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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Mom’s Journals

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The drawers, closets, and cabinets in the bedrooms of my parents’ house were sprinkled with spiral notebooks, calendars, agendas and journals, each filled with entries in my mother’s handwriting. After Mom’s death, I gathered them all and put them in a closet of a spare bedroom, thinking I’d get back to them later, when I had more time. It’s been nearly a year and a half now, and I miss my mother’s laugh, advice, and wisdom. Remembering the journals, I recently asked my sister, who was visiting Dad, to bring back as many as she could carry. Upon returning to San Antonio, she deposited a large shopping bag of them at my front door. I’ve been going through them, laptop nearby, ready to transcribe all Mom’s thoughts, wishes, desires, and compile them into a new, single keepsake journal for my brother and sister. I was hoping to have an experience similar to Diane Keaton, who wrote a book about her mother, who, after departing this world, left eighty-five journals filled with recollections and thoughts about her children and herself. Alas, I’ve pored over several of Mom’s spiral notebooks and agendas, and have found nothing more riveting than, “Cold today.” “Constance called.” “Hair done. Color and cut.” And, notations of Dad’s city council meetings and first Friday Masses.  Growing weary, reading weather reports and mundane details, I decided to jump to August 11, 1984, my wedding day. The entry? “Big day! Very nice. Wedding went well.” Period. Seriously, is that all my mother had to say about the wedding of her eldest child? No “Constance looked beautiful,” or, “Bill is so handsome and debonair.” Nope! That was it. After reading that entry, I questioned why Mom held on to all these….CALENDARS. That’s what they are; nothing of substance, just dates with notations of what went on that particular day. It didn’t matter if it was a Monday in September, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or even a wedding day. Just the facts, ma’am. I was feeling let down. My dream of collecting my mother’s inner musings and profound ruminations was dashed. No matter which “journal” I picked up, it was all the same. Then, I came across Mom’s 1996 “Daily aide, The Silent Secretary,” and a neatly clipped, well-preserved newspaper article fell out. It was a 1971 “At Wit’s End” column by Erma Bombeck, (one of my mother’s favorite people), re-printed by the Houston Chronicle on Sunday, April 28, 1996, in memory of the author who had died the previous week.  After seeing the title, I began to smile and read the following:

“Her 3 children were best gifts life could offer” 

It is normal for children to want assurance that they are loved. Having all the warmth of the former Berlin Wall, I have always admired women who can reach out to pat their children and not have them flinch. Feeling more comfortable on paper, I wrote this for each of my children.

To the firstborn…

I’ve always loved you best because you were our first miracle. You were the genesis of a marriage, the fulfillment of young love, the promise of our infinity. You sustained us through the hamburger years. The first apartment furnished in Early Poverty…our first mode of transportation (1955 feet)…the 7-inch TV set we paid on for 36 months. You wore new, had unused grandparents, and more clothes than a Barbie doll. You were the ‘original model’ for unsure parents trying to work the bugs out. You got the strained lamb, open pins and three-hour naps. You were the beginning.

To the middle child…

I’ve always loved you the best because you drew a dumb spot in the family and it made you stronger for it. You cried less, had more patience, wore faded and never in your life did anything ‘first,’ but it only made you more special. You are the one we relaxed with and realized a dog could kiss you and you wouldn’t get sick. You could cross a street by yourself long before you were old enough to get married, and the world wouldn’t come to an end if you went to bed with dirty feet. You were the continuance.

To the baby…

I’ve always loved you the best because endings generally are sad and you are such a joy. You readily accepted the milked-stained bibs. The lower bunk. The cracked baseball bat. The baby book, barren but for a recipe for graham pie crust that someone jammed between the pages. You are the one we held onto so tightly. For, you see, you are the link with the past that gives a reason to tomorrow. You darken our hair, quicken our steps, square our shoulders, restore our vision, and give us humor that security and maturity can’t give us. When your hairline takes on the shape of Lake Erie and your children tower over you, you will still be ‘the baby.’ You were the culmination.” (Universal Press Syndicate)

At the top of the column was a single word, written in ink in my mother’s familiar cursive, “Amen!” It’s not enough for a memoir, but it’s all I needed to be reminded of Mom’s feelings for all three of us, my brother, the middle child, our sister, the baby, and me, the firstborn.

Today, May 22, 2014, would have been her 94th birthday.  Happy Birthday, Mom! And thanks for the gift.

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Detours

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Update:  I’m back to being a nearly empty-nester after driving over 3,000 miles to pick up two of my daughters from their respective universities. As much as I was looking forward to having the girls back home, I was not excited about the solo portion of the trip from San Antonio up to Sewanee, Tennessee, and down to Auburn, Alabama. As it turns out, I enjoyed nearly every mile and minute of it. I managed to keep myself entertained with my playlists and an audiobook. (Ann Patchett’s Run, which I highly recommend to those of you who have about nine hours to listen.) But the trip was highlighted by unexpected detours I took along the way.

