When the Lightning From Storms Frighten Me


Dearest Readers:

Although someone might say it isn’t early morning, for me it is since I slept fairly well last night. Crawling out of bed just before 9:00 am, I yawned, stretched and was thankful for a bit of sleep.

Today Phil and I will go shopping. Seems he wants to go to Tanger Outlet. So, I suppose I’ll drink another cup of coffee, just to get me going!

Last night, we had another band of those dreadful storms we’ve been having lately. Driving in my car, every time I saw the lightning flash, my body jumped.

Why am I so frightened of lightning, you might ask? Allow me to explain. When I was a child, I recall my mother telling me if I did not behave…IF I wasn’t a “good girl,” God would send the lightning after me. I remember her saying, and I quote: “If you don’t behave God is gonna strike you dead with that lightning.”

Every time there was a storm with lightning, I would jump. Mama would laugh at me and say: “You’re such a stupid girl. God don’t love ugly and that’s why He sends the lightning to you. He wants the lightning to hit you. God don’t love ugly and you are one ugly thing. I hope God strikes you dead!”

I was the middle child. One of my sisters was quiet. Timid. She never questioned authority. The other two – I’m still not certain. Let’s just say, our childhood was not the typical childhood of four daughters.

As for me, I was boisterous. When I entered a room, I made an impression. Good or bad…I’m still not certain. I loved to hop on stage and let the world know I was around!

Once, while walking home from the library in Atlanta, Georgia, a summer storm horrified me. I saw the lightning flashing. I remember rushing. Running. I had to get home to get inside my closet so the lightning could not find me. I was horrified!

Arriving home, I grabbed a towel to dry my hair and face and I rushed into my closet, shutting the door tightly.

Stopping at a red light last night, Phil saw me jumping when the lightning flashed. He asked me why I was so afraid.

“Haven’t I told you what my mother did to me as a child and as a teenager?”

“What?” He asked, turning the radio down so he could hear me.

“When I was a child, my mother told me I must always be a ‘good girl.’ She said IF I wasn’t a good girl, God would send the lightning down to strike me dead.”

“Did she do that to your sisters?”

“I don’t know. We never discussed it.”

Although I have three sisters, I do not recall if we ever discussed the cruelties of our mother’s poisoned, venomous tongue.

I suppose even though I am now grown and smart enough to know her words were cruel, I should also know God isn’t a mean power. He is my strength. My faith. He is the power who made me what I am today.

God would never want anyone to be struck by lightning. Storms are simply storms, filled with energy, rain and power — but of a different kind.

How I wish I could get over my fear of lightning, but I suppose I will never accomplish that. All of my childhood, I was frantic. When friends would say they love to see the flash of lightning, I cringed. My body shook. My hands and legs trembled. I gasped. Sometimes I screamed. Lightning is bad. It’s gonna strike you dead!

As a newlywed, and years later, each time the lightning flashed at night, it would awaken me and scare me half to death. I wear a sleep mask now, to help keep the lightning away. Sometimes, I wear two sleeping masks, just to keep me safe. Yes. I know. It’s silly. After all, the lightning is only lightning. It reminds me of a mad, vicious animal, growling, searching for its next prey — ME!

Once I asked my mother why she said such cruel things to me about the lightning. She laughed, a cruel, vindictive laughter. I left the room. I knew she would never explain.

Today, more storms are forecast. If they occur, I will close my eyes and try to tell myself: this is only a storm. It will not hurt me. I will be fine.

Looking out the window, while writing this, the skies are thick with a blanket of gray. Treetops are moving, dancing the breath of an approaching storm. I do not hear thunder, nor do I see lightning. I’m hopeful we will have a rain storm. Nothing more.

Although I will see more lightning when these torrential storms arrive, I will remind myself that the approaching storms are not to harm me. The rains water our gardens. The breezing winds give us a bit of coolness after we’ve had such a hot summer, filled with sauna like temperatures. As for the lightning, for me, all it creates is a VIOLENT  energy. Sometimes a wicked energy. I can still hear my mother’s sharp tongue. Her cruel words. “You’re such a bad girl, and God don’t love bad girls. He’ll send the lightning to get you. You better be a good girl.”

