One in the bed and the little one said…

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For me, there was one grandparent that stole my heart.  Oh, I loved them all.  One granddad took us to get a Slurpee every time we came to town – that was cool.  But this one, we called her Idee, was something else.  Her real name was Ivy but my brother couldn’t say that.  His inability to speak correctly stuck.  She was forever our Idee.

There is something about the grandparent who drops everything when you came to town, but the best part about Idee was she could relate to us.  I distinctly remember just lying on her bed while she got dressed.  She “put on her face” each morning while talking to me about life.  Who would have thought that a seventy-year-old woman could give a 12-year-old advice?  She could.  And I hung on her every word.

When I went to her house to spend the night as a kid, she would pile blankets on the living room floor and my brother and I, along with Idee and Papa, would sleep there.  Before midnight, she would ship my granddad back to the bedroom ’cause his snoring sounded like a freight train.  Come to think of it, perhaps that’s why she was so anxious to not stay the night in her bedroom.

When we arrived at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving last Wednesday, it dawned on me that the day beds in their playroom had four mattresses stored underneath.  For some reason, my holidays with Idee popped into my brain.

“Girls, we’re sleeping on the floor tonight!  Four in a row.”

“But dad, there are lots of beds in this house,” my maturing college sophomore explained to me.

“That, is not the point.”

We retired at around 11, but sleep did not come until much later.

We sang, “There were four in the bed and the little on said, ‘roll over, roll over,’ and one rolled over and one fell out when she hit the floor you could hear her shout.”  And as we rolled across the mattresses, one would hit the floor.

Michelle told us the story of Danny the Ogre.  He wouldn’t let his children drink sodas at restaurants.

We recanted songs that we sang at bedtime when they were young, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tired and true…”

We named my future grand kids (Obediah, Boaz, Sheamus, Isabella, Minnie), and I chose a granddad name.

We laughed til it hurt, gossiped about most folks we know, and learned the moves to Juju on that beat.

Several days later, I’m still tired.  Although, it was certainly worth it.

The Return of the DJ

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DJ in the house!

DJ has returned!  The eldest, the heir to the throne, is home.

A friend who has a son who is a junior in college told me to get ready.  He said his wife was recently walking around the house with a basket full of toilet paper rolls.

“What are you doing honey?”

“I’m hiding the toilet paper.”

“Why?”

“Douglas is coming home for Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah.  I’m aware of that.”

“You know what he does don’t you?”

“No.”

“Throughout the week he steals our toilet paper and puts it in his car so he doesn’t have to buy it when he returns to school.”

“Interesting.”

I was ready.  I counted my rolls.  I don’t think DJ is a Charmin swindler.  When she left we still had a nice stash.

She has, however, left every garment she brought back to the State of North Carolina in my den.  Shoes on the kitchen bar stools, coats, and there were several, on the floor by the back door, a bra in the bathroom.  Within 24 hours her bedroom looked like it had been hit by a category 4 storm.  Just like high school!

How does this child live in a 13’ x 13’ room with three other people?

On Tuesday she told me that I could expect my credit card bill to be a bit higher this month.

“Dad, have you noticed I really don’t use your credit card at school?  Just like you asked!”

“You have done a good job of keeping your expenses down.”

“Yea, and I have $290 left on my GW card to get me through the next three weeks.  Tons more than any of my other friends!”

“Live it up!”

“But since I’m back home, I figured you’d be OK with me charging my expenses this week.  I’ve sort of eaten out a couple of times with friends, purchased a few Christmas presents, oh, and I’m getting my nails done tomorrow – on you!  Thanks.”

We have eaten at her favorite restaurants, watched her favorite movies On Demand, cooked the meals she likes the best and shopped for clothes that she desperately has to have.

“Dad, I’m gonna need shoes for my winter formal.  You might as well buy them now.  These are on sale.”

Apparently the last four pairs I purchased for the four high school winter formals just won’t do even though her foot stopped growing in eighth grade.

Frankly, I don’t know how she has survived this long without the critical articles of clothing we purchased this week.  Bless her heart.

