Today marks the one year anniversary of our second daughter’s wedding. June 1st. And yet, I totally forgot. I woke up to a text from one of our best friends reminding me of it.
I quickly shot out a “Happy Anniversary” to our newlyweds in New York. Our dearest friends are definitely carrying me these days. They store so many of our precious memories for safe-keeping until I can find my way back to them.
What was actually weighing heavily on my mind was, ‘Today is June 1st – I need to make sure Jimmy’s company received my first COBRA insurance payment or I’m screwed.’ I can’t believe I’ve actually been reduced to worrying about health insurance.
What a difference a year makes.
Do you recall back in 2006 when a book hit the best-selłer list called “The Secret?” Oprah recommended it on her show, so my mom couldn’t buy me a copy fast enough. Of course I devoured it.
The premise of the book, in a nutshell, was that we “get back” whatever we send out to The Universe. I’m doing some serious paraphrasing and condensing here, but the gist of it was promoting positive-visualization.
I was kind’ve excited about it and shared the concepts with you. I think your exact response was, “Bull Shit!”
Lord, you could be terse. And not exactly oozing positivity either…
After I finished reading it, I took from it the parts I deemed legit, helpful and in alignment with our faith, dismissing the rest. Personally, I agreed with you that it can be a slippery slope to imagine that everything good-in-life or everything bad-in-life that happens to us occurs because (in your words) we “thunk on it too hard!”
For instance, I don’t believe the Jews brought on the Holocaust by overthinking Hitler and genocide. I think that might’ve been your point. With that said, I do believe in the power of positive thinking and throughout my life I’ve pictured a lovely existence for myself in the world. And I’ve fantasized constantly about alł the things that I wanted to see happen for me.
Starting with you.
And they mostly did happen.
In honor of Mollie’s anniversary, I couldn’t resist watching the video of you and her dancing at her wedding. It was self-induced pain and of course I bawled all the way through it. But, that’s what reminded me of that book and the power of visualization.
Ever since that misty grey September morning in Houston when you drove me to the hospital to have our second, I always dreamed of you and her dancing at her wedding to the song, “September Morn.” Throughout her young life, every single time I heard that song, I would always think to myself,
‘Awwww..here’s Mollie and Jimmy’s Wedding Dance song…’
Remember how crushed I was when our engaged couple said they would prefer a smalł wedding with no dancing? We started pushing hard for the traditional Daddy/Daughter Dance. They eventually and graciously complied.
And even though watching that video is like being stabbed in the heart by the blades of a thousand knives, it’s also one of the most precious things I have left of you.
Unlike a few of the other Blanchards (myself included…okay, myself especially) limelight-seekers and show-stealers, you and Mollie are a bit more reserved. I must’ve been prescient because the lyrics of the song fit her perfectly:
“I can still hear you crying in the corner of your room…”
That’s how she is and always was. Low key. Not big on a lot of attention. So, I’m so very grateful y’all had that dance together, even though the video is upside down and sideways.
Speaking of upside down and sideways, we are, all of us, working diligently every day to survive without you. I read a book on Monday night that said “acute grief” lasts 4 months. I counted backwards and it was exactly 4 months that very day! I was immediately encouraged, but then I didn’t get out of bed the next day, so maybe I’m just obstinate.
“The Secret” to finding your way back must be balancing the “looking back” with the “looking forward.”
I know I need to to spend more time visualizing the future joy God has in store for us all…Still I find myself wishing there was a way to thank you for devoting your life to indulging all my whims and fancies and making every little thing I envisioned come to fruition.
“For I know the plans I have for you declared The Lord, plans to prosper you, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Tommy phoned me from the laundry room bright and early this morning.
I was 10 feet away in our bedroom.
“There’s something alive in here!”
“What do you mean by alive?” I shrieked, alarmed. Admittedly, the population count fluctuates around here on the daily, but by my recollection, the only two beings that should’ve been alive in our house this particular morning were me and Tommy.
“I mean something with a heartbeat mom, you know ALIVE!”
I was baffled, as our dog was even out-of-town. It should’ve been all quiet on the western front.
I rang off and jumped out of bed, just in time to see our son grabbing his school stuff and making a bee line out of the utility room. In the time it took me to build a pretty impressive barricade out of rolled up towels and dumb belłs, he was heading out the door with car keys and backpack.
“You’re not going to just leave me here like this, are you?”
His face registered momentary confusion followed rapidly by utter exasperation.
“Mom, I’ve gotta go!”
I was just kidding. We had spent hours the night before discussing all the tests he had coming up this week. The kid is a dedicated student, to say the least. But when he left I felt so all alone.
Except not really…
I remembered you had some mousetraps you’d purchased to set out at the lake house. I grabbed those out of the garage, along with a jar of Skippy.
Then I did what any reasonable woman would do, I calłed one of besties.
“There’s a mouse in my laundry room!”
“Set the mousetraps and don’t lose a finger in the process!”
Seriously? This lackadaisical woman is the same friend I called the night you died? That night she said, “I’ll be right over!” And she was. It was like she had Scottie from Star Trek on standby to beam her places. So fast was she.
I received a similar response from the next friend I called. My Native Oklahoma Posse was quite cavalier.
I’m an Army brat, I hail from military bases. I never encountered a mouse growing up. I suspect when they constructed those military installations, they sprayed the land down with Agent Orange, upon which they poured acres of concrete, surrounded by more miles of chain link fencing. To which they added a couple of MPs at every entrance and exit for added security.