Maybe I should’ve asked my mother: Just what do you think a good girl is? I’m a good girl. I obey you. I do as I am told. I don’t do drugs. I go to church and in school, I get good grades and I behave. Why can’t you see I am a GOOD GIRL! I’ve never gotten into any trouble – EVER! I’m a GOOD GIRL!!!

The winds are blowing harder now. My mimosa trees are dancing a soft ballet of motion, swaying ever so elegantly to the left and right. The grass is so tall it needs cutting again, and we cut earlier this week. No doubt there will be another storm today. I suppose I shall pray once again: Dear God. Please don’t let the lightning strike me dead like my mother wished when I was a child. Please keep me safe.

Glancing out the window again, the breeze is still. The mimosa trees are hardly moving. The skies still thick with the blanket of storms anticipated. Another day of ‘the calm BEFORE the storms.’

Dear God. It’s me again. Barbie. Please. When the storms arrive, and the lightning flashes, please remind me that you will keep me safe. Please don’t let the lightning strike me dead.

 

 

Lightning…Thunder…and The Roar Of Chattahoochee Child…


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Dearest Readers:
It is early on a beautiful Sunday morning in Charleston, SC. The weather forecast for today is H-O-T — AGAIN! Reportedly, it is supposed to get to 85. No doubt, it will be another steamy hot day. Stepping outside in the heat of the day is like stepping into a sauna. Yesterday, we had a late storm brewing after we went to bed. I suppose I slept through it, which is something I do not normally do.
Whenever I see lightning, I jump out of my skin, almost. My husband says even when sleeping, I will hear the thunder and lightning and jump or tremble. I do not remember doing it. Just a few days ago, we had a summer storm in the afternoon. I was in route to get my doggies from the groomer. Every time I saw the lightning flash, I jumped, while driving. It isn’t a pretty sight. Just how can a grown woman be so frightened by lightning?
I suppose I should share my story here. If you follow my blog and read a bit of the “Chattahoochee Child” stories I’ve posted, you will understand. During my childhood, I was always the child with an opinion. In my dad’s diary, he wrote, and I quote since he is deceased now: “Barbara is really a child with opinions. She likes to get noticed, and even though she is only five-years-old, she does vocalize her thoughts, rather well.”
Humph! I cannot imagine what he was referring to, but after high school graduation, I have learned to ‘vocalize my thoughts and opinions…’ AND — I DO question authority. I suppose it is the journalist deep inside me. I suppose you could say, during high school I was quiet. I confess I went to six high schools during eighth grade thru graduation. What? Might you say? Most people only go to one high school. It is simple. My family and I moved a lot — like gypsies. So, just when I got comfortable in one high school, off we go to another, so no one really got a chance to get to know me until we moved to Columbus, Georgia. Finally, I was able to attend only one high school for two-and-a-half years until graduation. Figure that out, if you can! Let’s just say, during high school I was considered shy and a wallflower. Heck. I was afraid to get to know anyone and forget the high school boys. All they wanted to get to know was —! Never did I date high school boys. They always had ‘rushing hands,’ and I did not want to have a battle with them. Their libido and testosterone were quite active, so I decided I would not date them.
Since I’m free writing, it is back to my fears of thunder and lightning.
When I was a child, my mother disciplined me constantly. “You ask too many questions,” she said. “Just do what I tell you to do and stop being so opinionated… “You stupid girl. One day I hope you’re struck by lightning…just so you’ll know you shouldn’t say so much or ask so much.”
My mother loved to call me her ‘stupid girl.’ How I hate that description!
I suppose it is easy to say, as a child, I probably had too many opinions, but when lightning occurred, I remember my mother saying, “I hope you get struck by lightning soon.”
Each time I saw lightning, I cringed, sometimes rushing to hide in the closet of my bedroom so I would not see the lightning. When thunder roared, I screamed. Still, to this day, when we have storms I do my best to hide under covers, close the blinds, or stay in a room where I will not notice the roaring sounds and sights of thunder and lightning.