On Thanksgiving Day, it became grossly apparent to me how children fall back into their high school behaviors as my 78 year old parents worked their butts off in the kitchen while my brother sat in the den watching TV.  The gall.  Oh, and he wouldn’t even pass me the remote!

What goes around comes around.

Have We Said Enough?

Valentine’s Day, 2010, was ten days before Lisa died.  Although it’s been five years, cupid brings back vivid, vivid memories.

In many ways, it is my hardest grief day of the year.  The reminder that it is coming is blasted everywhere I turn:  on TV, in the grocery store, billboards – even Jiffy Lube has an oil change coupon special for your sweetheart!

The last dinner my girls and I ate with Lisa was on Valentine’s Day.  Of course we didn’t know that would be the case, but deep down, maybe we had a hunch.

It was an odd evening.  Lisa and I were trying so hard to be happy for three excited kids.

Yeah, yeah, it’s Valentine’s Day!  Candy, candy!  Love in the air.  Ignore the fact that your beloved mother in the seat beside you is hooked up to a morphine drip and dying from cancer.

As difficult as it is to face this annual reminder, February 14, 2010, ended up bringing me the greatest gift I ever received.  It gave me what I needed to take the steps  to put my life back together.

It was this day that prompted Lisa to write me a note.  Although I knew my wife loved me, she was not one to gush.  But this note encapsulated her feelings about me.  The last sentence she wrote was:

You are the husband, father, soul mate and friend that I want – never been another.  I love you very much.  Lisa

If I died tomorrow, I wonder if the people around me would know how I feel about them.

I have a buddy, Steve, who occasionally texts with the message, “I love you.”  When I see him, he says the same.

Another dear friend, Brad, and I hug and share the same sentiment.  His wife occasionally rolls her eyes at our mushiness.

I pick on people who mean a lot to me – just ask those in the offices next to mine at the YMCA.  Do my co-workers understand how much they mean to me?  I spend more time with them than any other friends and often more time than I spend with my family.  Do those at church know how much I look forward to seeing them each week?  Can the girls see my love through the nagging?

I’d like there to be no question in the minds of those who mean the most to me.

I’m not sure why it is sometimes so hard to express love.  It makes us squirmy and uncomfortable.  I’ve been the recipient of unfettered expression.  Lisa and I were given that chance.  Had she died in an automobile accident, that would not have been the case.

I have lived the past five years with a lack of guilt or regret about my relationship with my wife.  She let me know I was what she needed.  And yet, at times I still struggle with sharing how much I appreciate and care for others.  If it is tough for me, I imagine it might be even harder for those who have not experienced the joy of knowing that someone you loved so much loved you so much in return.

New Year’s Eve and the IRS

In 1997, I ushered in New Years in Washington, DC.  I remember it well.  I have a photo of Lisa, me and the two other friends who joined us on that trip.

Lisa was pregnant with DJ but rallied for a long night that concluded with a 2 AM Metro ride Metro back to our hotel.  On our walk to our stop, my bladder was about to burst.  I had few options walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in the wee hours of the night but noticed a couple of trees ahead of me in front of a large white limestone building.   As I pondered my choices, I took full advantage.   As I walked up to the elm, I noticed the words cut into the cornerstone of the French Renaissance facade: Internal Revenue Service.

Yes, at 2 in the morning on January 1, 1997, I tinkled on the IRS.

I got no issues with our government or paying my fair share of taxes, but I will have to say there was something very rewarding about that act.

In December, my high school senior, DJ Tanner, asked if she could go to DC for New Year’s Eve with a friend.   I wasn’t excited about the two of them driving up there alone, but they were staying with the other girl’s extended family.  And frankly, I would much rather her be up there happy, than with the rest of the family miserable.

I gave her the dad speech:

  • Be responsible
  • Be aware and safe
  • Don’t spend too much money
  • Don’t pee on any governmental facilities

-all the normal things a parent worries about.

