October 2016 began with a wedding. I have always been amazed at the relationship an elementary teacher can have with former students. Kate was a student of mine when I taught 5th grade. But when she became an adult, and it was time for her to get married, I was still involved in her life.
I guess when you live in a small community and your own children are friends of your students, it’s natural for there to be continued contact. And the fact that I hired her mother, Beth, to teach PE at the school made us even closer friends. Beth and I went way back from the times our sons played basketball together–sitting in the bleachers and cheering–doing what sports moms do.
Kate and Tyler had planned an unusual wedding. It was outside—not unusual—and in front of a box car—a little uncommon. The guests could arrive to the ceremony via a 15 minute train ride, and the entire ceremony was very “Kate.” She wanted it to be Quaker-like, which meant that people were free to stand up and speak for the couple, encourage them, read a poem….or sing a song. That’s where Lisa and I came in. We are known for our funny YouTube videos, and she wondered if we could do something original for her.
We did. We sang it live, her with her ukulele, and me with my melodica. But as a gift to them, we videoed it. Now you can enjoy it.
I was struck with a conversation I had with Mike, Kate’s brother, before the wedding. I’m not sure how the topic came up, but when I asked his opinion on his parents’ choice to sell the homestead and move away, his immediate response was, “Don’t do it. I really miss the place when I come home, even though it’s only once or twice a year.” Then he gave a more politically correct answer: “But, really, kids shouldn’t dictate what parents should do with the house or even future plans.” It made me think about our home. Would I know if and when it was time for me to sell?
It felt so good to have someone in the house with me the weekend Lisa was there. We even attended a Union Baptist Chapel reunion. I was wondering how difficult it would be for me to see all of those people, all of the dear folks who voted for Roger to come pastor the church…with four children and a wife! The pastor that Roger followed was there, and it was good. It was good to see the folks love on him (he was dearly adored), and so the focus was not on me, Roger, or our ministry. There were, however, many memories of Roger and our move from Alabama to Illinois.
Freda, who we stayed with when we arrived in Decatur, shared memories of Lisa sleeping on her couch. I chatted with dear friend, Dave, who had Parkinson’s and still managed to play tennis with Roger. Here are some of the photos.
The next weekend Scott came home. Just Scott. We recorded music for his choir and even went to a football game on that Homecoming weekend.
When a child marries and has a family, it’s not often that a parent gets to spend much alone time with a child. So that weekend was sweet for both of us. I had small list of things for him to do, one of which was to get rid of some wasp nests. He successfully got rid of something—the entire can of Hot Shot! And it appeared that the wasps were frightened away. Maybe it was the spray. Or Scott’s running about with flailing arms. I wasn’t sure.
Scott left, and then I had another crisis.
I returned that Sunday afternoon from a concert, and got a flat tire. It was flat. And almost immediate. I saw the warning on the dash, drove home, and when I stopped in the driveway, the tire was flat. Like a pancake.
Mike and Della bailed me out again. He put the “donut” on and then next day I went to Walmart. And Sam’s. And I called around. No one had the tires I needed. And it was Columbus Day.
I went home and sat.
Sometimes grief made me catch my breath.
I sat on a sunny October morning looking out the window. I asked myself, “Was it just last year that we were finishing up radiation and deciding about treatment? No. Last year I was going through all of those firsts. So this must be the second October without him.” The passing of time was playing tricks on me.
How could I describe the emptiness I felt? The void was still there.
I was able to get the tires I needed. The hand of God was in it even though there were some delays and doubts on my part.
I then found myself inundated with sadness. Roger was still dead. Imagine that. And I still missed him. Imagine that. Randomly my mind would wander to Roger, his last days, his habits, his dry wit and I would catch my breath, sense a literal pain in my heart and feel like I was going to panic.
Carol and Gary invited me over for chili and football on TV one night. I didn’t know that I needed that fellowship. We went to a concert in Clinton on Saturday night. And I didn’t know that I needed that friend-time, too.
By the following Sunday I was struck with grief. I sang in the choir that evening because I was singing in a trio and it made getting on the platform easier. But just being in the choir room, that room where we spent so many years prepping the choir, was unsettling to me. It had been redecorated and looked more like a nice classroom. And then we practiced the song Forgiven, and I just cried. No one saw me, but those words were so very tender to me. It was a memory of something from long ago, and the poignancy of those words was remarkable.
After church there was a fellowship for Miss Myrtle’s retirement, and I felt like I was still on the edge. As Carol was leaving, I motioned that I needed to talk with her. I told her I was struggling. I cried. And she was so understanding. She reminded me that I was coming up on two years, and another anniversary would be hard. Gary entered the conversation, and said that he and Carol weren’t always aware if I was going through a hard time or not. I didn’t carry my grief openly, and he said they needed to know if I was struggling. They didn’t know what to do, but they would be there. I thought–wasn’t it amazing that they spent time with me those previous days even when I didn’t know I needed to have that fellowship?