I still hear my mother’s cruel words. If my memory is correct, and I do believe it is when she would say, “Girl, I hope that lightning strikes you down,” I felt as if she had no love within her body for me. The other girls in the family never heard those words, only me. All of my three sisters did whatever our mother ask them to do. As for me, you guessed it. I placed my hands on my hips and I would say, “Why must I do that? Why is it only me that cooks and cleans?”
My mother’s reply: “Stupid girl. Just shut your mouth and do it before I get a switch.”
One of my sisters could not even boil water when she married. The other two, expected the men to do everything. I suppose they got a real ‘wake-up call’ in marriage, and maybe that’s why their marriages did not work out. I haven’t a clue. I do not pry into their lives. Marriage is truly a work-in-progress, every day!
I do know one of my sisters had a brutal marriage. Her husband loved to hit on her, leaving bruises and scratches she attempted to cover up with makeup. In 2002 we drove to Michigan to rescue her and her son from a safe house.
It is easy to observe I was the Cinderella of our family, or maybe I was the ugly stepchild. Regardless, I was the one who did the cleaning, cooking, and housework. My mother continued her verbal and physical abuse after my parent’s divorce. As for me, I could not wait to leave the family. Growing up where abuse is shared like daily activities, I vowed to myself I would break the mold and never behave in such a manner. My children would not grow up afraid of lightning and thunder.
Last night, I woke myself up listening to a voice speaking. Recognizing this was my ‘sleeping voice,’ I heard myself saying:
“Your mama is a whore and a drunk. Just look at that dress she wore tonight to her reunion. A long black dress with a plunging neckline and a low back. Only a whore would wear that.”
My son was seven-years-old when he heard his grandmother describing me. Just like me, he was opinionated. Reportedly, he did not appreciate what his grandmother was saying about me, so he chose to speak up and defend me.
“My mommy is not a whore and she only drinks wine. She is not a drunk. I’ve never seen my mommy drunk. Don’t say those things about her.”
My mother was caring for my son on that night. She promised him they would have a good time. I should’ve known she would pull some of her stunts, but I was hoping I could give her a second chance.
Awakening from the Nightmare, I sat up in bed, remembering the scenario like it was yesterday. I remember when we arrived to pick him up, he was sound asleep. The next morning, a bit early after a night of partying at a high school reunion, my son rushed to me. “Mommy,” he said. “Granny said you were a whore and a drunk. You’re not a whore and a drunk, are you Mommy?”
“No,” I said, scooping him up in my arms. “Mommy is not a whore or a drunk. Please don’t say the word whore.”
“It’s a bad word?” He asked.
“Yes. Whore is a bad word. A very bad word.”
He looked into my eyes.
“Whore is a woman who sleeps with lots of men, and that is not your mommy. I sleep with your daddy only. And I am not a drunk.”
Later, we drove to my mother’s house to confront her and say goodbye. When we arrived, my mother was still in bed. I knocked on her door, then I opened it and let the words fly. I warned my husband to let me handle the situation.
“How could you call me a whore and a drunk?” I asked. “Especially in front of my son. Your grandchild. Just what kind of grandmother are you?”
My mother opened her eyes and struggled to sit up. “I did no such of a thing.”
My son burst into the room. “Yes, you did,” he said, tears falling down his face. “You called my mommy a whore and a drunk. Sorry for saying that word, Mommy, but she did say it!”
I rushed him out of the room. I knew this scenario was getting ugly.
After a verbal battle, I knew I was defeated. My mother would never admit she said those words, nor would she apologize. My husband knocked on the door.
“We’re leaving,” I said. “I cannot tolerate this abuse anymore. It’s bad enough I tolerated her abuse all of my childhood, but to say those things in front of my child is something I will never tolerate. How could you, Mom? How could you be so cruel to him?”
