Posted in Fathers

Just A Closer Walk With Thee

            As much as my father was a stern, ex-Navy, electrical engineer, rule follower; he had a light, gentle side that was creative and musical.  This lighter side occasionally escaped to participate in artistic activities, but they were short-lived and methodically planned.  Happiness came when he was outdoors, building things with his hands, fishing or traveling.  The rest of his encouragement came from music, specifically jazz.

            When Daddy played his Pete Fountain 33 LP and Just a Closer Walk with Thee came alive, there was a shift in his demeaner.  His feet moved and his face smiled.  He was transported from our little three-bedroom rental, away from the duties of work and caring for two small children without a mother.  He was at peace. 

I am weak, but Thou art strong.  Jesus, keep me from all wrong.

I’ll be satisfied as long, as I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

            He would sing and dance around the house while those smooth clarinet sounds came through the speaker.  We only had a turntable that played one album at a time, but we knew Daddy’s albums were sacred.  He wiped them off before and after each use with a special soft, black cloth and when finished, gently slid them into the correct cover jacket.  “There’s only one way to take care of your records and that’s ‘the right way.’”

Just a closer walk with Thee.  Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee.  Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

When my feeble life is o’er, time for me will be no more.

Guide me gently, safely o’er, to Thy kingdom’s shore, to Thy shore.

            When Daddy passed away in 2009, we opened the white, 3-ring binder that would guide us through his service, burial, insurance, obituary, and anything else we needed to know or do.  We would have expected no less from his take-charge personality, as organization was one of his greatest skills.  He planned for everything from vacations to tornados, so it was only natural that he planned for his death.

            Although most of us considered him tight with his money, he loved to save it, make spread sheets about it, and keep track of every penny.  Thus, his funeral was pre-paid, meticulously planned and organized in that 3-ring binder with homemade dividers.  The dividers were yet another example of his creativity and frugalness.  Why buy something when you could make it yourself?

            Years before his death, he tried to show me his binder every time I came for a visit.

“Everything you need to know will be in here,” he’d say.

            “I know, Daddy.  I just hate to think of you being gone.”

            Still, I would sit beside him and let him go page to page explaining every detail. 

            When Daddy passed, Just A Closer Walk with Thee was played, as he requested, piped in over the mourners.  It was not Pete Fountain, but the good old Methodist hymn played by an organ.  In the end, my father stuck by his rigid, conventional rules for a proper send off.  But I have often wondered if Pete Fountain might have led him with a smile as he reached those kingdom shores.

            I wish Daddy could have stepped out of his fixed way of thinking and had a little piece of himself that might have surprised a few.  Not everyone knew he had a softer side and maybe he liked it that way.  The old hymns were his comfort zone and whether heard from an organ or a smooth clarinet, his funeral was just as he wanted.

            In this fast-paced, all-about-me, live for today world, I fear the pre-planning folks may be few and far between.  Daddy’s propensity to control and prepare gives me pause, as I realize how thoughtful it was in the end, like a gift from beyond.  He saved us from worry, and more stress.  He kept us from having to make decisions on what we ‘thought’ he might want, and mostly he had everything just the way he wanted.

            As for me, I hope to be prepared and pre-paid.  I want an old-fashioned sing-along with hymns and songs that express my sentiment.  I want my girls to know that I’m ok and happily crossing to that kingdom shore, and if Pete Fountain happens to make his way onto the play-list, well, you’ll know I’m dancing on streets of gold.  “This one’s for you, Daddy!”

Just a closer walk with Thee.  Grant it Jesus, is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee.  Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Posted in Relationships

Walker – Stalker

            The first time it happened, I was not prepared.  The sun was shining, and I had a spring in my step as I headed outside for my walk.  Two blocks down I heard, “Oh, howdy neighbor,” as I ran smack dab into John.

            On our first meeting I learned John was a retired college professor, married to a woman whose mother was ill, the mother lived in Poland, and he knew three languages.

            He was going home after his walk but decided to walk with me for a while, just to chat.

            “Won’t you be going the wrong way?” I smiled.

            “Oh, I don’t mind, I’ll walk with you at least to the next street.  What did you say your name was?”