A Trip Home
I made a trip to Joliet to have dinner with my HS Sunday School teacher, Don and have a quick coffee with friend Gaye. And my “engine needs coolant” warning came on. I worried that something terrible would happen. Like I would be stranded so far from home with my engine burning up.
After picking some brains and checking to see if the engine was overheating (it wasn’t), I arrived home. Safely.
That week two missionary families were staying at my house. One young husband was in the middle of his two year old’s brain cancer battle, and the other husband was a widower who had found a new wife. Their stories were both unsettling and comforting at the same time. I especially appreciated their candidness.
A Long-Overdue Trip
I ended the month with a trip to South Carolina to see Lance and my friend Patsy. The flights were fine. The “full body pat down” both ways in small airports was a complete surprise. Those new hips make anyone suspicious of unknown metal in a small airport.
Getting to see my friend Patsy after 30 years of communicating by phone and email was indescribable. I just couldn’t stop looking at her face. She hadn’t changed a bit. Well, if I was totally honest I would have to say that we had both changed–a few more wrinkles, several aches and pains–but our spirits were exactly the same. How we laughed and reminisced of days growing up in Joliet. We shared our lives, describing how our families had grown, enlarged and brought about more joy than imagined. I helped her cook, we ate, I played the piano and we sang, I met her family, we listened to an old radio recording…and then it was over. Too soon.
I headed to stay at Lance’s home for a few days and I’m glad I did. I saw the devastation from a recent hurricane. Hurricanes didn’t usually have much effect on the Florence area, other than lots of rain. In fact, Florence was supposed to be an “evacuation place” for the downstate folks. In reality, trees fell down, electricity was out for 5 days, and the area was declared a national disaster. Word was it wouldn’t be until after Christmas that all of the yard waste would be gone.
I was able to meet so many of Lance’s co-workers. They all spoke so highly of him, and it wasn’t just because I was his mother. It was so genuine. Lance, the professor of children’s literature, was very good at what he did.
Just spending time with Lance was satisfying enough, and freezing a few hamburger pies was fulfilling for this mama. (What mother doesn’t want to make sure their child has enough to eat?)
But the greatest experience was at the First Presbyterian Church on Reformation Sunday. The weather was perfect as the church presented their “Kirkin O’ the Tartan” service. It was so moving to see the families represent their clan as they marched in wearing their colors and bearing their flag.
And the history behind the day was striking. I had forgotten so much of what Luther had done, impacting so much of Europe and America. I’ve attached a synopsis of it.
Martin Luther is one of the most influential figures in Western history. His writings were responsible for fractionalizing the Catholic Church and sparking the Protestant Reformation. His central teachings, that the Bible is the central source of religious authority and that salvation is reached through faith and not deeds, shaped the core of Protestantism. Although Luther was critical of the Catholic Church, he distanced himself from the radical successors who took up his mantle. Luther is remembered as a controversial figure, not only because his writings led to significant religious reform and division, but also because in later life he took on radical positions on other questions, including his pronouncements against Jews, which some have said may have portended German anti-Semitism; others dismiss them as just one man’s vitriol that did not gain a following. Some of Luther’s most significant contributions to theological history, however, such as his insistence that as the sole source of religious authority the Bible be translated and made available to everyone, were truly revolutionary in his day.
What is the Kirkin’ O’ the Tartan? The History The ceremony of Kirkin’ O’ the Tartan is of American origin, though based on Scottish history and legend. After Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Scottish forces were defeated by the English at the battle of Culloden in 1746, Scotland once again came under British rule. To control the Scots, an act was passed that forbade the carrying of arms and the wearing of kilts or tartans which represented Scottish heritage. Orders were given for British troops to kill any person dressed in or displaying the tartan.
The Legend This act prompted the Scots to secretly carry with them a piece of their tartan as they went to the Kirk or church. The minister then slipped a blessing (a Kirkin’) into the service for the tartans. The prohibition against the tartan lasted for nearly 50 years. When at last repealed, the Church of Scotland celebrated with a Service of Family Covenant, at which time the tartan of each family was offered as a covenant expression for the Lord’s blessing.
My flight(s) back were uneventful until the last leg. After the Florence “pat down,” I flew to Charlotte and the four hour layover was nice. I even sat for a while on the famous rocking chairs scattered about the airport. Charlotte to Dallas-Fort Worth was great, too. The plane was large, the night lights of the city were spectacular, and the landing was smooth.
And then after a few minutes we heard the flight attendant say, “Welcome to Dallas-Fort Worth. Apparently they don’t know we are here yet.” There was a problem with the jet way, which made potential problems with people who had connecting flights. People like me. I worried about my connection to Springfield, so I ran. I mean it. I ran like OJ Simpson through the airport on the HERTZ commercial, jumping over suitcases, hopping over banisters, and I made it with 5 minutes to spare.
It was good to be home.
It wasn’t good to be alone.
OBSERVATION: Difficult journeys often lead to beautiful destinations.
OBSERVATION: Present circumstances can become fond memories.
HELPFUL HINT: Plan for the unexpected. In other words, expect change to happen.
HELPFUL HINT: Never forget the people who helped you in difficult times.