On that morning, as we drove home to Charleston, I decided I would not see my mother again. Arriving home, I had several messages on the answering machine from my mother. I erased them all, not wanting to listen to her cruelties anymore. There comes a time in life when we must cut the cords of abuse. My time was now. I had to protect my child.
Motherhood is never easy. We all have regrets of things we would change, if only we could. We would be more patient and kind. We would not shout, nor would we lose our temper. One rule I kept is the rule of if I am angry, I will walk away. I certainly had times when I saw my mother inside me, and when that occurred, I would go to a window and pray. Just like my maternal grandmother taught me.
As for my mother and I? Rarely did I go back to Columbus, Georgia. I attempted another reunion, stopping by to see my mother. A surprise visit. We stayed for a few minutes and left. We had hotel reservations and another reunion to attend. Neither of us felt welcomed. My mother did not rush to hug me, like other mothers do, nor did she show any affections. Her health was deteriorating and she limped when she walked. Four years later, I phoned her telling her I was coming to Columbus to attempt to ‘bury the hatchet.’
On that visit, we had another shouting match, so I left, in tears. My mother always had a way of getting to me, bringing me down. Making me feel worthless and unlovable. Was I really such a horrible person? After a bit of soul-searching while driving, I recognized I was a good person. My mother refusing to love me was her problem, but as a child and a grown woman, I still craved a mother’s love.
How I wanted and prayed my mother would change, but she did not. In 2000, she suffered a stroke. Her left side was virtually paralyzed. I drove to see her on Mother’s Day, bringing her a gift wrapped box of pearl earrings. She attempted to speak, but only slurred her words. When I opened the box of pearl earrings, she gasped and touched her right ear. I placed the earrings in her ears, and she attempted to smile, her face wrinkling with a scrunched lip and new wrinkles I did not remember.
I never saw her again. She lived in a nursing home for the remainder of her days. I sent letters to her, gifts and when her dentures got broken, I paid for a new set of dentures. On September 11, 2002, she died. A questionable death, to say the least. When my sister phoned in the late afternoon of September 12, her question to me was: “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?”
Dreadfully ill with bronchial asthma, I did not attend the funeral. The question of “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?” played in my mind. I made a few phone calls, including a phone call to the coroner’s office, and the nursing home. Never were those calls returned. I suspect the reason for my question was a simple my mother died under questionable circumstances.
Did I want to stir the pot and get these answers? Since I was so ill and weak, I chose to take care of myself since my husband was away on business in Italy. I needed to rest and get well.
Those years and those nightmares of my mother still play in my mind as the dreams did last night. Although my mother was a difficult woman and not exactly mother of the year, she was my mother. I did not hate her. I lost respect for her over the years, and I worked diligently to improve our relationship, but it wasn’t meant to be; nevertheless, the way she died is questionable and I suspect my sister knows the real story. She will not share it. I’ve done enough research to complete my story, “Chattahoochee Child.” I pray my mother is at peace.
I pray I will not have any more nightmares about my mother. They always leave me shaken and heartbroken but today is a new day. Maybe last night’s nightmare was a result of the lightning and thunder? The sun is shining today. Clouds are overcast, but it is another beautiful day and I am certain it will be another steamy day of perspiration (or is it glitter that women release in the heat) while I attempt another day of yard work.
My husband and I plan to work in the back yard of our home today, moving the debris of weeds, tree branches and dead limbs he worked on yesterday. I must say, I’m not looking forward to being in the heat, but once I am outside, I will work hard to get everything thrown away, and if a storm brews, or if I hear lightning, just watch me run to the back door to get to safety. I cannot get over my fear of lightning, regardless what I do or tell myself. After all, it is only lightning. It hasn’t struck me down — YET!