            “Nancy,” I said.  “I live on the corner, there.”

            “I know,” he said, and we walked together to the next street.

            John, bless his heart, is in his late seventies.  He uses a cane to support his stooped frame but is surprisingly agile as he sprints across the street to see me.  Most days he has on a faded baseball cap, PBS t-shirt, and plaid pajama pants with tennis shoes.  He sports a dashing mustache and has twinkling blue eyes that light up when he smiles, and he’s always smiling.

            Because John often needs to stop and catch his breath, I slow down and just wait while he rests and entertains me with his steady stream of stories from the past.

            Lest you think I am sweet for listening, I have been known to look out my front door and scan the streets before starting to walk.  I selfishly want to be alone with my thoughts or Spotify favorites, and walk at a faster pace.  But, on many occasions when I thought the coast was clear, he will come out of nowhere and POOF, I’ll hear him calling my name.

            Once I left the house, calling to Boo, “I’m going to get the mail.  Be right back.”

It takes me fifteen minutes to walk up the street and back to our community mailboxes.  Forty-five minutes later when I returned; Boo was standing in the kitchen,

“John?”

            “John.”

            “He’s a walker stalker!” Boo laughed.

            John will start talking fifty feet before he gets to me, and ever the gentleman he says, “I see you’re going for your walk.  Do you mind if I join you?”

            Another time I lied, “Sorry, John, I’m trying to get a short walk in before I have to go to a doctor’s appointment.”   

But he said, “Me too, which doctor are you going to?  I’ll just walk with you to the next street.”

            John asks me questions about myself, too.  He now knows my husband’s name, how long I worked in education, how many children we have and how long we’ve lived in our house.

            Boo was mowing the front yard one day, when I suddenly heard the mower stop.  I figured he was emptying the clippings, but when the mower never started back up, I opened the door to check.  One foot out the door and I saw John, leaning on his cane, chatting up a storm with Boo.  I quickly and quietly shut the door and hid.  Some time later the mower sputtered back up and soon Boo came in calling, “John says hello.  Did you know he was a college professor?”

            Last year with the Pandemic and all, John would always stay a respectable distance while we walked, asking if I was comfortable about the six-foot rule.  But now I know John is vaccinated, his wife is visiting her mother, he married late in life at fifty-three, he has sciatica and he had lunch with two friends yesterday.  Things are getting back to normal.

When I’m walking with John, he smiles and greets everyone on our path.  He knows most of them by name and can tell me something interesting about each one.  He’s amazing.  His seventy-plus-year-old mind is as sharp as ever.  When I stop to think about it, John has been the highlight of my shelter in place, stay at home days.  He’s upbeat, never feels sorry for himself, and although he has to stop now and again to rest, he’s out there doing his thing. 

As much as I selfishly want to walk faster some days, I know there will come a time when I miss seeing John and hearing about his life.  Perhaps divine providence brought me John to slow me down and refine my patience.  He certainly has brought me company along my walks and a smile on those lonely COVID days.  It’s hard to believe that someday I may be out walking the neighborhood, looking for friendship and a listening ear.  I hope you’ll slow down and walk with me, at least to the next street.

Posted in Grandmother, Relationships

Martha Margaretha

Valentine Queen

Growing up, everything I knew about beauty I learned from Grandma.  She was my source of information on becoming a woman, wife and mother.  Because my mother was deceased, I had no one to teach me the basics except Grandma and sometimes my dad, which as you might expect, was not always on point.

Grandma was raised on a dirt farm in Kansas.  They were so poor that her parents sent the last two siblings to live with another family because they could not feed them all.  She was only able to complete the 3rd grade because everyone was needed on the farm.  Grandma told me once that she did not remember laughing as a child.  “There was nothing to laugh about,” she said.  “We worked from sunup to sun down.”  And so my grandma, Martha Margaretha, was a serious, no nonsense kind of gal most of the time, but there was a little girl inside who longed to have fun and feel carefree.