All designed to keep the Russians and the Rodents out.
While my friends adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward my plight, I was becoming increasingly traumatized by the minute.
Ever since you passed away, I have actualły had people inquire whether I think I was overly-dependent upon you and, if I had a “do-over,” would I have tried to pay attention and learn more when I had the chance?
I do admit that every time you attempted to teach me basic survival skills such as how to set a mousetrap, how to operate our automatic sprinkler system or even a precursory understanding of CD ladders and annuities, I stubbornly crossed my arms over my chest, snapped my gum and rolled my eyes just like I did in high school Algebra class when I told Mr. Johnson,
“I’m never gonna need to know this stuff!”
I spent the next hour weeping softly as I struggled to grasp the mechanical workings of a mousetrap.
Then I googled “how to set a mousetrap” and found 3 videos on YouTube:
The first video I viewed featured a condescending gent who kept reiterating, “Do not attempt this unless you are a Certified Pest Control Specialist!” Dude, if I had my PCS certification (is that even a thing?) I wouldn’t be watching a YouTube video on something this elementary.
My second option was a tutorial by a sadistic-seeming chic with a British accent who sounded like she might be related to Siri. She creeped me out, “Be sure to hold the kill bar down firmly with both hands, while connecting the control hasp…”.
The third video was presented by a good old fashioned Redneck guy. “Put the peanut butter right here and then ya take this here thingamabob and ya stick it right in there!”
Now I had to get the mousetrap into the laundry room. I did so with much trepidation and a broom handle. I could still hear this creature rustling around loudly behind my washing machine. It sounded enormous.
It was loud. As Gracie immediately pointed out a few hours later when she arrived home,“People use the expression ‘quiet as a mouse’ because mice must be generalły considered quiet…” Based on that logic, she didn’t concur that our trespasser was a mouse.
“I can’t live this way!” was her next declaration, “You’ve got to call a Professional!”
She had a point, as it had been many fruitless hours since I’d set my trap. I had already called several pest control operators who wanted to sell me a full-on Rodent Elimination Plan and could schedule us for later this week. No can do.
The way I figured it, I had two options.
1. Burn the house down, which would surely kill whatever it was…
2. Prevail upon one of your many friends who told me, “Call me if you need ANYTHING!”
So I called your buddy, a former Marine. Then, just for good measure, shouted through the barricade,
“Semper Fi you little *$&#, I’ve called out The United States Marine Corps!”
To be honest, I don’t even know what Semper Fi means. It could be Latin for, “I’m overreacting.”
This poor guy came over dressed for work, in a business suit and ended up soaked in sweat after he dismantled my washing machine and then my dryer. Turns out a bird had flown into the dryer vent through my roof.
He was gently released back into nature at the pond across the street. The bird, not the Marine. (It’s actually not possible to gently release a Marine, who has just saved your life.) He got hugged all the way out to his truck.
I admit, I did feel somewhat vindicated. I truly don’t believe I would’ve handled that ordeal any differently even if I had listened to you a little and let you educate me more…
A lot of what the Bible refers to as “The suffering of this present time…” actually translates to endless hours of me attempting to process things.
I spend a lot of time alone in my bedroom these days mulling over life – the abrupt left-turn mine has taken, in tandem with remembering endless events and other minutiae.
Right now I can hear you making a classic tongue-in-cheek comment about how grateful you are that I have “so much time for Navel Gazing!” The implication: Some people have to work, you know.
“You know that work thing, right?” you might add. And I would respond cheekily, “No I’m not familiar with the concept of work…I’m a thinker!”
Some of my musings are actualły productive though. I’m evolving through reflection. And, at times, it seems a little “worky!”
One recollection that just came randomly flooding back to me today is a memory from Emilie’s wedding. There was this game we played on the dance floor. The DJ initiated it. It was designed to honor marriage, specifically long lasting marriages.
All the married couples are asked out to the dance floor, including the Bride and Groom. And then they are slowly eliminated by the length of time they’ve been married. Or not been married, as it were.
The DJ begins by saying, “Everyone that’s been married less than a day leave the dance floor!” That’s obviously the Bride and Groom, who are now free to go mingle with their single friends.
As the dancing continues, the DJ asks couples married less than one year, then 5 years to exit the dance floor. Then less than 10 years – adios kids!
The remaining couples continue dancing, as they are deeply admired and lauded by the other guests for all the time they’ve put into fidelity and devotion to one another. And the dance floor slowly clears of all the “newlyweds.”
20 years or less? Ha! Go back to your tables and order another glass of wine. You’re gonna need it. You newbies don’t know from sacrificial love and endurance spread out over multiple decades.
At 30+ years, you and I had been out there long enough for my feet to hurt in those ridiculous shoes. But, instead of truly cherishing the moment and the accomplishment of over 3 decades in the trenches of true love, I was super annoyed.
It was my mother. She was literally dancing all over my last nerve.
I was annoyed because Mom, who had been happily married to my dad for 40 years and widowed from him for 14, was dancing with her “gentleman friend” and did not yield the dance floor as instructed when the DJ called out’ “40 years or less!”
Her date was a widower as well. It seems they had decided to take credit for all the years they had been married to their own spouses, but then were continuing to count alł the widowed years since their spouses had been deceased.
They just preferred their “take” on the game. In short, they liked their own geriatric math better.
So they kept on dancing.
