial service, so that family and friends could gather and share their grief and love for the departed one.  Friends always took care of planning the meal, because the family had their hands full with grief and trying to deal with arrangements for the funeral or memorial service.

I have been to many of these meals since I am friends with many in our rural area and small towns.  Some of them are small with mostly family attending, but a couple have been enormous with a huge number of relatives and even more friends.  At one of the largest, the deceased’s employer had offered to cater the meal, and the family paid a young woman to meet the caterers and arrange the food at the community center where the meal would be held, while the mourners were finishing up the funeral at the graveside nearby.

Not everybody knew this, including me.   I personally brought several foods, meat and a couple of side dishes, I think.  I got there early, forgoing the graveside service, figuring I could help with the meal since the ladies who usually dealt with it were family members of the deceased and were at the graveside service.  I discovered the young woman arranging everything in the kitchen, which had two doors and a long counter, with two or three long tables for added surface space.

This immediately told me two things: one, she didn’t know how meals worked in our community center, and two, she had not seen how many mourners had been at the funeral.  I had and knew her arrangement was not going to work.  She was surprised and balked a little when I advised her the drinks and desserts needed to go in the main dining hall on larger tables.  She began to believe me when more ladies began showing up with more food, and the counter began being covered.  She had not even set out the meal the caterers had brought yet, keeping it warm in the oven and cool in the refrigerator.

She was astonished and a little dismayed when we finally had everything set up, with three long tables covered with desserts, two long tables covered with tea and coffee and a cooler on the floor full of ice and another full of canned drinks, and a kitchen with a long counter and two long tables all crowded with food.  “Won’t this be too much food?” she worried.  No, it wasn’t.  By the time the family and friends made their way through the line past all the food, the large amount of food the caterers provided and the extra food the friends of the family brought had dwindled to a few desserts.  If the friends of the family had not brought their dishes, only half the mourners would have had anything to eat.  NOT knowing about the catered food saved that meal.

Last week, another meal after a memorial service occurred.  The widow had asked the ladies of her church, which included me, to take care of arranging for food and drink for the family and friends later at a different community center.  One of the most experienced ladies here contacted all the usual members who donated food for these meals and figured whether we needed more or less of one food or another.  It was going to be simple, with only water to drink and sandwiches and soup and desserts for the food.  The only sticking point was how much would be needed since the family had many friends not from our area who would be attending.

The ladies of the church all brought our food, and the lady in charge made sure it got to the community center and got it set up with a few other women.  Few from our church and local area could attend the meal since it was almost an hour away and it was a weeknight with everybody needing to work the next day.  It was mostly the ladies who were retired who went to the community center to help out.  We got the sandwiches and soup set out and worried if there would be enough after seeing how many mourners had been at the memorial service.

We didn’t need to worry.  Apparently, the widow had not told their other friends that her church was handling the meal.  One man walked in with several large pizzas.  One came in with an enormous pan of barbecued sausages.  Desserts galore began crowding the dessert tables.  Boxes and boxes of fried chicken pressed up against the other meats. By the time they decided to start eating, the dishes were fighting for space on the long line of tables.

When everybody declared themselves stuffed there was still a large amount of food left, and the widow said she could not take it all home.  Then she had a brilliant idea.  She came up to us as we were contemplating all the remaining food and announced, “I solved it!  I just told all the college students they could take all this food back to their dorms!”  It was a perfect solution.  We got rid of the excess food, the kids got food for a week, and they did all the heavy labor of hauling the food to their vehicles, leaving us to just clean up.

Communication when coordinating is very important.  Sometimes you get all the information needed, and sometimes not.  Sometimes you just get lucky despite the missing information.

A SLICE OF AMERICAN LIFE

A few days ago I enjoyed a weekend experiencing that staple of small town Americana, the high school Homecoming.  For those who have never seen various movies or grew up in large urban areas or have never lived in the United States, let me explain.