Grandma was a wonderfully accomplished seamstress and made all of her clothes, even slips, bathrobes and nightgowns.  She also made all of my clothes until I was old enough to sew for myself.  She made my Barbies the most fabulous ensembles!  I distinctly remember Barbie having a dress out of the same fabric as Grandmas, and even a fully lined coat, complete with bound buttonholes.  Barbie never lacked for functional yet stylish outfits and neither did I.  Grandma had an eye for pattern, texture, design and she could easily visualize how our dresses would turn out, while working tirelessly to make it come together.

Martha had two main rules on beauty:  Always wear lipstick and always wear earbobs or ear screws, as she called them.  In Grandma’s bedroom, on her dresser, was a tray that held her cherished personal items.  There was a comb, brush and mirror set that I always remember her using.  She wore Lady Esther loose face powder, and kept the box front and center.  If I close my eyes I can smell the sweet fragrance and remember the way Grandma’s face felt so soft when I hugged and kissed her.  She always smelled of this face powder and I think to this day I would know it, if I were lucky enough to breathe in that precious scent.  The fluffy, round puff sat on top of this all important powder and next to it was her lipstick.

The dresser top was balanced with a simple jewelry box.  The kind that opened up and the top folded back revealing a bottom section.  Grandma had a large collection of earbobs, necklaces and brooches, most of which came from us, for Christmas or birthdays.  She also had a small little cameo that she pinned on for special occasions.  I would always ask to look through her jewelry box and try on these simple, yet glamorous pieces.  Grandma truly believed in accessories, and although coming from humble beginnings, she wanted to look her best.  It was very important to her.

With her beautiful silver gray hair, smart clothing, ear screws and lipstick, Martha always looked ‘put together’.  No matter how poor you are, you can be clean and neat...a Martha mantra for sure.  Everywhere she went, she would be complimented on her neat appearance, even winning Valentine Queen at her nursing home.  Grandma lived well into her 101st year on this earth.  I remember once, while visiting her in ‘the home’,  one of the caregivers gave her a compliment, which made her proud, yet shy.  After the worker left, Grandma turned to me and said, “It’s almost a curse to be so beautiful”, then she laughed and patted my hand.

 My dad made sure she was always taken care of and able to live comfortably, and so the former Valentine Queen was content and loved.  I know even now, as she sits playing Canasta in heaven, she’s looking all done up…lipstick, ear screws and that wonderful face powder.  We would expect nothing less from Martha Margaretha.

As CoCo Chanel once said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”

I think Grandma knew that too.

Grandma’s 100th Birthday
Posted in Boo, Relationships

Talking Up A Storm

“Hi Babe, how was the fishing?”

“Good.”  (1)

“Did you catch anything?”

“Three bass and a catfish.” (5)

“Did y’all have fun?  What else did you do?”

“Yep.  Just fished.” (3)

Wait time……

“Got a burger coming home.” (5)

Or here’s another scenario:

Me:  “What did the doctor say?

Boo:  “Not much.  I’m good.”  (4)

And another…

“What all did your brother have to say?”  I asked Boo this after a twenty minute animated conversation on his phone.

“They’re good.” (2)

Wait time….

“It rained.”  (2)

I get that in some cases it is my fault for asking questions that could be answered with a yes or no.  Sometimes, I try adding  “what else?”  or “tell me more.”

Me.  “The kids want to know what you want for your birthday.”

Boo.  “Underwear or socks.”  (3)

Me.  “They can’t all get you underwear and socks.  Isn’t there anything else you need or just want?”

Boo. “Gift card?” (2)

Me.  “To where?”

Boo.  “Anywhere is fine.” (3)

Me.  “Really?”

Boo.  “No.” (1)

Wait time….

Boo.  “Home Depot or Academy.” (4)

*(I could have answered that question myself, but I was hoping maybe he would branch out on ideas, although sometimes he does say Red Lobster.)

It’s not always like this.  Sometimes I can ask a simple question and he will go on and on with elaboration, facial expressions and hand jesters.  It just depends on the topic, time of day or whether CNN is on.

Boo is the strong, silent type until he’s ready to share.  He’s really a deep thinker, but he rarely expresses his thoughts unless the spirit moves him, and when it does, I see a whole different side of Boo.  He’ll talk up a storm, and I’ll get a glimpse into that steel-trap mind and heart of gold.   Any newsworthy topic, discussion of grandchildren or sports will have him chatting for minutes at a time.  He’s practically loquacious.

