Catfish and Cottages

It was an unassuming little red house, tucked away in the woods of Tennessee; just a short walk from Kentucky Lake. It had a covered porch, with a swing and a tether ball in the yard. I loved that place. Everything about going to the cottage was special, including dinner time. I can still smell it cooking;  greens, black-eyed peas, cornbread and catfish. My mouth is watering just from typing those words. It was simple, delicious food but that’s not why the memory holds so much meaning for me. It was far more than that.

I can still feel the sunlight streaming through the bay window as I sat at the kitchen table while supper was being prepared. I can picture all of the little toothpick holders that granny displayed on the window sills. My favorite was the little boy wearing a sombrero, pulling a donkey. His face was so expressive, he seemed so lively.  I wanted to be his friend. I loved being in the kitchen when granny was cooking. There is nothing quite like fresh catfish, coated in a cornmeal breading and fried to perfection in a cast iron skillet. Hearing the sizzle and pop of the grease as she cooked this southern feast for us made me feel so happy. I can still see the little bits of cornmeal, that fell off the fish, turning golden brown as she cooked up batches of flaky white goodness. The pot of black-eyed peas that was simmering on the stove always had bacon in it, because everything is better with bacon.

I love this meal, not just because it was delicious, but because of all it represents for me; the summers of my childhood, family, fun, fishing, good food and grandmas. Granny was a great woman and I aspire to meet life with the grace and beauty that she possessed. She was a hard act to follow, but I hope some day my grandchildren will think of me and recall with fondness, not only the food I cooked for them, but the love I showered on them and the memories I built with them.

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Empty Nest

“Why are you sad about this? We haven’t done dishes in 3 days and the dishwasher isn’t even full! How is that a bad thing?”

“It’s not about the lack of dishes. It’s about the people who normally create the dirty dishes being absent.”

“You’re impossible to please sometimes. Yesterday, I commented on the fact that the house was so peaceful and quiet and you almost cried. What happened to the person that was always asking people to turn down the music and shut the bedroom door because it was so noisy?”

“That person misses the people that make the noise, not the noise. Why is this so hard for you to understand? I want it quiet sometimes, not all the time.”

“You used to always complain that the house was messy, and now that its clean you look around at it and seem dissatisfied with the tidiness. I thought you wanted it to look this way. I’m sure you can understand my confusion.”

“I do like the house to be clean, but when I look around and find everything in it’s place, it reminds me of two things that aren’t where I want them to be. If they were here, there would be evidence of it lying around. It just makes me miss them. And no, I really don’t understand why this confuses you, but you certainly confuse me.”

“This conversation is getting us nowhere and I’m done talking to you. I’m going to bed.”

“I’m going to bed too. You are very frustrating. Make sure you stay on your side of the brain so I can get some rest!”

The Legacy of Bootsie Leigh: Part One

I don’t know how my aunt got the nickname “Bootsie” but it suited her well. She was quite the character and a very important part of my world. My family lost Tammy Leigh to cancer a few years ago, and it is a loss I will feel for the rest of my life. She was one of those incredible people that deeply impacted everyone around her, but she had absolutely no idea that she had that kind of power. My life is better for having known her.

She was a passionate person, and her passion covered the entire spectrum of emotion. Sometimes she could be extremely happy, silly and fun and at other times she could be extremely annoyed, sullen and grumpy. But the thing that stood out the most about her was her love. Tammy loved me and it showed. She wasn’t much of a mushy person, she didn’t always say I love you or give unsolicited hugs. She expressed love in her own unique way. She showed her love in special gifts, time spent together and in listening to my thoughts and concerns. She was always there when I needed her. She was someone I could count on.

We had so much fun together. When I was six or seven years old I remember listening to Earth, Wind and Fire albums while learning how to do a dance, called the bus stop, on the shag carpet in our living room. I recall sitting on the trunk of the car together, riding from the lake back to Granny and Grand daddy’s cottage, so we didn’t get the upholstery wet. (remember when we could do those things and not get a ticket or a visit from CPS?) As a teenager, I would spend the night at her apartment and we would listen to music, watch movies and laugh A LOT. She had a great laugh, and when she really got going her whole body shook; and that would make me laugh until I cried. Sometimes we would get so tickled about something that we couldn’t even look at each other without busting out in laughter all over again. I really miss that.

Watching her die was almost more than my heart could handle. Cancer is a brutal, dirty thief that stole her away a little at a time. It took the light from her eyes, wasting her away to a mere shadow of her former, vibrant self. It is a cruel and slow way to leave this world. I’ve been told “At least you had time and you could come to terms with the loss before it happened.”, that’s a load of crap. Watching someone die slowly is not a benefit in the grieving process. I may have been less shocked with the loss, but I would take struggling with that shock over the slow suffering of a loved one any day. And truth be told, it’s still a shock. Nothing prepares you for the finality of death. Nothing.

