Tag Archives: family

Sylvie and small town manners

Mayberry (as defined by Wikipedia, the closest thing we have to an official “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”: a fictional community in North Carolina that was the setting for two American television sitcoms, The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D. It is also a song by American country music band Rascal Flatts. The thing is, if you live anywhere close to where I do, you know that Mayberry is a real town; it just isn’t called Mayberry. Look it up; you’ll figure it out. Hubby and I spent a few hours in Mayberry today. It was bittersweet.

Sylvie was my mom’s first cousin. I have no idea what that means in terms of her relationship to me, but it doesn’t really matter. She was nine years older than me, and in the summer of 1968 she was my almost-nanny. She moved from Mayberry to our house next to the airport in the Star City and lived with us for two months. I don’t remember much about that summer: she shared my bedroom, and her bed had a blue blanket on it…one that I still have. She could drive. We went swimming at a local swim club that didn’t have a pool, only a spring-fed pond that was COLD, and had a playground-type sliding board in it. That’s about it. After that summer she moved back to Mayberry. She went to college for a while. She got married, and divorced. And sometime in her early 20’s she was diagnosed with a very debilitating mental disorder. Her life from that point on was, well, difficult. She tried the standard medications, the ones that left her functional but with no personality at all. She spent time in mental hospitals and group homes. I lived with her mother and her for about 3 weeks when I took my first job in NC in late 1986. We, the family, would see her occasionally, at family reunions (when we used to have them every June,) or more recently, at a funeral. Before last September, I hadn’t seen her for about six years. We had a family reunion in September and she was there with her mother, my grandfather’s sister. She seemed happy to see all of us, but she was very quiet and withdrawn. A side-effect of the medication, perhaps.

Sylvie had three brothers and three sisters. Her oldest brother died in 1983. Her mother, my great aunt, has outlived her husband, her parents, and now, two of her children. It seems that life in Mayberry isn’t quite what we’ve been led to believe. Life, just plain old run-of-the-mill life, doesn’t always play out the way it’s portrayed on the tee-vee. It’s not all sunlight and roses. Shortly after our reunion in September, Sylvie got sick. She was in the hospital in Mayberry, and when they couldn’t help her she came here to the big city, only they couldn’t help her either. Hubby and I went to visit her while she was in the hospital here. She said she was fine, she didn’t need anything, that she appreciated our taking time to drop by and see her. She was released, only to be readmitted. The doctors said “cancer” but they weren’t sure how far it had spread. In the wee hours of December 30, she died.

So today we made the trip up the mountain to Mayberry to say goodbye. In some ways, seeing Sylvie today was much less painful than seeing her in the hospital. Her sixty years had been so hard, and the struggle is finally over. Her casket was covered with pink roses, but there were no other flowers, because the family requested that donations be made in Sylvie’s honor to the local hospice, or any charity of choice. I like that. Don’t send me flowers when I’m gone.

There is peace on the other side. We will all miss Sylvie. But the restlessness that was her life is calm now.

About those small town manners: the drive from the funeral home to the cemetery was, in some unspoken way, a much more appropriate tribute to her life than any words any of us could have spoken would have been. There was a police escort. Drivers pulled over, out of respect for the passing of a funeral procession, even on the highway. I was moved by the fact that, even though these people didn’t know Sylvie, they took a moment out of their day to pay respect to a neighbor, a fellow human being who was taking that final journey that we all will take. Hubby and I were chatting about something or other as we prepared to make the final turn into the cemetery. The police escort had pulled his car to the roadside and was standing beside his car.  As we passed by, we could not help but notice him, standing by his cruiser, head bowed, right hand placed over his heart. Whatever words we were sharing stuck in our throats.

Sylvie, her father and her brother are all dancing today. And the gift of the pink roses: perfect happiness, peace, and joy.

Update: the day after the funeral my husband sent an email to the Chief of Police in Mayberry, thanking him for the respect shown by the people who pulled aside as we passed by. The chief answered: “First, let me extend my sympathy on the loss of your wife’s loved on. Secondly, thank you for your kind words regarding the procession. Our department takes a great deal of pride in the way we handle funeral processions. I will pass this information along to the officer who conducted the escort. Thank you.”