In most small towns large enough to have a high school and a football team, they hold an annual celebration called a Homecoming, where alumni who remember their high school days fondly (or wonder about their classmates’ lives in the years between graduation and the present) gather back together for a day or two.  A pep rally is held to cheer for the football team and raise enthusiasm for the following game.  The alumni are recognized.  There is usually a parade at some point with groups of alumni creating and riding in floats, on trailers, or sometimes just vehicles.

I graduated from a town in north Texas named Rising Star.  There were 21 in my graduating class as I recall (haven’t located my yearbook yet), and at least two of them were juniors who took extra classes to get the necessary credits to graduate a year ahead.  The entire high school had a total of about 100 students the year I graduated.  We were so small that during the field and track season, there were only about three students who were not involved in the various events.  I was one of them.  We would spend the entire day in study hall with one teacher when the track meets were held out of town.

In a town this small, football is a huge deal.  Homecoming weekend is pretty much the biggest deal of the year, except for perhaps the Halloween school carnival.  People who have been away for decades come back for it. The representative for our class who went to the alumni business meeting  (yes, they have those) said they had started a roll call of alumni classes with the 2015 graduating class, and she finally left when they reached 1948, and were still going.

I graduated in 1976.  Forty years I’ve been away, and this was the first time I had made it back for a Homecoming even though I lived only four hours away.  Why so long?  Mostly, I think, I was so busy living my life I wasn’t really curious about my classmates, and hadn’t really been involved in the town or the school in the two years I spent there before I graduated.

Now, however, I’m retired, and thanks to social media and the enthusiasm of classmates who did want to gather, I decided to go.  About half the class was able to make it, one even despite nearly dying in an auto accident in August.  Several classmates still lived there in the still very small town and one was even a businessman and city council member.  (Still shaking my head over that, Johnny.  You, a politician?)

I had a terrific time, I have to admit, and also have to admit I was pleasantly surprised.  My sister had gone to her graduating class’ Homecoming several years before and was not inclined to ever repeat it.  She went with me only to provide transportation and get away for a weekend and figured she would get in a good amount of reading while I socialized.

She forgot that, even though she graduated from a different school after our family moved following my graduation, she had gone to Rising Star’s junior high school with the younger siblings of my classmates.  Since she has an incredible memory, she remembered them. Once she started asking my classmates about them, she found herself caught up in regular conversation and never did get to her reading until we were back at our hotel.

I was having a great time, too.  I wasn’t so much interested in nostalgic memories, since I spent the two years I’d been in school there working when I wasn’t in class, and had zero interest in sports of any kind, so I had rarely been to any of the games.  I had not socialized much due to my work hours and mostly remembered my classmates from our time in classes.

I was fascinated by how they had spent the years between, and how their lives had turned out.  I had never been able to use the scholarship I had been awarded for an out of state college, but had wound up accomplishing more in my career than I had ever dreamed I would and had done the things I had always wanted to, like writing nationally read published works (training material and procedural manuals, but hey, they made life easier for a lot of people).

I was delighted to find several of my classmates had become teachers.  I figured that had made our class sponsor, our English teacher, laugh really hard after the hard time we gave her.  (Sorry, Mrs. Burns, if I ever made you gnash your teeth!)  Some of us had gone into the medical field.  Some, like Johnny, had become businessmen and women.  Some had become civil servants like myself.  One had become a pastor (yeah, still shaking my head over that one, too, Clark).

Most of us had gone through health problems, several of us with breast cancer.  We lost some classmates to accidents, and even one to an unsolved murder.  One we had even more sadly lost to suicide.  Like many small towns, some of those had been family members and the mourning was doubled.

It was, in the end, the kind of family reunion you wished you could always go to, where the conversation flowed freely as well as the laughter, many hugs were exchanged, experiences were gasped and laughed over, and good food was shared.  Old pictures and news clippings were pored over.  There were no snide remarks made, no sniping at each other, or ugly memories recalled (at least not in my hearing).  I was, again, in awe of people like Tami and Denise and Brenda and Marilyn (okay, I need to quit), who could remember everything that happened to EVERYBODY. I can’t remember what happened to me half the time.