I was standing there on the sidelines with you after we tapped out at 31 years fuming at my mother’s brazen attempt to steal the limelight. In my book, Dad died at 40 years and she couldn’t just grab any other old man and dance off the next 14 years for “full marital credit” as if Daddy were still around.
Why I let this bug me so much is a mystery. Or not. Maybe it’s just the ultimate insight into all the obvious flaws in my character. When I complained to you, you said, “Hush, she’s having fun!” You were always the Bigger Man. (Of course you were always bigger and the man…)
But I just kept thinking, she’s cheating!
I’m not sure why it even mattered so much to me; it’s not like we were giving away a Caribbean Cruise to the winning couple. One of Emilie’s bridesmaid’s grandparents won anyway – Mimi and Pop. I think they’d been married 70 years or something insane like that.
I’m glad they won. Pop died a few months later. It was heartbreaking. At least they were blessed with a long and happy life together…
I never in a million years dreamed we wouldn’t have a 50th Golden wedding anniversary. I thought we’d be that old couple out there at our grandchildren’s weddings, stealing the show and impressing the hell out everyone with our love and devotion to one another and the fine institution of marriage.
But here I am, all these months later with all this unfettered time to think. It’s hard to believe, but my Mom’s been gone 7 months and you’ve been gone 3 months. And I’m thinking about that stinkin’ dance.
I purposely picked one of our songs, “Lets Stay Together,” by Al Green. I thought the lyrics were so fitting for the tribute.
Suddenly, thanks to my newfound perspective, I now understand where Mom was coming from. She was, in fact, still married to Dad.
As I will always be married to you. It’s not like I’m on a game show and a buzzer went off when you died and I fell down a trap door. You lose! Or maybe I’m doing poorly in a board game, “Oops you lost your husband, move your piece back 10 spaces!”
I completely understand why my mom and her “Gentleman Friend” felt entitled to keep on dancing. They understood the rules to the game better than I did back then.
Hint: There are no rules.
Being widowed is so incredibly different from calling it quits for other reasons. I’m sure all marital losses are painful, but having your Love wrenched away without even the courtesy of an Exit Interview…you always said I was a pouter by nature, but it’s hard for me to imagine that I would ever dance again. I’m surprised and rather impressed my mother could.
But apparently she could.
And she did.
And I’m terribly thankful for that.
“Always Something There To Remind Me” (We Still Have A Mom And A Dad Even When They’re Not In The Picture…)
Like most families, we have framed photographs scattered throughout our home. Most of them don’t have names. They might be casually referred to as, “the girls on the ski trip,” but they’re not officially named.
All except for one.
There is one picture in our home formally entitled, “Dese Boys, Dey Don’t Hab A Mom!” James named it. He personally represents 1/2 of the motherless orphans pictured in the photograph, so it seemed only fair that he was granted the naming rights.
Back when we lived in Phoenix, there was a photography studio in Scottsdale’s tony Fashion Square Mall that would photograph your children and you could take your selections home with you that very same day.
I dressed up our sons, ages 4 and 18 mos and drove them north to Scottsdale. Everything went south from there.
A total disaster. I’m sure you recall it involved every end of their miniature digestive systems, everything in my arsenal of a diaper bag, up to and including spare outfits and every ounce of my energy and patience.
But we got the stinkin’ picture, we did!
Fast forward many hours later that night. You were still at work, the girls were busy doing their homework, the boys were playing at my feet pushing their wooden trains around the track, when all of a sudden James addressed me,
“It’s Me James. You see dese boys?”
I look at what he’s holding and he has the picture. I had already put it in a large wooden and glass frame, so it was wobbling around in his arms, almost bigger than he was. He jab, jab, jabs his chubby little finger at the two little lads in the portrait and asks me again more emphatically,
“You see dese boys?”
I wondered to myself, ‘Where is this Tiny Toddler Attorney going with this line of questioning?’ One thing was clear, I certainly wasn’t going to get anywhere by being a hostile witness…
“Yes, I see those boys!”
“You see dese boys? (jab, jab, jab) Dese boys, dey don’t hab a Mom!”
I was crushed! How could he suggest they didn’t have a mother? Especially after the calamitous day we had endured together? I prided myself at one point on how calm, loving and patient I had become in my tenure as a mom. It took a lot to rattle me these days.
Back when I was getting pictures made of the girls, I would’ve had a total meltdown with the children, but I’m on kids #4 and #5. I’m a veteran, a battle-ax, a seasoned professional.
Dose boys do too hab a mom! One helluva Mom!
Later, when you arrived home, we got the biggest kick out of it. You helped me decipher his complicated little baby brain trail. We figured out that I was so omnipresent in his and his little brother’s lives, that he was confused by the photograph.
I was there, but I wasn’t. He HAD a mom, but then in the actual picture, she disappeared. Our brilliant little 4 year old was grappling with the concepts of object permanence and impermanence on a larger scale…
He knew I had played a significant role in getting them to that point. In fact, I was standing right beside them, posing them and jumping out of the frame right before the photographer snapped the lens.
Now you see her, now you don’t!
That’s what it feels like for us since you died. Like you got us all set and then (poof!) you just disappeared. We don’t get it. We have questions.
Last night was Tommy’s prom. We had the suit. I bought a tie. I ordered the corsage. His dress shoes actually still fit. One might think we were good-to-go. But I had already anticipated our problem. None of us knows how to tie a tie. None of us. You took that skill set to the grave with you, Honey.