Kind words, given and received, by perfect strangers. Try it.



Baby Girl had a homework assignment to complete on the first day of school this year.  She had to write a poem about herself, about “where she’s from.” She didn’t ask for help, and I didn’t offer any. I think she got it just right.

Where I’m From

I am from long afternoons at the barn. Pastures sprawled out in all directions and the whinnies of horses. The sweet smell of hay and the feel of rough mane through my fingers. The taste of dirt after falling off.

I am from the days of watching Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon. Dragon Tails, Arthur, and My Little Pony. Singing along with Barney & Friends and the Sesame Street show. Telling Dora where to go and what to do.

I am from Scottish ancestry. The land of haggis, kilts and the sound of bagpipes. A land that fought valiantly for its independence, but lost. The same land where Nessie resides, making lake Loch Ness her home.

I am from two brave soldiers, both of whom fought in World War II. Overseas in a land unfamiliar, fighting a powerful enemy. Bearing the weight of war on their shoulders. Writing letters to loved ones back home, thankful that they are safe.

I am from weeks at the lake. Jumping off the dock, going out for boat rides. Watching movies and playing games with cousins. Spending time with the two neighborhood dogs. Fishing and eating dinner on the deck. Watching storms pass by.

I am from the love of history. The times of kings and queens. Of Tsars and Tsarinas. Guards standing watch outside palaces and castles. Times where sickness and plague ran rampant. And war was at every corner.

I am from the best family anyone could ask for. A mother, father and brother. Loving, caring, always there when you need them. People that could never be replaced. People that will always be remembered, their faces and names forever in my heart and mind.

She says she isn’t a writer.

summers of my dreams

If you’ve been reading here recently, I made reference to this song and said i *might* explain what it means to me. After thinking about it, I decided that it was a project worth doing. So, here goes……a real life fairy tale.

Back in the days when I was young and innocent, I was blessed to have four grandmothers. On mom’s side, there was my Grandma Ruth, my great-grandma Lena Pearl, and my great-great-grandma Horton. Then on dad’s side there was my step-grandma Irene. Amazingly enough, I lost my last remaining grandma, great-grandma Lena Pearl, in 2004,  shortly after she celebrated her 100th birthday. She died peacefully, in her sleep,  just as she wished.

From about the age of seven, I would spend a week each summer with Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Clayton, then another week with great-Grandma Lena Pearl and great-grandpa David Ed. Then around Labor Day we would head to step-grandma’s VERY rustic cabin in eastern Virginia, on the banks of Saluda creek, which empties into the Rappahannock River. For any of you who were educated in Virginia during the late 60’s or early 70’s then you should recognize the Rappahannock as one of the four tidal rivers that enter into the Chesapeake Bay, as described in our 4th grade Virginia History and Geaography textbook, which I still have. A cookie to anyone who can name the other three….ok, I have no cookies. They are the Potomac, the York, and the James. (One thing I do remember learning in 4th grade from the teacher with green hair.)

In the shade of this old tree in the summer of my dreams
By the tall grass by the wild rose where the trees dance as the wind blows
As the days go oh so slowly as the sun shines oh so holy
On the good and gracious green in the summer of my dreams

Great-grandma Pearl lived in the Blue Ridge mountains, very close to the NC/VA state line. Her original home place is now a part of I-77 Southbound. She lived in a two-story farmhouse with a creek running behind it. On the other side of the creek was the general store that great-grandpa Ed ran up until the early 70’s. When he finally closed the place down, gas was selling for $0.33 / gallon, and if you know where to find the remains of the store, you might still be able to see the remains of those gas pumps. The store sold everything from food to farm implements, clothes, shoes, candy…everything a little girl could ever want. The counter had on old, push button cash register, a large jar of pickles, pickled eggs, pickled pigs feet. There was a chest cooler with soda pop. My favorite was Dr. Pepper, to be consumed with a bag of salted peanuts that was poured into the bottle before drinking commenced. There was a pot-bellied stove in the center of the store, and a bench on the front porch where the old farmers would gather on a warm summer afternoon and discuss the weather, their crops and cattle, and life and death in their small community.