With some prying, I got a decent summary of the trip when she returned home on New Year’s afternoon.  DJ, who has a knack for knocking out some pretty neat videos, took the photos from their adventure and tossed together his short film:

I love social media when used to give me a glimpse into my kids’ lives.  I also love that there are no photos of the IRS building in this montage.

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

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Should old acquaintance be forgot?

That sounds like a dumb question to me.  I’d think for the most part, old acquaintance should not be forgot – but should be remembered as long as the neurons can charge correctly.

And, I do recall some fairly fun ring-ins of the new year.

There was the time we went to the Peach Bowl to see NC State play – that was a very long time ago.  After the game we went to Underground Atlanta.  About 2 AM, a couple of friends and I were headed back to our hotel room.  As we were walking down the street, a squirrelly looking dude ran up to one of the women in our group and stuck his tongue in her ear.

“Happy New Year baby…”

I don’t remember what happened next because I lay on the ground guffawing.

Licking someone you’ve never met in their inner ear is, in my opinion, an unusual way to express one’s excitement for the prospects of the new year.  For the most part, I prefer to keep strangers tongues out of my ears (there may be a few exceptions).  I think my friend did too.

In 1996, the year Lisa was pregnant with DJ, we went with two friends to DC.  At 11:30, Lisa was about to pass out she was so hungry.  We headed to the front of the line at the Hardrock Café.

“My wife is pregnant and hungry,” I explained to the bouncer at the door.  “I’ve been watching her over the past few months.  You really don’t want to get between her and food.  It could get ugly.”

She was wearing an oversized blouse and had to hold it close to her stomach for him to believe us.  Once he saw her pouch, he escorted her in as if she was going to have the baby on the sidewalk at that very moment.  A pregnant woman can move folks to action; wish I had one with me all the time.

Nah. No I don’t.

One girlfriend tripped on New Year’s Eve and fell into an automobile with the loudest alarm you’ve ever heard in your life.  We ran for fear we’d get arrested.

Another time a homeless man approached our car and began washing our windshield.  When I didn’t tip him, he flipped me off.

There are other adventures I should probably not share, but I do enjoy the memories.

I used to think that New Year’s Eve had to be accompanied by loudness.  And I wouldn’t trade anything for the memories of those fun, wild nights.  But now I’m fairly content to spend the evening with my kids or a small group of family or friends at home – clear of the excesses of my younger days.

This year we celebrate at the beach with one other family.  Quiet.  Talking and sharing of old acquaintances we have no question we want not to forget.

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Turkey Innards

I had a slight panic attack today.  My parents are 77, and I’m not sure what we’re going to do when they stop cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  Yo – mom and dad, we’re gonna need a decade’s notice, I’m just saying.

I ain’t eating that important feast at an old folks home I’m telling you that.  Turkey should be sliced, not pureed.  And I’m extremely uncomfortable with my stuffing being served out of an ice cream scoop.

I’m not too worried about my side of the family.  That sister-in-law is fair in the kitchen and there are some nieces honing their skills.  My brother can deep fry a turkey – although it’s a fire hazard if the singeing of his eyebrows from illegal fireworks last Fourth of July is any indication.  I’ll just stay inside.

But the other side of the family is really going to struggle.  That sister-in-law is really good at injecting monkeys with infectious diseases but give her a pot and she’s dumbfounded.  And then there’s Uncle Jesse – you can’t buy Thanksgiving dinner from the Steak and Shake.

Oh, I got an idea!  I hear Martha Stewart is on Match.com!  Maybe I should sign up and woo her.  I got a lot to offer – work for a nonprofit, three teen daughters, skinny but with slight love handles – how could she pass on that?  I know, she’s a little older than me, but she would certainly bring something to the table, literally.  And Stephanie has a rip in one of her sheets, I bet she could get us a deal to replace that at the K-Mart.

Boy would that be a change.  The one time Lisa and I were responsible for Thanksgiving dinner, she told me to get the stuff from between the turkey’s legs.  I reached my hand in – “Oh my Lord Lisa!  This bird has an erection!”

“What?”

“I swear.  I felt it.  Go ahead, touch it!”