We joined together enthusiastically just as we had those decades ago for the pep rally, the football game, and for decorating our cars and riding them in the very short parade, waving madly at the townspeople who lined the single street we went down. (Note to self: anytime a parade is even mentioned in passing, get a big bag of small candies to throw to the kids, just in case you get to be in it.  It’s important!)

After the parade, we joined one last time in cleaning up what we could before we had to rush back to south Texas.  (Sorry, Brenda, I know we probably should have done more!)  It was hard saying goodbye, but my sister took many photographs, and that will help.  As we all agreed, social media is great for staying in touch, and hopefully we will see each other before we’re too old to enjoy it again.

So, here’s hoping life will get even better for you guys, as I hope it will for me.  I was so glad to see you again, Bonnie, Brenda, Robert, Tami, Denise, Marilyn, Marion, Johnny, Teco, Susan, Nancy, Kim, and others whose names I cannot remember (sorry, I totally blame the chemo!) but thoroughly enjoyed meeting.  I asked my sister to check my list of names since her memory is better, but this was the best I could do.  And for any of you who weren’t there, yeah, of course we talked about you, but at least we didn’t nominate you for a committee!

Time marches on, the saying goes, and sometimes it marches in a great direction, leading folks back to each other.  I’m looking forward to having it circle around again. Thanks for the memories, as Bob Hope liked to say.  Love you all.

Surviving Mother Nature

As I sit and watch the news, most of it is about the weather.  It gives me great pleasure and gratitude that I am in a very small area of the United States that has survived the current blast of winter weather afflicting the rest of the nation with barely any damage.  But everybody else – hooboy!  For all who don’t recognize the term, ‘hooboy!’ is an exclamation pretty much equivalent to ‘OMG!’.

I have been through forest fires before aerial support was available and blizzards with only a wood stove and been caught in flash floods in pitch black darkness.  I remember walking across a parking lot in Austin, Texas on a day when the wind began gusting to speeds I had never known, and it lifted me off my feet for a few terrifying seconds.  I’ve survived tornadoes, hurricanes, and blistering heat that took away my breath.

I’ve been grateful that Winter Storm Goliath (I just love that they’ve started naming them like hurricanes) has pretty much just left my area with a glancing blow.  The places I used to live were not so lucky.  I lost a cousin several years ago when he was a lineman trying to help Oklahoma blizzard victims get their power lines back up, and now Oklahoma is suffering again.  I’ve been praying for those volunteers trying to get the power restored for them.

One of my Facebook friends just posted that the local emergency alert system posted a warning about a freezing fog.  I used to live in his area, and I’m glad I no longer do, because – hooboy, again – does that bring back a memory!

When I was a girl we lived in the Ozarks in Missouri. One year while we were out of school during Christmas vacation, it became very warm. It stayed warm long enough for the dormant trees to have their sap start rising and flowers start blooming. It was like late spring and everyone enjoyed it thoroughly.

In those days before weather apps and satellites and accurate weather reports, families, farmers, and everybody else was caught by surprise and shock when, after a heavy warm fog descended and lingered for a day or so, the temperature crashed to below freezing. Way below freezing. We lived in the country up in the hills in heavy woods. We awoke to what sounded like a war outside.

Since our home was heated by a wood stove, it was also cold. While dad swiftly lit a fire that had been unnecessary for quite a while, we tried to rub the windows clear only to find the ice was all over the outside. The explosions and cracks and snaps were the tree branches exploding as the sap suddenly froze and expanded.  Tree limbs of all sizes were fragmented and sent flying through the air. 

The first thing we had noticed on getting out of bed was the lack of electricity.  Sure enough, the ice had coagulated on the power lines and brought them down.  My dad struggled outside after the trees quieted and looked around as best he could.  He reported when he returned that there was about an inch of ice on everything.  

We weren’t able to find out how the rest of the area was faring until the freeze thawed and the population was able to get around some, and the power was restored to our non battery radios and television.  We knew it was dire enough where we were, since we had to constantly struggle to get to our wood supply and bring it in, and worse yet, find a way to get water.  Our water came from an underground water supply that required an electric pump to bring it into the house.