The farmhouse had a porch that wrapped around two sides, with a porch swing at the corner. There was a root cellar under the side porch. She also had an enclosed back porch with a spring house. Cold water was always available, dipped by a dried gourd that hung above the spring. There were usually fresh vegetables from the garden in the spring house water sink, cooling for dinner. Grandma had a freezer on the back porch that usually contained frozen meats, processed from animals they raised themselves. She had two milk cows that were faithfully milked morning and evening, with any surplus milk placed in a milk can and then placed in another spring fed cooler in the front yard, where the milk truck would pick it up and return the empty milk cans the next day.

Grandma’s garden was across the creek, behind the store. She tried to teach me how to recognize the vegetables from their greenery. Once, after spending a day picking green beans, we went back to the garden where grandma Pearl showed me rows of plants and asked me what they were. Pushing the green leaves back and finding nothing that looked like anything edible, I replied, “I don’t know what it is, but it sure has been picked clean!” It was potatoes. Hey, I was seven, remember?

Grandma Horton would usually come for a visit. She would spend time traveling from one child’s home to another, staying a few days at each one. She was almost blind, wore dark glasses and dressed like Grandma Walton, complete with apron. She called me “Bernice”.

We used to play in the creek, chasing fish and crawdads, and if we were lucky enough to catch anything we would take our captives from the creek and place them in the milk can cooler where we could observe them up close.

There was a cherry tree that grew at the riverbank. We would eat cherries until our tummies ached.

By the banks of this old stream in the summer of my dreams
By the deep pool where the fish wait for the old fool with the wrong bait
There’s a field of purple clover there’s a small cloud passing over
And the rain comes washing clean on the summer of my dreams

One of my cousins would come down to visit whenever I was there. He was maybe three or four years older than me, and I had a terrible crush on him. He used to push me on the porch swing. Grandma had pots of flowers covering her front and side porches. It was beautiful.

Grandma Pearl’s house was not built with indoor plumbing. By the time I came along they had built a single bathroom that took up the back of the side porch. The door to the bathroom was in the kitchen, a bit awkward. She kept a small bottle of turpentine, closed with a cork stopper, that was used to cure any major injury that came up: bee stings, poison oak, mosquito bites. She had a wringer washing  machine. I was helping her do laundry one day and as I fed the clothes into the wringer, my fingers were caught between the rollers and my hand went through the wringer, all the way up to my elbow. Scared Grandma Pearl half to death.

I was there when Pearl and Ed got their first telephone, a party line. Grandpa would NOT answer the phone. Period. There was this one day when Grandma needed to call someone and two other ladies had the line tied up, so to speak. One of them kept saying that she needed to get off the phone and check the beans she’d left cooking on the stove. After about an hour of this, Grandma Pearl picked up the phone, listened in for a second, and said “Lady, them beans is burned by now!” She got the line freed up to make her call.

See the raindrops on the grass now just like diamonds lying there
By the old road where I pass now there’s a twilight in the air
And as the sun sets down before me I see my true love waiting for me
Standing by the back porch screen in the summer of my dreams

Staying with Grandma Ruth was different. My grandpa Clayton also ran a local grocery store, and he was the butcher. In addition, he raised sheep and beef cattle, which also meant he raised corn and alfalfa. I remember the first summer I stayed with them and was expected to WORK on the farm. Grandma took me to Roses and bought me a pair of Levi straight leg jeans, very unfashionable for 1973. Bell bottoms, 20 inches minimum…now THAT was a pair of jeans. She also bought me a sleeveless t-shirt and sturdy shoes, sent me out on the farm with my uncle and his farm hands to bail and put up hay. Grandma would supervise, her main job was to look for and exterminate any snakes that dared show up in the hay field or barn.