  But until then…we’ll share our peaceful silence.

That’s just Boo. (3)

Posted in Photography

The Hummingbird

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In grief as in life, we often say, see or do things that make us feel better or more connected to our loved ones.

“Oh, there’s Dad again,”  someone may say while looking out the kitchen window at a cardinal sitting on a fence post.  While another might notice yellow butterflies on their morning walks, declaring, “I know that’s Mom.  She loved the color yellow.”

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It’s not so much that I believe my loved ones are reincarnated into insects or birds, but it does feel like a gentle embrace from the other side, meant to comfort and bring peace.

My friend, Mary, passed away last year, rather suddenly.  She always loved dragonflies and was drawn to their vivid colors and flighty paths.  She had dragonfly notepads, nightgowns, and tote bags.  She adored all things ‘dragonfly.’

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Try as I might, I am not convinced that every dragonfly I photograph is Mary.  “Hold still, little beauty,”  I whisper to them.  “Let me take your picture.”  I know Mary would have loved my photos and might even have asked for a framed one for her walls.  While I do not feel that these dragonflies are Mary, I do believe that it is her spirit that beckons me to seek the beauty in nature, urging me to take time to enjoy God’s creations.

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We recently put up a new hummingbird feeder in our backyard.  I made the nectar and as we hung it I fully expected hummingbirds by dusk.  Two weeks later my little friend arrived.  Flighty, thirsty, and perfect, although not flashy in color like the butterfly or dragonfly.  Every day she drinks the nectar and then flits to an adjacent branch to hang out for a bit, then over to a flowering plant, then back to the feeder.  Then, without warning, she flies away until another time.DSC_0436

Hummingbirds are the smallest birds, yet they can travel up to 49 mph.  Their heartbeats nearly 1200 beats per minute and they get their name because of the humming sound of their beating wings.

I feel like a hummingbird sometimes.  My attention goes from details to musings.  I flit from rigid routines to spontaneous creations, photography, or writing.  My concentration varies.  My observations bounce.  When I’m dead and gone, will my daughters see a hummingbird and say, “ Oh, there goes Mom.  She never could sit still.”?

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There are six large blue jays that visit our bird feeder every day.  Occasionally they are raucous and loud, trying to dominate the backyard.  I’d swear one of them is my Dad, just trying to get in the last word.  Trying to control, even from beyond!

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It behooves me to wonder who would want to be remembered as a squirrel or pesky fly, but every family has one of each.  Maybe our loved ones visit as birds or maybe a Higher Power nudges us to notice the beauty in nature, helping us to slow down and feel a connection.  Whatever is true and whatever is your truth, enjoy the noticings and remember your loved ones from beyond.  And if you receive a hummingbird feeder from me for Christmas, keep it.  Someday, I may come for a visit.

 

Posted in Family

Clothes Make The Man

 

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It was Saturday night and we were going to a party at a friend’s house.  I had been preoccupied figuring out what I was going to wear, making the appetizer and wrapping the hostess gift, that I didn’t give Boo too much thought.

He came into the bedroom fresh from his shower and started to get dressed.  When I walked out of the bathroom I saw him standing there dressed and ready to go.  “Are you going to wear that?”  I asked.  

Boo stood perfectly still and with a deer in the headlights look said, “I don’t know, am I?”

“Here,” I said.   “Try this shirt and change belts. OK?”

“Sure.”

This scenario has gone on for years.  I thought he was dressing in mix-matched clothes and frayed pants just to mess with me until finally one day after I announced,

 “Boo! You can’t wear that.” 

 He shot back with, “Yes, I can and I will.  Why do you wait until I’m already dressed and then tell me I’m all wrong?”  

He had had enough of my foolishness.

“If you want me to dress a certain way, just set it out for me,”  he said.  I really thought he was just being obstinate or trying to make a point with his clothing choices, but nothing was farther from the truth.  He really doesn’t care what he wears and he can’t tell if it matches.  IMG_3258

I felt terrible.  I had been scolding him like a petulant child and I really didn’t want to do that.