So did all our neighbors, except for an elderly couple living a couple of hills away.  They still had an old fashioned hand pump water system.  Our dad joined all the other men on our road slipping and sliding their way to the couple’s house carrying what they could to haul water.  They had to walk, because vehicles could not handle the ice at all.

The cold was intense.  My sisters and I joined together in one old iron framed bed, just large enough to hold two girls at the top and two at the bottom, and my youngest sister, barely a toddler, stayed warm between our parents in their bed.  We huddled around the stove in the living room when we were forced to get up long enough to eat.  Our small home had been built before insulation, and was drafty.  Going to the bathroom was unpleasant, and we ignored personal hygiene until we had water again.  But we had it good, considering what others had to deal with.

Remember me saying that farmers were taken by surprise, too?  Our area of the Ozarks was farm country.  Lots of dairy cattle, beef, horses, chickens, livestock and pets of all kinds were out in the fields and yards enjoying the warm weather.  They stayed out in the fog, because who worried about a little water?  The cattle were almost all lying down, probably chewing their cuds and enjoying the warm ground, when the temperature dropped.

Horror stories emerged as the news began to filter to us.  Farmers awoke to the screams of their animals as the creatures tried to rise from the ground, only to discover the heavy ice now coating them had frozen their milk bags to the ground, and their lurching attempts to rise had torn their milk bags open and ripped the hide from their bellies.  Hundreds of animals had to be put down in the fields that first morning, then their carcasses disposed of after the farmers’ tractors could finally find purchase on the ice.  My gym teacher had to put her mare’s new foal down after she found it had tried to leap to its feet and ripped its hooves off.

Because of the extensive damage to the power lines, the dairy farmers who had surviving cattle had to milk by hand and soon found themselves unable to deal with the cows who were loudly expressing their pain as their milk bags distended without relief.  They called on the local agricultural agents for help, and generators were finally discovered and flown in from all over to power their milking machines.

All the children my age were affected (some to their delight) when it was discovered the sudden freeze had broken the school’s steam heating system that had been shut down over Christmas vacation, but not drained.  New parts were brought in, only to freeze and break before the steam heating could beat back the intense cold.  We had to go to school through June that year to make up for the time we lost in January.  That was no fun, since our school had no air conditioning.

It was a rough winter, but the lessons lingered.  Work together with family and friends.  Know your neighbors.  We always have water stored, and a way to keep warm no matter what heating system our house has.  I don’t understand people who have all electric homes and apartments.  Always have food that doesn’t have to be cooked, and keep the freezers full so the foods can keep themselves cold in there.  Have a way to light the house in the absence of electricity, and very importantly, have a way to pass the time without computer, television, video games, or recharging smart phones.  Keep the gas tanks full in the vehicles and bug out bags prepared in case of evacuation.  Those lessons have got my family through bad weather, and bad times, of all kinds.

My prayers go out for all the travelers trying to get home, the homebound worrying about food supplies, warmth, and water, and the professionals trying to bring them relief.  I pray for the law officers like my nephew in law, the truckers like my relatives, and the commuters like my sister.  I pray for us all, and pray that you find it in your hearts to help where you can, and find help where and when you need it.

 

It’s a Family Thing

“It’s the family joke,” my 88 year old uncle told me over breakfast at our favorite pancake spot.  “My brothers and sisters used to tell it all the time.  Lucky for them I think it’s funny, too.”

“It’s like this,” he explained, staring at his coffee as he concentrated on remembering the exact wording.  “It all started when I married my sister’s niece.”  He scowled at my expression.  “Not MY niece. HER niece.  There’s a difference, you know.”  Then he paused.  “You should write this down,” he suggested.  “So you get it right.”