After a long day of working the fields, we would peel off our sticky jeans, throw on a bathing suit and head for the lake for some cooling off and water-skiing. My uncle taught me to ski, and he always had his farm hand buddies with us. I remember falling once, hard, and the impact yanked my bathing suit top right off. It was a good thing that I had decided to wear a life jacket instead of a ski belt (can you even BUY a ski belt anymore?) Otherwise I would have been forever dead of embarrassment. Sometimes it would rain in the afternoon and we’d all jump in the water to “keep from getting wet”.  I also wished that one of my uncle’s farmhands would notice me, but I was maybe thirteen and they were much older, like sixteen or seventeen.

In the shade of this old tree in the summer of my dreams
By the tall grass by the wild rose where the trees dance as the beans grow
As the days go oh so slowly as the sun shines oh so holy
On the good and gracious green on the summer of my dreams

When I listen to the words now, I remember not only the long past: the cherry tree, the creek, the gardens and green fields, the summer lightning and refreshing rain, but also the more recent loveliness of summers spent on the New River with my parents, and my then-boyfriend/now-hubby, walking the dirt road down to the river, getting caught in afternoon thunder storms. I remember my dad, sitting on the dock at his sister’s lake house, a cane fishing pole in his hand, whistling  poorly and watching the sun go down.

As the days go oh so slowly as the sun shines oh so holy
On the good and gracious green on the summer of my dreams

And my step-grandmother Irene? That’s a whole other story.

In the shadowlands

In the shadowlands

Time, frozen yet frantically

passing. He sees life.

I took my son to New York. Only time will tell f the trip had any affect on him, desired or otherwise. Our flight was delayed an hour out of Charlotte due to “traffic into LaGuardia”. I think that meant it was raining in New York, because it was when we finally arrived. Raining hard.

Our approach to LGA took us right up the East River, just after sundown. The look on Wubby’s face as he was the Manhattan skyline for the first time was worth the sacrifice of free plane tickets to Cielo in January.  We were supposed to take a cab from LGA to Grand Central and then the train to South Norwalk. The delay tossed those plans right out onto the tarmac in Charlotte. Luckily, we have an amazing friend in Alecto, who very generously sent a car for us that deposited us in her driveway at approximately the same time our (missed) train was leaving Grand Central.

I felt kinda bad because our delay caused Alecto to miss bikram Thursday night, but I got over it when she fed us homemade meatballs and marinara sauce. Bedtime came  quickly, and Homer graced me with his presence on the bed for the duration. Wubby swears Ally (Allie?) the tortoise shell kitty came out of the bedroom where I was passed out with Homer, and I do vaguely remember waking up  during the night and thinking, “there’s a cat sleeping on me!”, but decided I dreamed it. I never saw this particular cat during our stay, but Alecto swears she has two cats. Whatever.

Friday was rest-up day. Alecto left us her car, bless her heart, and I got to practice driving like a Connecticut yankee. Fun. I haz some. Took Wubby to the bank so he could get some folding money. We discovered downtown Weston, CT–because we didn’t blink as we drove past. I’m not supposed to say what we would call Weston here in the NC Piedmont (strip mall, with class.) Suffice it to say that found Weston to be a very quaint little town square indeed. I can’t believe the elementary school kids aren’t scarred for life for having attended Hurlbutt Elementary, though.

After a leisurely afternoon nap, we were treated to dinner at the Roadhouse. If you’re from my neck of the woods and you can remember what the Fourth Street Filling Station was like when it was Shober’s, then you’re close to the Roadhouse, particulary in the winter when the firewas stoked at Shober’s. That was a long time ago.

Next up: Wubby goes to bikram, then hits the big city.

what the heck happened?

Captain Phil Harris said, and I quote (edited for PG audience, that is): “Sometimes you make things happen; sometimes you watch things happen; and sometimes you wonder what the heck happened!”

I think I’m in the middle of all three phases with Wubby. I wish I knew where he is, metaphorically speaking that is. I know where he is…I think. I think he’s between classes on the next to last day of what looks to be the divorce of Wubby from college.

It’s absolutely pouring rain right now, which is appropriate. If I can’t cry, then at least the sky can do it for me.