But, I thought we would just take the tie with us to the Parent Paparazzi beforehand and one of the dads there could tie it. But Tom was having none of it. So Gracie jumped in and face-timed Brock and they tried to do it backwards over the phone. Then Tommy’s friend arrived to pick him up and tweaked it a bit. It all came together in the end. But, we needed you here.
And didn’t you have a little pre-prom schtick whereby you first put the tie in a little “choke–hold” around their necks before you tied it on them in a lighthearted little demonstration of what would happen to them if they misbehaved at any point during the evening?
Your parenting style was unique, but ever so effective.
This morning, the first thing my eyes alighted on as I rolled over and stared across the vast emptiness of your side of the bed, was the infamous picture, “Dese Boys.”
And I was reminded of a few things…
I was so very THERE that day. So present in the moment that it was almost insulting that James thought he didn’t “have me” just because he couldn’t see me. Simply because I wasn’t in the picture.
Surely that’s how it must be with you now. You were omnipresent as a father. Our favorite scripture for raising children was Deuteronomy 11:19 (remember you used to call the boys “Dude–aronomy?”) That scripture is about teaching your children how to live. “When you wake up in the morning, when you walk down the road, when you lie down at night.” You did all that. Those boys knew your views on life inside and out.
You gave them everything they needed. They can quote you chapter and verse on the stuff that really matters in life. Even after you’ve stepped out of the frame…
And they can watch a YouTube tutorial on anything else they need to know.
My entire childhood I shared a room with my sister.
So, naturally Stef and I had to establish some ground rules for peace and harmony. As with all siblings, most of the guidelines we established in the interest of mutual respect were promptly discarded within a day or two.
In fact the only peace accord I ever recall honoring was “The Prayer Rule.”
“The Prayer Rule” was pretty straightforward for two little freckle-faced “Irish Twins” raised in a strict Catholic household. It simply stated that when one or the other of us was praying, the other one could not talk.
If one of us clambered out of her bed in the dark and started praying and the other sister started jabbering (unaware her sister was praying) the prayerful sib would signal for silence by patting her mattress 3 times loudly. Her chatterbox sister would then be required by the tenets of all that is holy and pure to zip-it.
This system worked like a charm for many years. Even with a little Motor-Mouth sister like me.
So when I acquired my subsequent roomie a few years down the road, I immediately indoctrinated him in “The Prayer Rule.” He wasn’t so much given to chatting me up in bed, but he would initiate other activities designed to distract me from my prayers. So I had to train him that my devotion to saying my prayers every night was non-negotiable.
Believe it or not, he respected that edict for 35 years, for all the stinkin’ good it did him in the end…
For as far back as my memory allows, I’ve recited the exact same prayers, in the exact same ritualized order:
In the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
1. The Lord’s Prayer
2. The Hail Mary
3. Angel of God
4. A string of specific non-formulated prayers for the SAFETY of each one of my family members in chronological order of their ages, starting with my Dad, my Mom, on to my siblings…
In the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Amen.
From the time I was a small frightened child, who realized she had zero control of a large and intimidating world, I believed, or hoped maybe, if I faithfully prayed these prayers in the exact same way without fail every night, I could somehow stave off the imminent tragedy lurking around every corner of our lives.
Jimmy was added the night we were officially engaged. I added “The Baby” on Thursday, March 6th, 1986 when I found out I was pregnant.
The years added up. Ditto the babies. Ditto the prayers.
When my dad died, he retained his seniority position in the line-up and I continued to pray for his “safety,” as I couldn’t bring myself to change a thing. It felt like a betrayal somehow. Same when Mom passed in September.
And when I tell you I prayed on my knees every night for as far back as I can remember, I’m not exaggerating.
I prayed on my knees for 33 years, while Jimmy, if he was home, waited patiently with the TV on mute. In the early years, he jiggled screaming newborns while I said my prayers, although I do recall a couple of occasions he thrust an angry baby my way mid-prayer cycle.
As the years went by hysterical teenagers found their way into our bedroom after a bad break-up and stood there sobbing awaiting the more competent parental counselor. Trust me, Jimmy always insisted they wait for me to finish praying. He’d have sooner soothed a screaming newborn.
Recently, Jimmy watched a Thunder game in the den with our sons, because I couldn’t stand the cussing and the fussing. Afterwards, he burst in the room praising Westbrook’s triple-double, causing me to pound our mattress 3 times emphatically. (As if my kneeling on the floor, hands clasped together pointed skyward wasn’t obvious enough!!)
“Okay, Okay,” he whisper-shouted, “But thank Him for the triple-double while you’re down there!”
And y’all – If I got all comfy cozy in bed and forgot my prayers, I got back out of bed and down on my knees.
No. matter. what.
Last night, a friend and I were discussing that expression, “Man Plans – God Laughs!” I have no idea who made that up or why everyone thinks it’s so clever. It’s not in the Bible. But, I do get the point. We’re supposed to surrender to God’s Will.
Yes, yes I get it. The day Jimmy was killed, he and I were making plans for our future over coffee. We talked about a lake house, a beach house or traveling the world. My husband had worked hard all his life and earned the right to relax and enjoy some of the fruits of his labor.
‘Twas not to be.
For what it’s worth, I still get on my knees every night and pray the exact same prayers in the exact same order as I have since 1960-something, petitioning God to keep my family SAFE. I add new people, but no one gets bumped.
I’m not writing this to brag about my commitment to prayer, but rather as a cautionary tale. If you pray with your eyes closed, keep them at least metaphorically open. Because my approach was all wrong. My prayers didn’t “work!”