On Father’s Day, 2017…


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Angel Oak Tree, a gorgeous tree embracing Johns Island, SC

Dearest Readers:

Happy Father’s Day to all of the father’s in the United States of America. Today is a special day, to give thanks and celebrate our fathers. From the moment we were born, most of us had a father. Maybe you have precious memories of your father, and perhaps there are some, like me, who have — shall I say — interesting, sometimes traumatic memories.

As a little girl, I looked up to my father, sometimes squealing for him to scoop me into his arms. However, at five-years-old, I saw a different side of my father, and I must say, he scared me. At the time, we were living in the projects in Atlanta, Georgia. I hated the projects! My mother loved to go outside and gossip with all of the nasty, ugly, snide women who lived in the projects. On one crisp Saturday morning, my mother was outside. Sitting by the curb, legs spread wide open, wearing a dress. I couldn’t understand why my mother always told me to keep my knees together when I sat, wearing a dress, when she didn’t practice what she preached, but I listened and I didn’t dare open my legs wide in a dress. On this morning, Mom was laughing with the women, talking about the neighbors, the fighting and the ugly gossip always shared when wicked women get together.

I was sitting on the back porch playing with my dolly when Daddy opened the back door, screaming for my mama. She ignored his call. I looked at my daddy, seeing an evil look in his eyes. He pointed his finger at me, shaking it furiously he said: “You go get your mother and tell her I want to speak with her.” He paused, and then he screamed at me, “NOW!”

“Yes Sir,” I said, placing my doll on the floor of the porch.

I ran as fast as my little legs could move. “Mama, Daddy wants you. He’s been calling for you.”

She laughed, scratched her inner thigh and looked at me. “Well, girls I guess I better jump and go to him. You all know how these men in the projects get if the little woman doesn’t obey.”

They laughed. As Mama rose, Daddy met her. He shook her shoulders. Words were expressed, but I can’t remember exactly what he said. She laughed, then thrust her arms at him. He pushed her, knocking her down on to the concrete next to the metal trash cans. Mama hit her head on the trash can and when she fell she bruised her knees.

The gossipy, wicked women rushed away.

I struggled to help my mama up. I looked at my daddy, standing tall. Anger seeping from his eyes. I put my hands on his legs and said, “Daddy move away. Mama’s coming. Don’t push her anymore. That was a mean thing to do.”

I suppose one could say, on that day, I became the referee for our family. I was the middle child, but I refused to tolerate abuse and every time I was around, watching my daddy and my mother fight so dreadfully, I remember squeezing into the middle of the fight, placing my arms out to make them move away. I would always say, “Daddy. Mama. Stop this fighting. If you want to beat someone, beat me!”

When I was fifteen, I stopped the final fight. I arrived home from school. Excited to share that I had a lead in a musical! I was so happy and proud of myself on that beautiful Tuesday afternoon. Walking inside the house, I heard shouting and I knew, another round of fights was on. I listened to the shouts, cursing and the horror. I knocked on the door, then I pushed it open. Mama was bending down, gasping for breath. Her face was blue. Daddy stood, watching her, holding a stack of mail.

“You two need to stop this,” I screamed. “Look at her. She’s having difficulty breathing. You need to stop this fighting before one of you kills the other. One of you needs to leave.”

Daddy threw the mail in my direction. “Look at this. Just look at what she did. She bought a diamond ring and didn’t tell me. Now they’re going to garnish my wages. We’ll have to file for bankruptcy. Just look at what she’s done.”

I glanced at one envelope stamped with an orange Past Due notice.

“The fighting needs to stop before one of you goes to prison,” I said.

Little did I know how things would change.

The next day, I walked home from school, trying to work things out in my head. I knew domestic abuse wasn’t healthy in a family situation. I felt helpless. I had no one to talk to. None of my relatives would understand and I was certain if I said anything to anyone, I would become the trouble maker of our family. I remember hearing people saying fighting in a marriage was “normal”… “A Family Matter…”

Opening the door to the house, my mama was sitting on the couch in tears.  She rushed at me. “This is all your fault. I hope you’re happy now. Your daddy left us today. He’s dead. Dead. DEAD. I never want to hear his name again in this house and you are never allowed to talk to him, or mention his name again!”

The following Saturday, Mama moved us to Columbus, Georgia. Four children. One adult, living in a two bedroom mill village with our grandparents. To say we were crowded for space is an understatement.

I had to follow the rules:

Church on Sunday.

Wednesday night prayer meetings at church

No makeup (I broke that rule)

No rock n’ roll music, only Christian music

Go to school

Nothing more.

I hated this new life and rebelled. No, I never did drugs. Never tried alcohol. I rebelled by staying alone, taking walks, retreating to the Chattahoochee River. At school, I became a wallflower, refusing to try out for plays, musicals, or anything interesting. I wrote to my dad, letting him know I loved him.