When she died, it left empty space in my life that can’t be filled by anyone else. I still sometimes think to myself “I need to call Tammy and tell her about this!” or “Tammy’s going to love this story.” but I can’t and she won’t, because she’s not here anymore. She’s not here, but her legacy is. Thinking of her brings a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. I’m so thankful for the memories stored up in my heart and mind. They are like a healing salve for painful wounds.

Wanderlust

I have always been drawn to books and movies in which the main character goes on some great quest or ventures into strange and unknown places. I love stories about epic journeys; I don’t just love reading about them or watching them, I want to have experiences like that. I want to go on a quest, or a journey, or an adventure. I have a deep-seated case of wanderlust.  And while it has never really taken me too far from home, I still always seem to find a way to wander. Whether it’s a new interest, a hobby or a different job; I am always looking for the next best thing.

Wanderlust isn’t necessarily the desire to constantly travel; though I love to travel and have gone to some pretty great places. For me, it ‘s more of a desire for variety in everyday life. I despise set schedules and routines. I don’t like “punching the clock” or maintaining the status quo. I also find that once I’ve mastered something, or have been doing it for a while, I get restless. It seems like I’m always ready for something new, and if I can’t figure out the next new thing, I make little changes to make life feel a little more fresh. For instance, my family will tell you that I have a terrible tendency to rearrange things. I’m always moving the furniture or reorganizing the cupboards. I think this habit might drive them a little crazy, but it keeps me sane. I just always want things to be different and I know I’m not alone.

Alaska 1992_6

Some people are like Hobbits. They are content to do things the way they have always been done and to never leave the borders of their own land. And it’s okay to be Hobbit-like; if you are happy and find purpose and meaning in that life. But for the rest of us, that’s just not enough. It’s not enough change. It’s not enough adventure. It’s not enough living; it’s merely existing. We want to do things differently, to cross borders and push boundaries. And when we are told that we can’t or shouldn’t do those things, it just makes us want to do them more.

We “wanderers” always need to be on the move; we relish newness and change. I think it’s good that we are wired this way. It makes us the innovators and experimenters. We are the agents of change. But, if we aren’t careful, it can also make us instigators and trouble makers. Sometimes we love newness and change so much that we forget that not everyone feels that way and we get frustrated and lack patience with others. Our love of “different” can blind us to the downside of change, we can lose sight of the fact that sometimes we do things a certain way for good reason. We need to make sure that we wander with care.

So, what is someone with wanderlust looking for? What are they hoping to find? I don’t know about the other adventurous souls out there, but I think, in part,  I’m hoping to find myself. I’m trying to get to the heart of who I really am and to go on some awesome adventures along the way.

When The Words Don’t Come

Writing is hard. Sometimes I sit down, look at the screen with my fingers dancing just above the keyboard and, nothing. No words, no thoughts, no ideas. The only clear thought I seem to have is, “I don’t know what to write.” I think that probably happens to everyone, those of us who love to write and those that have to right. We have all, at one time or another, suffered from writers block. It’s normal and it’s okay; as long as you don’t let it keep you from writing. But there is another type of “block” that keeps the words from flowing; the fear of being known.

We are all afraid of being really and truly known. And yet, secretly in our hearts, we all desperately desire to be really and truly known. It’s quite the paradox. Sometimes life is just too hard or too much; the words I might put down on the page would betray me, I would be known by others. They would see my flaws, my anxiety and doubt. They would know I’m afraid and that is just too risky. So the page stays blank and I shut down the computer and walk away. The crazy thing is; I want to be known. I want to just be truly me; to say what I think, how I feel, what my dreams are; and to have that be okay. I want all my “stuff” to be known and still have the love and acceptance of others. But that’s not how it usually works. That’s why we all hide. We’ve all been rejected because who we are isn’t good enough for someone.

We are all guilty of being that judgmental “someone”. We are tolerant, loving and accepting people; unless someone isn’t tolerable, lovable, or acceptable. Shamefully, I have to admit, I’m guilty of it; jumping to conclusions or passing judgement on someone. Simply not allowing them to be them. I don’t know what the solution is; other than to just knock it off and allow people to be who they are.

It’s so important to remember who people are and what people do are two separate things. Disagreeing with someone’s choices or opinions does not have to mean we stop allowing them to be themselves. I know this is hard, there are a lot of big issues that blur the line between “do” and “be”; but we could make things better if we were diligent about searching for that line and trying not to cross it.

I’d like to say that, after processing these thoughts, I’m just going to put it all out there, be known and let the chips fall where they may; but I’m not. It’s still too risky. So, for tonight, I’m going to take my fingers off the keys, close the laptop and walk away.