My goal the first day was Little Rock, Arkansas, which was nine hours away from home. I didn’t think I could make it to Memphis, the next large city on the map, but, I was sorely tempted when I heard that the Princes Harry & William were in Memphis that weekend for a wedding. We’ll see, I told myself. My first detour last Saturday morning was The Czech Stop in West, Texas. Assuring myself that I should take time to smell the roses, or the baked goods in this case, I enjoyed a yummy, soft, warm, fresh peach-filled kolache, then quickly got back on the highway. Traffic wasn’t too bad and I made it around Dallas quickly.  Soon, I found myself in Texarkana with just two hours to go. Engrossed in listening to my book, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the landscape, but, before long, I became aware that I had entered the town of Hope. Wait a minute, I thought, is that THE “place called Hope,” made famous during Bill Clinton’s first presidential run? A large, official-looking brown highway sign quickly provided my answer, President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home   National Historic Site   Next Exit. Oh why not? I turned the car firmly toward the exit and my second stop. I followed the many helpful signs through the small town, but just a minute or two later, I realized I was headed out of town again on a winding country road. I pulled over and typed the site into my beloved navigation system. It faithfully directed me back the way I’d come, then Siri said, “You have arrived at your destination.”  How could that be? I was in the middle of a busy four-lane thoroughfare headed right through the heart of Hope. Nothing here but used car lots and abandoned buildings. Then I saw it. A simple, white clapboard two-story house with green trim around the windows and lamps shining inside. It was so un-presidential, I’d passed it twice. I pulled over into the vacant lot across the street and just stared at it, thinking how far from Hope Bill Clinton had gone, and how remarkable it is that a young boy from this impoverished town could make his way to the Governor’s mansion, then to the White House.

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After a few minutes, I got back on my route and arrived in Little Rock late in the afternoon. I was dismayed to find that the entrance to my downtown hotel was jammed with cars waiting to be parked. After half an hour at a standstill, I leaned out my car window and yelled to an attendant, “What is going on here?” “The governor’s dinner!” was his hasty reply. After dodging lots of luxury vehicles and well-dressed people wearing “I Like Mike” buttons, I eventually made it up to my room overlooking the Arkansas River. That night I retired early, as the miles of driving had caught up with me. I turned on the local news and, just half-awake, heard the newscaster say, “Former president Bill Clinton spoke tonight at a dinner hosted by Governor Mike Beebe at the downtown Marriott Hotel.” I sat up. WHAT? The guy from Hope? Right here? It seemed so coincidental that I had just visited his childhood home, then spent the evening under the very same roof as him, I was almost surprised that I hadn’t run right into him in the lobby.

The next morning before hitting the open road, I decided to have a look at Little Rock Central High School, made famous during the civil rights movement following the desegregation order of Brown vs. The Board of Education. Again, there were signs leading toward this National Historic Site, and I stopped outside of the imposing, huge brick building, recognizable from pictures in history books. I recalled my daughter’s love of “Warriors Don’t Cry,” a book written by one of the Little Rock Nine, the group of black students who volunteered to integrate the all-white high school. It detailed the abuse they received at the hands of white students and segregationists. The school’s facade and landscaping were so beautiful, and everything so quiet on that Sunday morning, it was difficult to imagine the turbulence of those terrible days in the late 1950’s. I resolved to read the book again upon my return home.

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Back in the car, I headed for Tennessee and crossed Old Man River in Memphis. What an impressive waterway! I should read Huck Finn again, I thought. One detour I considered taking was to Rendezvous Barbecue where, it was widely reported, the princes had eaten dinner Thursday night, but I figured chances were slim that they’d show up there again. So, I kept on truckin’ and drove a little faster as the promise of dinner with my youngest spurred me onward. About two hours shy of my destination, she called. “Do you mind if I go on one last hike with my friends? I promise I’ll be back in time to meet you for dinner.”  “Of course not,” I replied, distracted by another large sign. “I’m going to spend some time with the Coal Miner’s Daughter!” And, off I went, exiting the highway at Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, carefully following billboards advertising “Loretta Lynn’s Dude Ranch, Just Ahead.” About six miles down a winding rural road, I turned onto her ranch. It was a beautiful spot with hundreds of acres of rolling hills, a rushing river and roaring waterfall, green pastures where majestic-looking horses grazed, and a big green tour bus parked under an awning across the street from a white mansion, with steps leading up to it that were engraved with the names of its occupants, “Loretta Lynn” and “Mooney Lynn.” I couldn’t believe it; I’ve loved Loretta ever since Sissy Spacek brought her to life on the big screen. She could be inside looking out at me right now! I rounded another bend and came upon a recreation of her childhood home, the bare-bones cabin recognizable from the movie. I rolled down my car windows and sang at the top of my lungs, “Well, I was born a coal-miner’s daughter in a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler.” Trust me; that’s something I couldn’t have done if anyone had been in the car with me.

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My girls and I made it home a few days ago, and everyone is happily settling back into a routine. But, I kind of miss my time on the road, the detours I took, and the remarkable places I saw, reminding me that events and people I’ve heard and read about are real and not that far from home.