Never do I really remember celebrating Father’s Day for my dad as a child. As a grown up, married with a child of my own, I chose to make Father’s Day special. I bought cards for my dad. When he visited us, he was different. I actually heard him laugh, and I watched him playing with my son. Gone from his demeanor was the anger, hatred, and abuse. Never did I hear my dad say anything ugly about our mother after their divorce. He was truly a changed man. No violence. No shouting. Just a kind, and loving man filled with Laughter and Happiness within himself.

In December, 1997, my beloved father became ill with esophageal cancer. Serving as his caregiver until his death on July 6, 1999, I truly saw a beautiful person within his demeanor. On one occasion, he thanked me for what I said on the last day before my parents separated. He admired my strength to serve as the referee. To my knowledge, no one within our family circle knew about the domestic “family matters” of our family.

As a writer, I’ve written many articles about domestic abuse. How it changes a family. How it paints a vivid, horrifying picture about marriage and I vowed to myself that no one would ever abuse me. I suppose I overlooked another side of domestic abuse – the verbal abuse, and for years, my husband who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] from Vietnam, would get into rages, shouting at me. Once, he shoved me and when he did, I fought back, standing firm to him, letting him know he had to stop his rage, or I would end the marriage.

I’m proud to say, we worked those issues out, and now, we do not scream, shout or verbally fight. Our home is a happy home. Father’s Day is always special. I give thanks to God for guiding me and giving me strength.

And so, on Father’s Day, 2017, I give thanks to God for all He has given me and my family. It is my wish for all of you reading this, to please take a moment to give your father a bit of special care and love on this Father’s Day. Although I am still sick with bronchial asthma, I will find the energy to make this a most special Father’s Day, to my dad in Heaven, and to my husband while he sleeps.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all the fathers!

Thinking of Sir Shakespeare Hemingway


035Dearest Readers:

Yes. I know, I’ve been a bit negligent with writing in my blog. If you recall, on March 7, 2017, I lost one of the loves of my life. My little Sir Shakespeare Hemingway. My life appeared to stop after losing him. I cried. Oh…How I cried. The tears were an endless, rushing ocean of tears I referred to as a tsunami.

My friends didn’t understand. Heck. I wasn’t certain I understood. I kept telling myself that I had to move on. After all, after the death of a loved one, life continues. The sun still shines. The rains pour. Bills are due. Life continues. But how? How could I learn to live without little Shake n Bake?

I do not have an answer to that question. I still called his name. I looked for him outside, resting on the corner of our lot, where he always rested to get his sunshine. He loved sunshine. I clapped my hands three times, so he would hear me and realize he needed to come inside, only he wasn’t there. I prayed for God to guide me and to ease my grief. I needed a sign and one morning, a fly flew into my coffee cup. Shakespeare knew me well enough to realize I wasn’t a bit of good to anyone without my second cup of coffee. On that morning, I picked up the coffee cup, ready to sip the second cup, only to find a fly floating in the cup of hot, fresh coffee.

I laughed! “Shakespeare,” I screamed! “You sent me a sign. Thank you. Thank you.” Tears rushed down my face again. Another torrential endless waterfall of fresh tears I could not stop.

I must explain. The water bowls for my dogs are strategically placed in the kitchen, bedroom and where I write. If Shakespeare was thirsty and something was in the water bowl, he refused to drink. He would place his paw in the bowl, attempting to remove a dead fly, or a bit of dirt. If that didn’t work, he would kick the bowl over, to let me know he wanted CLEAN water, not a dirty bowl!

So Shakespeare!

In four days, Shakespeare will be tucked safely inside my heart for three months. Yes. The tears are flowing again, and even though I am blessed with other dogs, I cannot stop these tears at times.

This week I’ve been super busy caring for my husband. He awoke on Wednesday with chills and fever. Knowing enough about medicine and health to understand that when one has chills there is normally an infection inside the body. I mentioned this to my husband. Of course, he grumbled, called in to work and stayed in bed. I decided it was best to ignore him. After all, I had planted the seed that he probably had an infection, or maybe…  he had pneumonia.

About 15 minutes later, he walked into where I was sitting at the computer. “I think I should go to ER.”

“That’s probably a good idea.”