I’m coming to the realization that one can plan and one can pray, but there’s no magic and no guarantees – such a difficult concept for self-diagnosed Control–Freaks to wrap our heads around.
In my senior year of college, I wrote a paper entitled, “The Juxtaposition of Our Human Free Will with God’s Foreknowledge.” It was a difficult thesis to write at the time. I never came to a decisive conclusion then and I’m no closer to one today.
I don’t know exactly how prayers are supposed to “work.” Or how they are supposed to sound for that matter. Formulated or unformulated. Eyes open, eyes closed. Knees or no knees. Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Muslim.
But I do still believe all prayers are heard.
Apparently, in life, there are certain things that are just going to happen. But I certainly don’t believe God laughed at us that morning as we sat naively sipping coffee and making plans that were never to be.
The God I pray to probably cried a tiny little bit.
There used to be a commercial for a well-known brokerage firm designed to establish trust among the masses. It always ended with the slogan,
“When E.F. Hutton talks people listen!”
And that was the very first thing I noticed about you. You had an E.F. Hutton quality. You didn’t say much, but when you did, people listened.
The first time I became fully aware of it was when I introduced you to my very own parents.
It was bizarre.
They didn’t care for any of my previous boyfriends. And a smattering of promising and potential suitors had trickled in. So I was more than resigned to the fact that there was no way on Earth they were going to tolerate the likes of you.
You had long blonde hair, pulled back into an almost-ponytail that you tucked in under a hat that had the words, “Loaded Zone” emblazoned across the front. To add insult to injury, you refused to remove the hat when you walked into their traditional southern home, because you sufferred from an affliction you diagnosed as “Hat Hair.”
(Hat Hair was a condition you perpetually claimed to have after you wore a ball cap which, according to you, prevented you from removing the offending cap, causing me to wonder why you wore balł caps to begin with, but I certainly didn’t challenge you much in those days…indeed that emerged later.)
You also wore something on a chain around your neck that I naively assumed was the logo for the popular sports company Adidas, but later learned was a pot leaf. When I eventually discovered what exactly it was you were endorsing, I prayed my parents were oblivious.
It was years later before I realized that since my Dad served in Vietnam, he probably knew. Dad was an Officer and a straight arrow, but apparently unbeknownst to me, he owned an original Cheech & Chong album.
You met my folks in the middle of a south Louisiana summer, sporting a muscle shirt and corduroy Levis. (You clearly deemed corduroy “seasonless” at age 18.) You were barefoot, rode up on a motorcycle, spoke maybe 20 words the entire evening, never smiled, couldn’t be troubled to shake my dad’s hand and spared Doris any superfluous compliments on her pot roast. Nor did you give my parents the least bit of encouragement that you had the slightest interest in their daughter. And yet…
For Mom and Dad, it was love at first sight!
My folks couldn’t wait to see you again. They were giddy like pre-teen schoolgirls. I swear the next day, they wanted to know if you liked them. They wondered throughout the folowing day if they made a good impression. I suspect poor little Doris obsessed until the day she died that you might’ve found her pot roast a bit dry.
I continued to witness you having this remarkable effect on people your entire life. You had a way about you. It’s something your French ancestors referred to as “JE NE SAIS QUOI!” Loosely translated it means “something inexplicable.” One can’t quite put their finger on it. People can sense power and leadership, but to your credit, you never used your powers for evil.
But, man, I sure did!
And who could blame me? I tapped right into it. I was a red headed freckle-faced girl, who had never been cool a day in my life; dating you was akin to having a Genie in a bottle. Invoking your name was a slam-dunk way to win any debate.
No one seemed to have the giblets to go against you on anything. I first noticed this little detail way back in the 80s with my Dad. He and I were arguing about something. I don’t even remember what it was. But, I suddenly blurted out, “Well, Jimmy said blah, blah, blah…”
The next thing you know Dad caved. Maybe not entirely. I don’t remember. He was a force-to-be-reckoned-with back then in his own right. He was around 50 years old, retired military, quite formidable and at the height of his second distinguished and successful career.
My “Jimmy said...” parlor trick continued to served me well through the years in countless ways, on countless people in countless situations. And I abused it on:
The Chief of Neonatology at Children’s
But never was it more effective than when we were raising our small innocent offspring together. Our formula for child-rearing was pretty solid. It was a classic spin-off of the Bad Cop/Good Cop Model, one might liken to Cool Parent/Nerd Parent.
I was the insufferable nerd parent who would never actually ground a child, but rather lectured them for weeks after an infraction. My disciplinary tactics ran the gamut from beseeching to crying to story-telling. I wore ’em slick with anecdotes, song lyrics and inspirational quotes.
And when alł that fluff you referred to as my “Paper Tiger Parenting” style inevitably failed me, I would simply revert back to, “Daddy says…”
It never failed me. Since you passed, I know for a fact our 5 kids are counting their blessings that they’re mostly “raised.”
We all loved your way. Every day.
“Je ne sais quoi!” I never could quite put my finger on it…
You know how the freshly-widowed always seem to mention how difficult it is to deal with their husband’s clothes after they’re gone? I guess because the scents and textures remind them so intensely of their dearly departed…
I didn’t actually experience that. A few days after you died, I ventured into your closet and tried to find you, but you weren’t there.