I thought that was a good idea, so I pulled out a notepad and pen.  He proceeded with the explanation.  “You see, when I married your aunt, I became my wife’s uncle, my sister’s nephew, a first cousin to my nieces and nephews, and finally, my own uncle.”  I thought about it later, and realized he hadn’t mentioned he and his wife were also first cousins to their own children and to each other.  Huh.  I’ll have to point that out to him.  He’ll probably get a laugh out of that, too.

Relationships interest me.  I’m one of five sisters.  People often ask us if we have any brothers.  It’s our family joke that we used to, but we got rid of them.  I wonder why they always look like they’re not sure whether to believe us or not…

I live with one sister.  The others all  live alone.  If my sister and I could afford it, we’d probably live alone, too.  We’re all happy hermits, with our own preferences and habits.  Even the two of us who share a house can spend hours in silence, cheerfully ignoring each other.  One sister did get married and stayed that way for thirty years till she became a widow and raised two lovely daughters, but now she lives alone and enjoys it.  We’re close, though, when trouble looms, like when we all wound up with various forms of cancer, or somebody needs some transportation, or a hand moving something around.

Facebook has been a real boon to us, because now we can keep in touch with each others’ lives without getting on each others’ nerves, which was always a problem before.  Keeping in close contact can create friction and heat, just like with brakes.  I’ve found it’s the same way with friendships.  I’m a whole lot closer to people now that I don’t have to look at them all day, like my coworkers.  It works for us.

Because of my interest in relationships, I’ve been checking into genealogy and asking a lot of questions of my relatives.  If it weren’t for my preference for tact and manners, I’d ask lots of rude questions about their marriages, and family lives, and what are their children doing running around with that crowd?  Oh, the things I’d like to know, but know it’s rude to ask, and some questions might get me arrested for stalking…  So I stick to the relatives that aren’t around any longer.

My father and uncle’s mother told her children when they asked about him that her daddy was hung for a horse thief and that’s all she would say about it so never ask again or else!  They took her seriously.  She was the kind of woman you took seriously.  I knew her for a short while, and I totally understood.  My mom told me when I asked that as far as she knew, during the Civil War her forefathers had spent the war raiding the farms of those whose menfolk had gone away to fight.  Sheesh! Outlaws on both sides?  But a few years after that, she was listening to a history program on the radio and heard some names she recognized from her family’s lineage, and found she might have some relatives who were Union generals commanding prisoner of war camps.  My uncle and father’s paternal grandfather was a doctor in the Confederacy for all of three months.

I decided to spend some time on Ancestry.com and see what I could find.  It’s been very interesting.  My dad’s maternal grandfather’s death certificate said he died of heart disease in 1918.  Either she was wrong (or couldn’t stand her dad – apparently he was abusive) or the doctor was trying to be polite.  It also listed his father, but his mother was unknown, at least by the informant, who had his last name but an illegible first initial.  Handwriting, people!  It’s important!  Someday some genealogist will be trying to read yours! His wife died six years later of exhaustion as a result of senile dementia.  She was 62.

The Confederate doctor spent his time in the military hiding in a tent.  No, he wasn’t a coward; he had asthma, and the dust raised by all the soldiers was killing him.  But the soldiers discovered he was a doctor and formed long lines at his tent every day, because even without battles going on, you could easily get injured.  When the army was preparing to move, his commanding officers told him to go home before he got worse and just take care of the folks at home.  He obeyed, and rode horseback in a three county circuit to provide medical care for the citizenry. He had lost a young wife after a ten year marriage and seven children, and had joined the cavalry to try to get over not being able to save his own wife and child.  It was time to get back to his remaining six children.

But his three months in service was enough to score his second wife and widow a pension from the state after his death and a bed in a Confederate widow’s home in Austin until her death.  I have a copy of her application for the pension and her death certificate.  She died of ‘cancer of the heart’.  Studying her life history, I realized she had at 22 married a man old enough to be her father and started her married life with six children.  Then she got to run the homestead and his children while he doctored the public.  Tough lady, she lasted until she was 84.