Shutting my computer down, I changed clothes. Off we go to the infamous Ralph H. Johnson VA Hospital, ER. No doubt, this day will not be productive for a writer.

We arrived at ER about 8:30, maybe a bit later. Checked in to ER and waited. Moments later, someone calls his name and we enter ER. Those of you who know what it is like to go to a VA hospital will understand just how long it takes to see doctors. That didn’t happen for us. The doctors arrived, checked him over, ordered tests, chest x-rays, blood work, etc…Etc! At lunch time (1 o’clock or so) Phil mentions he is hungry. The nurse (a wonderful, caring male nurse) mentioned he would order him some lunch. Phil suggests that I go to the cafeteria and get some lunch since I haven’t eaten either.

“Oh, no.” I said. “I remember how disastrous their salads were the last time we were here. I’ll be OK.”

When the lunch arrives, it is much to my surprise, lunch for two. I seem to recall that when Phil and I were chatting earlier about my going to the cafeteria, I mentioned they would bring him lunch, but the wives, or caregivers who were with the veteran were treated as second-class citizens. “They do not consider how we might feel or we might be hungry and hesitant to leave the area since our veteran is sick.”

Oops. Looks like my voice must’ve been heard I say quietly as I open the box to a hamburger steak, lightly covered with gravy. Well done, limpy vegetables and cold egg noodles, but what the heck. I’m hungry! Believe me, I’ll not complain. It was a most considerate thought for the nurse to order two lunches!

About 2pm, the doctor returns. The diagnosis, “a bit of pneumonia.” When he shares the diagnosis, I think to myself  — Is that like a little bit pregnant?  I remain quiet. Listening…

Today, Phil is resting still. Earlier, when I checked on him, he was coughing. How I pray this ‘bit of pnuemonia’ leaves him soon, and I pray I do not get it. I’ve had pneumonia three times as an adult and when I get it, I am sick for weeks.

And, so today, while at the computer, I attempt to write again. Something I haven’t done much lately. At times, I don’t feel like a writer anymore. I suppose I’ve allowed myself to be lazy about writing. I must change that behavior and get myself back to the busy-ness of writing.

For now, I must go make my infamous homemade waffles for Phil and I to share for breakfast, or maybe an early brunch.

I’ve made a promise to myself this week. A promise to write more on my blog and a promise to get the story of “Chattahoochee Child,” completed.

I simply must WRITE again! Maybe in memory of Sir Shakespeare Hemingway who always rested curled at my feet when I wrote. I still find my left foot moving ever so slowly next to his curled little warm body so I can rub him while writing. Only now…that precious little boy isn’t there. Will this grief ever leave? What can I do to make it leave me? I don’t have any answers, but my heart is so full of his love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chattahoochee Child – Excerpt


Over the years, the expression “Blood is thicker than water,” gave me a new understanding about that fictitious statement. If the blood within my family circle as a child was thicker than water, I recognized our biological blood never existed.

            Savannah, my disabled sister, was always described as the least attractive and illiterate family member. When she was born, she was diagnosed with Symbrachydactyly, a condition referred to as webbed fingers. As she grew older, she found ways to use the condition to her advantage. Her right thumb refused to grow. Kids at school laughed at her and I was reminded not to hit her, or mistreat her because she was the damaged baby of our home. She would not reach the growth stature of other family members, and she would always suffer due to her disability. Violence wasn’t in my nature, so I never hit or shoved Savannah. On the other hand, Savannah learned to push, slap and shove me, simply because she was damaged goods, and she knew she could get away with any misbehavior, even though she was the oldest, not the baby.

            When she was a teenager, she excused her cruel, violent behaviors due to her not liking me and her little, undeveloped thumb.

            “You always think you’re prettier and better than me,” she spat.

            Smug inside myself, I laughed. “That’s where you’re mistaken, Savannah.”

            Pausing, I waited for her attack. “I don’t think I’m prettier than you, or better than you. I KNOW I’m both. I’m more popular than you with the boys and I have more friends. My grades in school are much better than your grades. So, dear sister – you are dead wrong about me!”

            Yes, I could’ve lowered my standards to her level and reminded her she was a bit ‘afflicted’ due to her ‘disabilities’ but I chose not to be the damaged goods falling from the apple tree.