I couldn’t figure out why. I went in totally prepared with a gigantic box of tissues. Perhaps it’s because you didn’t smell like anything in particular. That’s when it occurred to me that you didn’t have a “signature scent.” You didn’t wear cologne or aftershave like my dad, nor did you have any kind’ve a strong soapy smell.
We both know 20 years immersed in dirty diapers entirely eradicated my sense of smell, but you’d think at the very least I could’ve garnered a whiff of your Safeguard for the Love of God and the emotional moment I was trying to have.
I stood there inhaling and exhaling deeply like I was in a Yoga class or attending one of those Lamaze classes you teased me about. (You claimed they were pointless because I always ended up begging and pleading for the epidural) but since there were no epidurals offered during this mourning process, those clever breathing techniques came in clutch.
As for your general attire, you mostly wore black mock-turtlenecks or button-down oxfords, inspiring your young work protégées to lovingly refer to such as the “Jim Uniform.”
You questioned me one day a few months ago whether or not I thought you were “fashionable?” After I chuckled inside a little bit, I assured you that you were the “Clint Eastwood/Al Pacino Type” and your rugged brand of masculinity transcended mere attire.
Basically assuring you that you were so incredibly sexy that no one had a chance to even notice what you were wearing…
So, when the time came, I took a deep breath, marched right into your closet like the brave little woman I am and boxed up all your clothes. Remember what our toddlers used to say?
“I did it all byself!”
I knew you wouldn’t have wanted anyone else in your closet. I set aside a few things for your boys and then, as you would’ve put it, I “handled–up on business.”
But, dude… our Spring Break trip to Louisiana last week – that was a different matter altogether…
From the second I walked off the plane and into the airport in New Orleans, it felt like I was stepping back into YOU.
The Jim-ness was as thick as the humid air down there – you could cut it with a knife.
We crossed over the Bonne Carre Spillway on our way into Baton Rouge. It’s open right now, by the way, to keep the Mississippi River from flooding New Orleans. The water was rushing with focused determination. It had somewhere to go.
(Just like you.)
In fact, the whole place was a remarkable study in contradiction and contrast. Power and urgency VS laid-back languidity.
(Just like you.)
The entire week was a full-on assault of my senses and my heart.
(Just like you.)
The music and the moss-draped trees
The food and the accents
The purple and the gold
The waterways and your people
The streets over by LSU and on the other side of town by your parents’ house reminded me of all the hours we whiled away when we thought we had all of eternity. We just cruised around in your car as teens – Our old stomping grounds, as they say. Where it all began.
Going nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
When my dad was transferred from Dallas to Louisiana, I was only 15. I crossed the Texas-Louisiana state line in the backseat of my parents’ Cadillac, pouting up a storm. Entirely unaware my Cajun Prince awaited. Convinced my life was over.
But, of course, it was only just beginning. I met you about two years later. And, even though we left Louisiana on the day we were married and never officially “lived” there again, it was always your home.
Which, by virtue of unwavering devotion, made it my home. (See The Book of Ruth 1:16)*
On our last day there, I saw to it that your son made it down to the Quarter for some oysters and seafood gumbo. It cost me $150 in Uber surge fees. Worth every penny.
We took a quick stroll over to the levy to pay our respects to “Old Man River.” I attempted to turn it into a brief history lesson on the majesty of this fine port city. But it was pretty obvious Louisiana’s significant historical contribution to the trade and commerce of this great nation wasn’t what captured the attention of a 17-year-old-boy in the French Quarter.
I’ll try again in 15 years.
They call New Orleans “The Big Easy,” and maybe that’s true most of the time. For us, it was a bittersweet homecoming; healing and necessary. But, I could’ve used that box of tissues from your closet and was pretty grateful for my focused and disciplined breathing abilities.
Because you might not have had a “signature scent,” but you definitely had a “signature place” and this time around, it wasn’t all that Easy…
* “I will never leave you. Your home will become my home. And your people, will be my people. And there, we will dwell all the days of our lives ” (Ruth 1:16)
Like every married couple, it’s no secret that Jimmy and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on every single thing.
One thing we agreed to disagree on was the best way to die. He considered the way my Dad died the “better way” and thought the way his Dad died sucked.
It goes without saying that all dying sucks no matter the circumstances, but there was always this ongoing debate as to whether it was preferable to know in advance that you were going to die, so that you could bid proper farewells to your loved ones or just “peace-out on-the-fly” as Jimmy put it in his hippie vernacular.
I would often get irritated with Jimmy after my Dad died because he would say,
“Oh Man! Your Dad would’ve loved the way he died! He really went out in style!”
My Dad died from a massive coronary at the age of 63, one July afternoon in 2001, after playing 18 holes of golf while eating a bowl of seafood gumbo at lunch with my mother – quite literally the three greatest passions of his life.
I always regretted that I did not expect my Dad to die so young and never really got a chance to wrap things up, so to speak. To say a proper good-bye.
Unfortunately, Jimmy’s father wasted away from illness before the very eyes of his loved ones. While Jimmy always agreed there was indeed opportunity for “closure,” it was terribly painful to witness all the suffering involved.
I know it’s selfish that I’m so hurt God took my Jimmy when and how He did. It became painfully obvious that he was God’s Jimmy and not my Jimmy. But, I still don’t think, if given the choice, he would’ve wanted to leave us so soon.
At just 54, we had far too many unrealized dreams. I know for a fact he wanted to float that last baby girl down the aisle. And he wanted to finish raising his sons. He wanted to see more grandchildren born.
Nonetheless, it’s really left me with a lot of unfinished business as I’m sure y’all might imagine.