I’m still working on my mom’s side.  She’s great for remembering names and I now have several pages of names and families and locations to look up.  Both she and my late father come from very prolific families and the men seem to have outlived more than one wife and had kids by all of them, so there is a lot to look up.  It’s very interesting, though, and I keep running into unexpected side trips, like the book of oaths I found from Georgia that all the men over 21 had to sign and swear they would not rise up against the United States after the end of the Civil War.  I love history, but I am so glad I didn’t live through it.

My uncle brought over the family Bible he found in a back room some years after his wife died.  I photocopied the list of births and deaths such old family Bibles always had and thumbed through the rest of it, because I’m always interested to see if the owners ever made notes in the margins like some people (read, me) do.  To my surprise, a tightly folded thin piece of paper fell from between the pages.  Opening it carefully, I discovered it was a letter written by my father’s and my uncle’s father, a farmer and carpenter, that was never sent.  It was a ‘day in the life’ kind of letter, that people used to mail to each other instead of putting it on Facebook in bits and pieces.  At the very end he mentions that his stomach is bothering him and he would take a shot of medicinal whiskey to see if it would settle.  I glanced up at the date at the top and realized in shock it was the day before he died of a burst appendix.  My uncle and I just stared at each other.  Talk about hearing ghosts of the past.

I am eager to see what else I find about my family history and any interesting little side trips.  I know my family has traveled far and wide.  A few years back, we held a Perry family reunion in a recently discovered rural cemetery.  No, we’re not weird; most cemeteries in the country were next to churches, and we are used to big celebrations involving food and faith surrounded by gravestones.  We saw several very small cars pull up next to the big pickup trucks and SUVs most of my relatives drove.  A flood of Japanese tourists, complete with collections of cameras around their necks, came up to our group as we paused over our barbecue, potato salad, watermelon, and chocolate cake.  We figured they had managed to get thoroughly lost, because this tiny Civil War era graveyard was waaaaaaay out in the sticks.  Instead, their spokesperson grinned widely, pointed at the banner somebody had hung among the trees and said “Perry?”  When we nodded, fascinated, he pointed at himself and the rest of his group and announced, “Perrys!”  We now have a large family photo of short Japanese folk surrounded by tall gangly Texan cowboys, all grinning proudly.  I can hardly wait to see who else I might be related to.

Almost forgot to add this:  To complete the family circle, I just met the newest member of our large family.  (I’m pretty sure she’s the newest at only a few weeks old.)  The family on all sides makes adorable babies and boy, do we love to take pictures.  One of the projects I’d love to do is fix a baby book with the several generations of baby photos we have, and maybe throw in the oldest photos we have.  Family should be a thing to celebrate, and if you’d rather not associate with yours, start your own.  Family is not alway made of blood connections.  Go hug someone today, and tell them a joke.

The Ides of August

Ugh!  Thank goodness August is nearly over.  What an awful month.  What an awful summer.  Summers are usually unpleasant for my family (none of us enjoy the Texas heat) but for some reason, August has become an annual trip through bad times for us, especially my sister and I, who live together.

We don’t know what’s going on.  It’s very puzzling, but reliable as triple digit temperatures and as unpleasant as being trapped at a political rally.  What usually happens is a nosedive in our finances, no matter how much we’ve prepared for the month during the year.  We know August is coming.  Unlike Congress, which likes to pretend there is no such thing as an annual budget to pass, we acknowledge that August will show up with some emergency financial drain, and we save up as much as we can.  But it’s never enough.  Ever.  No matter what amount we save, the expense is usually double.

Family health always takes a nosedive too.  If it’s not me or my sister, it’s a family member who depends on us for transportation and help.  This year, it’s apparently all of the above.  I won’t bore you with details, and my family would kill me anyway for talking about their business.  But wow, what a summer.  I provide most of the transportation to medical appointments, and I have been very busy.  Since my car’s air conditioning is broken right now in a very expensive manner, travel adds to the unpleasantness.

My sister and I often shake our heads in amazement at everything that happens during the summer and mostly in August every year.  Don’t dwell on the bad stuff, some people tell me.  You’ll draw it to yourself.  Hah!  If thinking about something drew it to me, I’d be living the life of a huge lottery winner…

My fellow Christians remind me we are not to be afraid or anxious, to rely on God’s grace and help to get us through.  Thanks, but that’s not the problem.  We’re not anxious or afraid.  We’re exasperated!