The rain comes in waves. One minute it pours; the next minute it quits. Then it drizzles like it can’t make up its mind about what to do with itself.

That’s Wubby. When he started college he was 25 miles away, living on campus. He was also seriously involved with his much younger girlfriend, spent as much time here at home as he did at school, and it lasted one semester.

Then he came home, signed up at the local community college, continued with the girlfriend and bombed that semester as well. He took last summer off, came back to it last fall and produced a 4.0 average.

This semester has been a roller coaster. Started out high. Then the break-up with the girl. He got a job right before the holidays and has continued working, picking up a second job recently. He found some old friends from high school and earlier and has been spending time with them. Lots of time. As in coming home in the wee hours the night before an 8:00 AM class. Doesn’t work.

I asked him recently if he’d been doing his best this semester. No. Agreed. I asked him why. Interesting answer, something about the freedom of not having girlfriend, combined with lack of motivation because his dad and I told him to get his act together, find an art school or some other appropriate institution, and get busy because we were through with paying for failing grades at community college. In other words, it’s our fault. It’s my fault.

I’m wondering why it matters so much to me, when it doesn’t appear to matter to Wubby. Maybe it will matter to Wubby in time; he just needs to come to the realization himself that he is almost 21 and needs to become self-sufficient.

All I know is that I look at my baby boy, marvel at the artistic and musical talent God gave him, watch him struggle, and turn on the tape recorder inside my head that repeats “It’s your fault. You are the one who is failing him. You are the one who has failed, again. You were not good enough for him. Not good enough. Not good enough.”

I don’t know what to say to Wubby. We’ve told both of our kids that, no matter what the problem is, the best course of action is to tell us what’s going on and not to hide it. I know it’s counter-intuitive to the nature of a teenager, but still. I’d rather hear it from the horse’s mouth instead of from the gossip vine at the racetrack.

This semester ends Wednesday. Saturday we are leaving for a week at the beach, which was scheduled to coincide with the week between semesters. Guess that wasn’t all that important after all. But we all need a break from the grind.

Proverbs 22:6, from the Message: “Point your kids in the right direction—when they’re old they won’t be lost.”

OK then.

What is a house anyway?

Went definition hunting and found these:

House: a dwelling that serves as living quarters for one or more families; a building in which something is sheltered or located

Home: an environment offering affection and security; family: a social unit living together

Each of these definitions can be found for either term.

One of my pet peeves has to do with the interchangeability of the words “house” and “home”. When I was a  kid, we’d go out for a Sunday drive, or to visit family / friends. If my mom or dad saw a house that was particularly appealing,  I would hear, “What a lovely home.”

No, it might have been a lovely house, depending on your architectural preferences, but it may or may not have been a lovely home.

Home has further implications. Home is about more than the structure in and of itself.

Is it a home if no one lives in it, or is it just a house? If the people living in the house are having difficulties with relationships, do we say it’s an “unhappy house situation?”  Don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “He comes from a broken house.”

So what?

We’ve been talking to real estate agents since the beginning of May about putting our house on the market. Makes sense; we don’t live in it, but we’re still paying the mortgage. The general consensus among the different agents was that it would sell eventually, but it would sell quicker if we put some work into it. Paint every wall “safe beige”, (don’t you love that phrase?), replace the porch railings, replace the deck, fix up the landscaping. Last year we gave the house a new roof, new siding, new windows and new garage doors. We are out of “fixing up the house” money.

We talked to contractors, got estimates on the suggested improvements, thinking that maybe we could do one or two small things.  Still couldn’t afford to do the work, and afraid to put the house on the market unless we did.

Last week we took a deep breath and, Thursday night, listed our house. The real estate industry is almost exclusively internet-driven these days. The listing goes into some magic database and voila! Overnight it’s visible to every prospective home-buyer in the civilized world.

See that: I said “home” buyer, not “house” buyer.

There were four or five hits on our listing over the weekend. No big deal.

Monday afternoon I got a call from an agent, requesting permission to show the house Tuesday afternoon between 4 and 5. “Of course, go ahead, it’s vacant.”, I said, while my brain was screaming in terror at the thought of someone looking at the ratty deck, the walls in desperate need of paint, “safe beige” or otherwise, the outdated bathroom fixtures.