I lie awake every night and I wonder if I was actually a good wife. I wonder – if I had a crystal ball and I knew that he was going to die so young, would I have doubled down in some key marital areas? For instance:
-He would’ve gone out to eat every night, but I often said “no.” I was always on a diet.
-He would’ve done the hokey-pokey every night. I never said “no,” but sometimes I wore really, really ugly pajamas on purpose.
-He liked to travel, but I complained that it made me motion sick.
You get the picture.
So, the other night I did what any crazy widow – not entirely in her right mind would do – I started scrolling through all of our old texts. I was trying to analyze what kind of wife I really was.
I feel like I’m losing perspective. Was I nice? Was I loving? Did I make him happy? Did I “do him well all the days of his life” like Proverbs 31 said I was supposed to?
Maybe our old texts would give me a clue…
I came across the following text and took comfort in the fact that I was schlepping around out there one day trying to get my man some sinus medicine – because we all now it’s kind’ve a pain in the arse. You have to show your ID so they know you’re not running a meth lab.
But, then I found this one. And it was so clear that he was better to me than I was to him. Not that it was a contest or anything, but Geez…
I must admit I was somewhat encouraged when I stumbled across this little gem however…
It’s pretty stinkin’ endearing and I think it speaks volumes about the depths of our devotion that he thought I was going to ferret out a recipe for something called “baba ganoush” and make it for him. I’m not sure where he was or who he was with on the 17th of January, but how cute is that? It kind’ve made my heart sing. Notice my response?
I don’t know if I was running for my cookbook or Epicurean.com, but what I think matters here, is that he believed I was going to make this concoction.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I did anything meaningful with squash. But maybe I was going to make that stuff – You really never know with a person like me. I’m full of surprises and can even be loving, as evidenced by the “sinus medicine undertaking.”
Sometimes I tell myself I shouldn’t have let my children’s father ride that motorcycle – to the degree a wife really lets her husband do something. But I do know he loved me so much he would not have ridden if I had really pressed the matter.
But, like my Dad, he definitely died doing something he passionately loved.
So, all that’s left for me now is a lifetime to scroll around my phone and other memorabilia for evidence that I loved him like I was gonna lose him…
“You Can Tell Everybody This Is Your Song” (I’m Not One Of Those Who Can Easily Hide, So I’m Going To Face The Music…)
Within a few hours of them letting me know you were gone, my entourage left me alone (for just a second) in my closet to change into my pajamas, when I suddenly experienced just one of the hundreds of epiphanies regarding my forever-changed future…
What about the music?
I’ll never be able to listen to music again.
When you’ve been with someone since you were both 18, every song has a story or a memory attached to it. And of course we loved music together. But, I guess that doesn’t exactly set us apart from other couples. Couples love their music.
That’s because music is almost always about love and relationships.
When we were teenagers, I would always say, “Turn the radio up! Doesn’t this song remind you of us?” And you would do that thing you always did, where you kind’ve cocked your head to the side when you didn’t quite get something. Like why a particular song was OURS.
Eventually you explained to me that you didn’t really listen to song lyrics. I was astonished. You said you liked music for the music. And then I was confused. You mean the notes? The arrangement of the notes? Who doesn’t listen to the words? It’s just one of the many ways we were different.
Through the years, of course, I forced you to parse many many many songs’ lyrics and meanings with me. I remained convinced every song was OURS…
Except for a few of those AC/DC songs you liked.
(I know I always made you turn them off when I hopped in your truck. Guess what? I would let you listen to them now if we could ride in your truck somewhere together just one more time. But isn’t that just the way it goes?)
The thought occurred to me as I buttoned up my pajama top that I’m never going to be able to listen to music again as long as I live.
But then I thought…well…maybe I could just switch over to a genre we had no previous history with. Such as Rap music or Symphony music. Talk about hugging polar opposite ends of the culture spectrum.
But I would only have to pick one. And neither were likely to make me dissolve into a puddle of tears as I drowned in recollected memories. Because they would all be songs I’ve never heard before.
But within a few days I came to my senses. I’m not cultured enough for classical and a bit too prissy for rap.
I decided I was just going to delve right back into our stuff headfirst.
Rip the bandaid off.
No screwing around.
Nothin to it, but to do it.
So I picked out our favorite Motown songs* for the pictorial video we showed at the funeral and have been wading through our catalog of music ever since, for the blog and just life in general.
Do I cry?
Like a baby. But it’s okay. I can’t give up all of our music forever. It would be like giving up US. And I just don’t realistically seeing me turning to rap or the symphonic sound to get my groove on…
But listen to this funny thing that happened to me on my way home from therapy yesterday:
This therapist-guy’s office is right by one of my favorite stores. So I decided yesterday that if I have to go bare my grief-stricken soul to a veritable stranger on the weekly, the least I could do is treat myself to a little shopping spree. You would want me to. I did it for you.
I found some darling pants I liked and decided to try them on, but I could only find them in a size 0. I asked the young sales girl if they had them in a larger size somewhere in the back-stock.
“How much larger?” She asked.
“Well, let’s start with literally anything larger than a 0 – like a 2 or a 4? Or perhaps (gasp) a 6!
I went ahead and tried on the 0 because…well… I don’t actually know why.
Could not even get the zipper to budge. Which was discouraging, because there was a time before the friends and neighbors started bringing “comfort food” every night…
As I was peeling them off of me, one of OUR SONGS came on in the dressing room and I started bawling my eyes out. Right about that time the sales girl informed me that they indeed did not have those pants in anything larger, but she went on to inquire “How are those 0s working out for you?”