But we endure.  It happens every year, and we’re used to it.  We know it ends.  Health improves, finances recover, and the heat breaks.  The seasons in nature change, and so do the seasons in human lives.  Sometimes the season seems to linger too long, but relief finally comes.  I’ve had times when August lasted for years, but I held on, and the calendar of my life finally changed.

Bad times come to everybody’s lives, and some will last a very long time.  Don’t give up.  I’ve spoken to many teens who felt they couldn’t last another day, and reminded them that school does not last forever.  Often the only thing you can do is keep your head down and endure in silence, but it will end, and you won’t have to go back any more.

Some jobs are miserable and make you hate to get dressed and go in, but despite what many believe, they don’t last forever.  I’ve had them.  I used to moan about them, too, until one day I met a young man with very old eyes, and complained to him how I was stuck in a dead end situation.  He told me to think of one good thing about my job.  Just one, not a list, just one, and concentrate on it.  Remind myself of it over and over and over whenever I felt overwhelmed.  Just one month after taking his advice, I was promoted into a job I’d forgotten I’d applied for and enjoyed myself thoroughly at it.

When doctors told me I had some health problem, I didn’t waste time crying or moaning or complaining about it.  I just asked what I could do about it and got it done.  It usually amounted to removing some part of my body or taking medicine that did unpleasant things to me.  But I survived by reminding myself it could be worse, and endured.

I developed the habit of looking for some lesson I could learn from the situation, no matter how dire it was.  Every August of my life is exhausting, expensive, and very exasperating.  But I have found there is always something I can learn, too, and I love to learn.  Life lessons are rarely cheap, and never easy, but once they are learned, the rest of the classes are often simpler and the tests easy to take.  May the seasons of your life pass not quickly, but as pleasantly as possible, and may you not have a difficult time learning whatever lesson is there for you.

Setting the Mood

What a morning.  Last night I had insomnia and was wide awake till 1 AM.  May not be impressive for many of you, but I had been very sleepy earlier and was thinking about going to bed at a normal hour and suddenly,  Boom!  I’m awake.  Really awake.  That kind of 5 shots of espresso in 20 minutes awake.  Why?  Beats me, unless it had something to do with the weather changing.

Oh, yes.  Rain again.  I was finally deep in dreamland when the weather alarm I have by my bed went off.  Very loud and piercing, being an alarm, you know.  Why keep it by my bed, if it’s so annoying?  Because if you live in Tornado Alley, you want to know if something is going on out there.  And it keeps going off if you don’t shut it off.  So I keep it by my bed so I can hit the little button that shuts off the godawful alarm and lets the information be heard.

Flood warning again.  When it started listing all the towns and counties, I just winced.  Two inches in nothing flat dumped on flood ravaged areas while they are still trying to clean up and repair.  Thunderstorms training through my area, dumping more and more and more rain.  Wondering what training is?  Picture being under a railroad, with a long train loaded with cars full of water passing overhead, each one dumping its load on top of you as it goes by.

I looked blearily at the clock and sighed.  Barely 5 AM.  Gah.  No going back to sleep, either.  Decades of waking up well before dawn to be at work on an early shift has left my body incapable of falling back asleep once I’m awake.  Groan and creak my way out of bed.  Stagger to the bathroom and after a quick glance in the mirror, avoid my reflection.  Eccchhh!  Mumble and stumble my way afterward to the kitchen and try to get the coffee water poured into the correct opening on the coffeemaker.  Listen to the rain.

At first, my brain was humming, “Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain…”, making me feel rather mellow, then for some reason, Johnny Cash’s “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” began rolling through.  Probably lack of sleep and looking at the forecasts about a disturbance in the Gulf maybe about to dump yet more water on us next week.