Tuesday night I got a call from our listing agent. We had an offer on the house, a serious offer, from the guy that looked at it the day before. The very first person to look at it. Buyer has sold his house, closing the 29th, and wants to close on buying our house on the 30th.

Of June.

So, last night we signed the seller’s contract documents.

I know the butterflies won’t go away until everything is completed, so I’m remaining calm about it. Really, I am. There’s still the inspection to be done, and I’m sure we’ll have to fix or negotiate some things. We had already dropped the price to compensate for deck and porch, but it ain’t over til it’s over. However, the thought of not having a mortgage, in light of current economy and future economic trends, is almost incomprehensible in appeal right now. I should be thrilled at the prospect.

I mean, it’s just a house, right? An empty house.

This morning I had Wubby go over and move the remaining stuff stored in the basement away from the walls so the home inspector can get to them, just in case we can’t get the 1-800-GotJunk people to come before the inspection. (Why do we call them home inspectors? They don’t inspect the intangibles that make “house” become “home”; they inspect structural issues.)

And I started thinking.

We bought that house 20 years ago, when I was pregnant with Wubby. We were so excited to have bought our first house that we spent the first night there sleeping on the living room floor in sleeping bags! One of the things we liked about the house was that one of the rooms was already painted as a nursery, with big stenciled teddy bears on the walls. Yeah, we painted over them once Wubby left baby-hood. The house also had 2 working fireplaces, one in the living room and one in the basement. One day we were going to finish that basement room and make it a library / office / whatever. Never got around to it, though. Little girl came along, work got complicated, being “sandwiched” between our kids’ needs and our parents’ needs got very complicated. My health got very, very complicated.

In other words, life happened while we were thinking about those plans to finish the basement, rebuild the deck, paint the walls.

As we signed the contract last night, it occurred to me that we closed the deal when we bought the house on June 30, 1989. And exactly 20 years later, crossing my fingers as I type this (which is quite a talent if you think about it), we will close another deal on that house, and it will belong to someone else.

And the tears won’t stop.

I’ve lived in that house longer than in any other dwelling in my entire life. For the 28 years prior to buying that house, I lived in 11 other dwellings. Never stayed in one long enough to get emotionally attached to it.

Until now.

It feels like I’m losing a dear friend. I’ll still see the house almost every day; it’s only a mile away. But we won’t be friends any more.

Maybe it’s because that house is the only one that intersected with my life for more than a few years, or months even.

Maybe it’s the 20-year thing. For a generation, I had a house that was mine, love it or hate it. And I did both.

Maybe it’s because it was my kids’ first house, and they actually lived in it long enough so that, when they go off to live their own lives, they will remember that house as the one “where they grew up.”

Maybe it’s some weird mid-life issue. I seem to being having quite a few of those right now.

I can’t really explain it. I just know that, when I think about it all, I tear up and get all stuffy-nosed. Kids think I’m having terrible allergies.

So, this friend I’m leaving behind, was it just a house or was it a home?



Little girl lives in jeans, t-shirts (mostly black), mis-matched socks and fluorescent Converse sneakers. Recently she decided to change her hair color to something a bit more remarkable than mouse brown and decided auburn looked pretty good. So, off we go to Wallyworld, looking for auburn Miss Clairol or whatever. Turned out very nice.

Yesterday it was time for a touch-up. So we gathered up the hair-coloring paraphanalia and went to work. I had been watching “Out of Africa”, and when it was over “Enchanted” came on. Now, I’m not much interested in recent Disney movies, and this one had all the indications of being particularly annoying. But I needed LG to sit still and it fit the bill for that.

I got hooked.

As my blog title implies, I’m a sucker for a good Cinderella story.

Make that a Cinderella story. Good is gravy.

We finished the hair color job. Then we finished watching the movie. LG was totally engrossed in the movie.

I was totally engrossed in LG.

She’s beautiful. Sophisticated auburn, mouse brown…