“I am NOT touching that fowl’s foul.  Get it out!  We aren’t serving a turkey’s penis for Thanksgiving!”

“Some people must like it or they wouldn’t leave it in there.”

“I bet the factory workers just refuse to remove them.”

Later my mom told me it was the bird’s neck.  He sure must have been flexible.

I know!  I’ll just give the girls cooking lessons for their Christmas present this year.  They’ll love it!

In the meantime, I’m gonna get my dad to have my niece remove the turkey innards on Thursday – the old one who rudely froze all my underwear at the beach this summer.  I can’t wait!

Tree Traditions

For the past decade, our family has gone to the mountains Thanksgiving weekend to cut down our Christmas tree.  It’s a pretty big deal.

We get two, and I’m sort of picky.  Most years Lisa and the girls would end up in the car as I meticulously combed through each tree on the lot.  I mean seriously, how can you choose one until you’ve reviewed them all?  You gotta browse, test drive, measure, envision – it’s a very important decision.

I’ve been known to lay on the ground in front of the tree to ensure that it is wide enough for the space in our den – six feet works well.  We have A LOT of ornaments, plus I like big stuff.  I  don’t want a petite tree.  I want a hunkin’ manly one – I want to yell TTTTiiiiimmmber as it falls to the ground.  You don’t get to say that often.

One year I overshot the height, and we had to cut off about a third of the tree.  It looked odd.  But it was big.

Since Lisa died, I sort of count the day at the tree farm as a passage – I ‘m a little bit further down the road.

The first year after she died, Uncle Jesse went with us to cut down the tree.  It was really nice to have him there although the two country men running the farm determined that we were a gay couple.  They were snickering behind the barn as we coerced another hand to take our family Christmas card photo.  It sort of ticked me off – I thought maybe we were beyond giggling about that.  Plus, if I was gay, I wouldn’t pick him!  He’s just not that good-looking, and he really isn’t very good around the house.

Before we left, I introduced them to my brother-in-law and let them know my wife had recently died of colon cancer – the giggles dissipated.

Last year we stayed in a sort of seedy motel.  The kids thought the television was a microwave –

“Where’s the door dad?”

“The door to what?”

“The door to the microwave.”

“That’s not a microwave, it’s a TV!”

“But it has brown paneling.”

My kids are so dang privileged.

We went to a nearly empty restaurant with a one man band.  The girls and I danced under the mirror ball.

I thought this year was going to go off like a charm.  I was quicker than usual and actually managed to choose two trees from the $5 off lot.  Both were small enough to load onto the top of Uncle Matt’s car.  But after I’d made my choices and gotten the kids’ approval, they disappeared.  When I finally found them, they had planted themselves around a tiny tree that had been lost among the tall ones.

“Dad, we want this tree.”

“Look Charlie Brown, we have two, don’t need another, let’s go.”

And clearly in a rehearsed voice, all three said, “We’re not leaving without him!”

Yes, much like the Hostess employees, they had a minivan walkout.  The union had spoken, and there was no room for negotiation.

When I discovered it too was on the $5 off lot and would cost me a mere Lincoln, I was swayed.  Some things just aren’t worth the trouble.

When Lisa died one of her “House Rules” was:  Gang up on dad when he won’t do something that you know I’d approve of.

These chickens are taking her at her word.  It’s a hard argument for a tired old man.

Sunday Post 97: The First Noel

Those of you who attend church on Christmas Eve know the feeling.  The choir gets in position, all decked out in their deep red robes.  Half of the members are pretty dang old, but boy can they sing.

There are Christmas trees in the front of the sanctuary, the lights a bit brighter on this particular night.  There are members of folks’ families you haven’t seen for years, and they all look better than they did the last time you saw them.

It’s not about your new dress that day or the bow tie you pulled out.  And the kids are on their best behavior realizing a trip from Santa Claus is too close to take chances.

When the organ starts, you immediately recognize the song –

The first Noel, the angels did say – was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay.

It sends a little chill down my spine each and every time.