Maybe I need more coffee.  Maybe I need some bacon and eggs.  Maybe I need to look at more cat and dog funny photos.  (I looked at my bank balance before coffee this morning, too.  Probably a big influence on my mood.)  I suppose I just need more sleep, but I won’t get that unless I can grab a nap this afternoon after church.  Won’t be so bad if it’s still raining then, which they say it might be.  Napping during a rain is terrific.

Until then, I’ll just try to ignore the mood setting sound effects coming from the roof.  I loathe feeling melancholy.  If we were still in drought status, it would probably be the happiest sound in the world.  But after a month or so of flooding, I just sigh and stare out the window, waiting for the sun to come out again.  Hope that coffee kicks in soon.

Excuses, Excuses

Whoa!  I didn’t realize it had been so long since I blogged!  Talk about being too busy for words!  Hah!  I have three calendars I use to TRY to keep track of appointments and errands.  April and May are pretty much blacked out with all the places and times I’ve had to be somewhere besides my keyboard.  I don’t have a smartphone (yet) and only my desktop to do my writing on.  I’m also sure many of you busy parents out there understand when I say I couldn’t have thought of anything to say anyway.  The brain is often engaged in actions, not words, when you are busy traveling, transporting, and DEALING WITH WEATHER!

I live in South Central Texas. I capitalize because, hey, I’m a Texan.  Besides, the area is big enough to be its own state.  (There’s information available about how Texas was already arranged to be five different states if they wanted to be before it agreed to join the United States.) We’ve been dealing with lots and lots and lots and lots – well, let’s just say too much for all at once – of rain and high winds and tornadoes.  Luckily our house sits far away from any body of water big enough to be a threat when it floods, but many of our friends, neighbors, and family do not.  There are a lot of creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes around here.

Counties have declared states of emergency and cities set up curfews to keep people off the streets after dark since the water doesn’t care about city limits.  Interstate highways have gone underwater.  Bridges are gone, roads are washed out (and due to the rural nature of most of the surrounding countryside, many are dirt and gravel, so it’s a real mess) and one small town that primarily exists on tourism has been pretty much washed away.  People have died, been injured, gone missing, and are burning up cell phones trying to find their friends and family. Many are homeless, or facing a filthy cleanup.

My area went through a 500 year flood twice already in the past 25 years.  That’s what it is called when flood levels reach the highest levels in the past 500 years.  In 1998, we got soaked.  Then in 2002 when we were just drying out, boom!  Here we go again.  Could be this will be the third and they’ll have to draw the floodplain maps again.  It was a surprise to many newer residents, who moved here while the area was in drought status.  Lakes that were nearly dry holes have bounced by 40 feet overnight.  Who needs hurricanes!

Of course, every population has its idiots.  Video was taken of some morons tubing in rushing waters uncaring of the debris in the water.  In a nearby town, some were even swimming!  Then they had the nerve to give first responders lip about being forced out of the water – until the cops showed up and made it clear nobody appreciated being forced to risk their lives to save those who were trying for a Darwin Award.  I’ve been caught in a flash flood twice and I don’t want to go anywhere near fast flowing or high water now.  These jerks don’t appear to know or care what is in the water besides debris.  The bacteria found in floodwater is extremely dangerous.

It’s not over yet.  More rain is coming, with lightning and wind, and people who have been able to get back to the homes they had to evacuate are huddled around their radios, televisions, smartphones, and emergency weather alert radios.  Many are trying to get what they can salvage out before they have to rush away again.  My sister is three hours from home after a holiday weekend with her grandchild and all the routes back to her home are either under water, damaged, or about to be as the storms move in again.

Life is strange.  Just when you think all you have to complain about is being too busy with errands, you wind up with something that teaches you how easy you have it.  I was thanking God I didn’t have to live in a land tortured by the wars of man, but there are other situations that leave you in battle status.

I am grateful I and my loved ones are safe, and I will do what I can to help those not so fortunate.  Hopefully we will gain some respite soon.  Hey, California could use some of this, couldn’t they?  Be safe, and grateful you can read this.  I’m certainly grateful I can write it.