I was sobbing.
As I exited the dressing room, I handed her the 0s back with red, swollen, puffy eyes. I thought about explaining that I’d just lost my husband/best friend but that seemed like a tad too much information.
You could tell she thought I was just extremely overwrought about needing a 2 or a 4. She assured me they were readily available in larger sizes online and shipping was fast and convenient. (As if I didn’t know that – they have my credit card on file, for the love of God.)
But, it’s going to be a long, long time before I can just go venturing about in public subjecting myself to any ol’ random soundtrack the establishment might be playing without running the risk of embarrassing myself.
I did, however, start wondering if bawling your eyes out legitimately burns real calories or if that’s just water weight? It’s not like I’m crying to get down to a 0 or anything, but if it worked…
*In the interest of full disclosure : Jimmy’s two favorite Motown hits were “Sexual Healing” and “Lets Get It On” by Marvin Gaye, his favorite Motown artist. I’m proud that even in a state of unprecedented shock and bewilderment, I was classy enough to know those were not appropriate for the funeral video. Doris would’ve been proud of my discretion.
I called our oldest son “Jimmy” today.
I don’t know why. But I can picture a miniature Dr. Freud and a group of Lilliputian Phd candidates wandering around my vacuous brain, peering about and conjecturing on the matter.
The obvious explanation is that he looks exactly like you. Everyone says so. But I really don’t think that’s why I called him the name of his doppelgänger, dearly departed father.
I think it was the all-too-familiar verbal dynamic that was taking place at the moment.
It was the feeling of trying to persuade a guy with an entirely male perspective about something from an entirely female perspective. That’s something that happened around here with ongoing regularity between me and you, so I merely got confused for a second.
My mind slipped into an old familiar gear.
I was earnestly and emphatically trying to explain my unique point of view on a particular matter to James and I thought there was a slight chance he might not be agreeing with me, so in a semi-amused state of frustration I shouted,
We were both immediately and momentarily stunned. Like the time I waded-into-that-icy-creek-in-Montana-stunned.
Tommy was sitting there too because he had been enjoying the show up until that point. (Everyone knows younger siblings will find a way to sit down in the room and make themselves cozy if they think there might be even a glimmer of fireworks between an older sibling and a parent.)
Tommy immediately squeezed my hand.
I teared up. Then I remembered that thing James used to do when he was a tiny boy and smiled despite my tears…
Every time he wanted to tell YOU something, or ME something or BOTH of us something, he would walk up to us and wait patiently until he had our attention (we worked hard to teach our children not to interrupt adults.) And then, when he was sure he had whichever (or both) parent(s) attention, he would introduce himself as though we didn’t know who he was. He always said,
“It’s Me, James!”
And then he would go about showing you whatever he had crafted out of play dough or Legos or show you a trick he had mastered or ask for juice or whatever…
But no matter what it was he wanted or how recently he had just spoken to you previously, even if it had just been minutes earlier, he would re-introduce himself anew with each verbal exchange…
“It’s Me, James! Can I go outside to play?”
“It’s Me, James! Yook what I can do!”
“It’s Me, James! Come yook at what I painted on the wall for you!”
I can remember having friends over who would witness this bizarre behavior and their facial expressions always registered a peculiar type of puzzlement. Which honestly is kind’ve dumb because anyone who has ever met a toddler knows their minds are just complicated little machines.
Nonetheless, we both found it mildly embarrassing, remember?
We would make every attempt to trivialize it, confidently reassuring our friends, “We know who he is. We just think that maybe he, (because we have so many children) well…he isn’t entirely convinced. And he feels like he needs to introduce himself properly and formally each time he addresses us, so there is no confusion as to which of our offspring he is – children being in such relative abundance around here…”
But we do know. Of course we do. How could we forget? He is James. Our firstborn son.
But today I forgot for a second. I thought he was you.
But in all fairness to me, I have to tell you how your sons have really stepped up to the plate these past 4 weeks. (Is that a baseball analogy? I know how much you love it when I use sports analogies to drive my points home.) They have both stepped into your intimidatingly large Marlborough Man shoes and done everything they could possibly do at the tender ages of 17 and 20 to make you proud.
Honey, we are getting so much figured out. You wouldn’t believe the man-things we do on the reg these days. Big time testosterone-infused activities. Involving the likes of pool cleaners, Kelly blue book values, car titles, septic tanks, taxes. If you can see us right now wherever you are, I know you are shaking your head in bewilderment.
There’s no way you’re not up there wondering where in the heck all this initiative and wherewithal was when you were alive…we were just holding back out of deference to the Alpha Male!
One of your favorite lectures (and you had many) was called, “The Awareness and Participation Speech.” You were constantly in an uproar at the lack of these two fine American qualities you considered essential, yet lacking in Today’s Youth. You were convinced they disappeared with your generation. But your sons have dug deep and are exhibiting these traits. Apparently, they were there all along, just lying dormant?
Your boys are actually going to be exactly the men you wanted them to be. I would give anything for you to see. They are home every weekend tending to my every need, taking me to church, rolling the trash cans up and down the driveway without your admonishment, hugging me tons and just taking care of their mom in general.
The thing is – they are just exactly like you.
Maybe that’s the real reason James felt like he needed to introduce and distinguish himself way back when and why I’m inadvertently calling our boys by your name these days.