The girls and I got into Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol again this year.  In mid-October, we began singing that very song.  As many times as I’ve heard it, and as many times as I’ve sung it – about 600 last year during rehearsals and performances, it still moves me.  It brings a peace to my soul.  It makes me think that everyone in the room, and really everyone in my town and country, are all on the same page.  No, we don’t all believe the same thing – we don’t all agree on politics, but each December, we stop.  We are respectful and thoughtful; we are thankful.

For me, that feeling lasts longer than the one Sunday our choir director decides to work it into the service.  For me, it starts in mid October – at the first rehearsal, with the first note.

I think everyone needs to be in a Christmas play.  I also think we should work to put aside our differences in November and January and perhaps in July too.

Cardboard for Christmas

Posted by Danny

I need a box.  A great big box.  Because that’s what Michelle wants for Christmas.

I came home the other day and she handed me her “Christmas Chart.”  On the left side of her graph were the numbers 0 – 100, listed in descending order by tens.  across the bottom of the page she listed her Christmas desires. 

She then rated each requested gift with a number value and wrote whether it was a need or a want.

Scarfs (sic) were rated a 50 and classified as a need.

A Justin Bieber doll was rated a 90 and classified as a want.

New stationary received a 40 and was definitely a need.

But a cardboard box?  It rated 100 and had bright green hash marks surrounding the “want” classification.

I said “Michelle, why do you want a box for Christmas?”

Her glare at me said it all – does this man have an imagination? 

“Well, for starters, I plan to decorate it with paint and colored markers.  I will then turn it over and use it as a playhouse.  My friend Ben actually had two at his house.  It was so cool.”

She had a point.  There are times this past year that I would have liked to sit under a box – maybe she’ll let me borrow it.

Based on my other children’s wish list, I’m guessing this could be the last Christmas that I can get away with a winning gift that won’t cost me a penny.  This is my Christmas dream. 

But where in the heck am I going to find a large box?  I’m thinking something that a stove might come in.  It would really burst my bubble if I had to buy a kitchen appliance to fulfill my child’s greatest Christmas desire.  But if the damn oven drawer keeps falling out every time I grab a pot, I may be in the market.

Assuming that doesn’t happen, if you have any suggestions of where Santa could get some help with some major cardboard, please let me know.  I’m sure Uncle Jesse would drive a few miles with me to pick it up. 

And if you knock on my door after December 26 and no one answers, I’m probably upstairs in the Kenmore box.

Sunday Post 46: Happy Holidays?

Posted by Danny

Michelle is so excited about Christmas that she can hardly contain herself.  As we were putting up the tree, she simply stated, “I just love Christmas daddy.” 

Oh to have a fraction of that joy…

I’ve found that the holidays have moved from the happiest time of the year for me to the toughest time of the year.  I feel sort of bad that I went through 44 years with no comprehension of how fortunate I was to be able to truly bask in the spirit of the season.  I also regret that I had no idea how painful these days could be for so many people – many of whom I encountered on a daily basis.

I didn’t know that the woman in the cubical down the hall lost both of her parents at an early age and spent the holidays working because it was easier that way.  I had no idea that an acquaintance at church always left town when the season approached because it was too painful to face this family time, when hers was broken. 

Like me two years ago, some of us float through the season, kids and spouse in tact, frustrated that there is simply too much to do – baking, shopping, parties to attend.  What I’d give to attend a Christmas party with my wife.  How I long to fight the crowds at the mall with Lisa by my side.  If I had known, I would not have complained.  I would have basked.

How insensitive I was not to reach out to the single person with little family nearby.  How thoughtless not to intentionally seek out the couple, at the Christmas Eve service, who lost their son last year.

No – I was focused on me and getting home in time to put together the Barbie house with 78 pieces and a 32 page instruction manual.  Ba-humbug – that’s really not what it’s all about.

I wonder if I’ll always feel the sense of sadness when others are filled with cheer.  I wonder if I’ll forget to reach out to those who are more freshly walking through my pain in years to come.

I hope the sadness will wane.  I hope my empathy will not.

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