He told me in earnest that if I wanted him to look a certain way all I had to do was just set it out and he’d put it on.

“After all,” he said.  “You buy my clothes, so it’s kind of your fault if I look bad.”  While I appreciate his willingness to dress for success, I’m not responsible for some of his older, funkier shirts and shorts.  Nonetheless, we embarked on a new plan of action.

If I care, I take responsibility.  If I want him to look a certain way, I pick out his clothes.  On vacations where I care, like on a cruise, for example, I iron his shorts and pack for him, like a kid going to camp.  Shorts, shirts, underwear, socks all in neat stacks.  If he’s going to visit his brother or go with guy friends somewhere, I let go and let Boo choose his outfit.  Sometimes he surprises me and looks adorable, but mostly it’s clean but wrinkled shorts, a shirt with stains and tennis shoes.   

I have to let it go because he has agreed to let me have my way.  One by one certain shirts have mysteriously disappeared and been replaced with new ones.  Occasionally he will dress and demand his right to wear what he considers “OK.”   I do feel like he is becoming a snappier dresser and now that he has a few go-to outfits, I give more compliments and fewer critiques.  

I’m trying to keep my mouth closed and not ask the question that has no right answer, “Are you going to wear that?”  Now, what about that underwear…..

Posted in Family, Food, Relationships

It’s Not Like Granny’s

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Granny Malcolm

 

He saw a can of salmon on the kitchen counter.  “Are we having salmon croquettes?” he asked with a huge grin.

“Yep.”

“ I love salmon croquettes!  My granny used to make them.”IMG_3149

In the humble circles of Texas, we eat salmon from a can.  Of course, now that we are more worldly, we enjoy fresh salmon broiled or baked, but salmon croquettes are what we grew up on.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s in Amarillo, we only ate canned vegetables, canned tuna, even ham from a can.  It’s hard to imagine now, but that tin smell and taste seemed normal.  Nothing came in an easy-open pouch or fresh frozen.  The croquette recipe I remember is:   canned and drained salmon,  saltine cracker crumbs,  an egg,  and maybe chopped onion if you want to get fancy

 You first had to dig out all of the small bones from the can-shaped salmon.  We were always warned that you could choke and die if you swallowed a bone!  Then, you mix it all together and form patties that you coat on both sides with cornmeal.  Next, you pan fry until golden brown.  Yum!

Boo grew up in a small east Texas town.  To this day, his brother, who still lives there, doesn’t lock his house or car.  It’s just an easy-living atmosphere.  When Boo was in high school and could finally leave campus, he and a friend would walk to his granny’s house for lunch every day.  Sometimes they would eat sandwiches, but mainly Granny made those growing boys a hot meal; meatloaf, fried chicken, pot roast, and salmon croquettes.  So when Boo saw the can of salmon, he immediately thought of dear Granny, God rest her soul. 61048007487__F2BF2BA6-F46A-4CA1-BA8D-E175087C4A0F

There are many meals I’ve made through the years that did not quite match up to Granny’s.  Usually, the comments from Boo go something like this:

“Where’s the gravy?”

“Granny used to always make mashed potatoes with meatloaf.”

Most of the time I catch myself before snapping, “Well, I’m not Granny.  God rest her soul.”

Granny must have been a saint.  She loved to cook and see her children and grandchildren eat her food.  She equated food with love and Boo has told me several times that my cooking is good, but to make it great I’d have to cook with my heart, not my head.

Even Boo cooks with love.  On nights when we agree to just fend for ourselves, I get cheese and crackers and then I hear Boo rattling pots and pans and I smell bacon.  Granny used bacon with everything.  He will whip up a beautiful omelet, bacon and blueberry pancakes, while I sit down to my hard cheese and a few Ritz.  “I didn’t know you were going to do that!” I whine.  “I cook with this, Boo (making a heart shape with his hands) I cook with this!”IMG_3145

While I admit, love is the furthest from my mind when I’m preparing a meal, I do pride myself on the fact that you will not starve at my house.  My food is nutritious, simple and I have a few never-fail recipes, but my heart is just not in it.  I’m not dear Granny, God rest her soul.

While I was mixing my croquettes, I asked Boo, “How did Granny make the salmon croquettes?”

He looked at my ingredients and said, “Well, for starters Granny chopped up the onion so fine, I couldn’t see it.”  I got out the knife and rechopped onions even smaller, trying not to be resentful.  And, about thirty minutes later, when I saw the contented smile on Boo’s face and heard him say, “This is just like Granny used to make,” I knew I had succeeded.

“Thanks, babe,”  I said and I sent up a special thank you to Granny, God rest her soul, for helping me find the love.  I salute the Granny’s of the world.  All of the beautiful people who live to love and love to cook.  I admire them and respect their spirit, heart, and soul, and I admit I could stand to be a little more like Granny.

 “Granny, if you’re looking down on me, please give me a little nudge now and then, so I can make Boo happy with my culinary efforts.” 

 Grant me the serenity not to snap at his requests for gravy, 

the courage to try new recipes, and the wisdom to know my limitations. 

 Amen.

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Posted in Relationships

We Need To Talk

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written by Nancy Malcolm

 

He was reclining in the usual spot on the couch, CNN news looping the same stories they reported yesterday when I apparently ghosted in and sat down.

“Oh!  You scared me!”  he said.

“We need to talk,”  I said.

“Okaaaaaaaay,” he replied, and his face went ashen.

I’m sure he did a quick inventory to see if he had done anything wrong or blatantly irresponsible.  “I’ll put my lunch dishes in the dishwasher, he said, ” Don’t worry.”

“Would you please at least pause the T.V. so we can talk?”  I asked.

And that’s when it happened.  He rolled his eyes, not at me directly, but because they were facing the T.V., I saw it from the side.  My sixty-two-year-old husband is really a twelve-year-old in disguise.

He paused the T.V. but his body stayed reclined.   Facing forward, he glanced in my direction, hoping that would be enough.

“Could you at least turn this way so we can see each other?”

He shifted my way but I could tell he was not in the mood for a serious discussion.  We’ve known each other long enough for us both to know the signs, and there are always signs.

Oh sure, I knew better than to lead off with “We need to talk.”  I knew other tools to use, ways to incorporate less threatening phrases, but it jumped out of my mouth, flew out into the air and landed in his space.  Ooops there it is.

And this is where my story takes a surprising turn.  I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I heard a clap of thunder, metaphorically speaking.  Suddenly, in a blinding light of clarity, I had an epiphany or as a friend of mine says; a talk with Tiffany

I realized we had been in this exact place many times before.  I say ‘we need to talk.’ He rolls his eyes. I get upset and he gets defensive.  It was about to be a lose-lose situation. What I needed to talk about had been talked about before and so it would probably be filed in his ‘nagging’ folder, never to be seen again.  I knew I had a choice to make: same old-same old or something new,

I had wanted to have Talk #32:  You never say anything sweet to me anymore.  You never compliment me or say words of affirmation.  I would quote from Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages and end with guilt.  “I always try to say sweet things to YOU….” No wonder the man’s eyes glaze over right before he rolls them.  I had too many ‘always’ and ‘nevers,’ and I heard myself plain as day, the voice from Charlie Brown: “WaaaWaaaaaaWaaaa”

As if on cue, I saw his baby blues lock in on me.  I remembered that earlier that day he had watered all the outside plants and vacuumed out my car.  He was home, not out gambling.  And, I had no doubt that he would put his lunch dishes in the dishwasher.

Sometimes God does for you what you cannot seem to do for yourself, and as I looked at my husband my mouth opened and out came, “I just wanted to tell you thank you for vacuuming out my car.  That was so sweet of you.”

I felt my eyes widen and I couldn’t believe my ears, but I tried to act cool and nonchalant. 

For a few seconds, he stared at me, then said, “Is that it?”

“Yes.  Thank you, honey.  It means a lot.”

“Okaaaaaay.  You’re welcome.”

And with that, I patted his leg and said, “Carry-on, Boo.”  I turned to leave the room and I heard Wolf Blitzer’s voice starting up and the recliner go back a little farther.  I know his eyes never left the screen, but as I walked away he called, “Love you” 

“Love you too,” I answered, and I meant it.