            Now, as an adult, Savannah practiced violence constantly. When I visited, she looked at me, smug and ugly. “You still think you’re so much better than me. Look at you. Dressed in high heels and fine clothes. Just who the Hell do you think you are?”

            Choosing to ignore her, I walked away. She rushed after me, hitting me with a ruler on my back. I spun around.

            “I could do some real damage to you, Savannah, with my high heels. You do realize high heels are a good weapon. If you hit me again, I’ll call the police. I’ll have you arrested. I’ll not lower my standards to violence even though we grew up in a violent home. Obviously, you chose to walk in your mother’s shoes.”

            “Bitch. I can do whatever I want. I’m your sister.”

            “Blood only,” I spat. “You’re nothing to me.”

            Our mother met us at the door. “Just why did you come home to start fighting with your sister?” She asked.

            “I came home to make peace, not argue with her, or with you. She started this attack, not me. Obviously we can never make peace. Every time I see Savannah all she wants to do is to fight with me. I am nothing like either of you. I chose to break the mold.”

            I spun on my heels and headed to the door. Savannah rushed ahead of me.

            “Bitch. You’re not leaving until I’m done with you.” Her hand brushed my face hard, stinging like a fire or a bee sting. She shoved me, knocking me down.

            Gracefully, I stood up, brushing the dust and filth from my clothing. I smiled. “I’m leaving now. If you hit me again, I’ll call the cops.”

            “Bitch. You ain’t calling no body.”

            I pushed her away, rushing out the door.

My mother rushed to me. “I guess you’re leaving now.”

Curling my lips with a self-assured smile, I whispered. “I am leaving. I’m done with all of you. You’ll never hear from me again.”

            “Before you leave, could you give me some money? I need to buy some groceries.”

            I shook my head. “Mother, you are absolutely an unbelievable human being. I’ll not give you anything ever again. Goodbye.”

            I rushed to my car. Driving away I refused to look back, or to wave bye to the biological family I refused to become.

Domestic Abuse — “A Family Matter”


Dearest Readers:

Below is an excerpt from “Chattahoochee Child.”

A FAMILY MATTER…

Domestic Violence…Domestic Abuse… Regardless what it is called, it is truly a vicious monster. A wild, destructive monster that roars with such anger and turbulence I vowed never to allow it to knock at my door as a grown up. There were times I felt domestic violence knocking at my door, especially whenever Garrett felt threatened by his green eyed monster of jealousy. At times I was horrified of my husband, especially on one occasion when we were fighting most of the day. He was in one of his PTSD rages, shouting at me, raising his fist, threatening, and when his anger got the best of him, he thrust his fist through the doorway of the hall. I jumped back.

“Was that directed at me?” I asked him, rubbing my face.

He smirked. “No. I’d never hit you.”

I raised a manicured finger at him. “If you ever hit me, our marriage will end. IMMEDIATELY. Domestic violence is something I will never forgive.”

Garrett rubbed his fist. “Whatever,” he said, walking away.

In my marriage I was blind sighted to domestic violence. I made excuses. He didn’t mean to swing at me. He didn’t mean to squeeze my arm so tightly, he left a bruise. I smiled at the wrong person. Garrett just doesn’t understand. I LOVE getting attention. He will never hurt me. It’s because he loves me so much… Always forgiving Garrett’s jealous rages, I tolerated his verbal abuse. Excusing his quick, hot temper as another rage from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I apologized for making him angry. Whenever men looked my way, I quickly glanced away. I did not want Garrett to lose his temper, or shout at me. I closed myself inside my home, afraid that if he called and I wasn’t home, he would retaliate with another shouting match.

Domestic violence I knew much about as a child, although at the time it did not have the title of domestic abuse or violence. It was labeled a “family matter…” It’s just the way marriage is… Shunned…Never mentioned. Ignored! As a married woman, never did I consider that my husband might become violent, and on the day that he thrust his fist through the door, I felt the fear that a victim of domestic violence fears and I promised myself that I would not become the next victim.

At the age of five-years-old, I saw domestic violence for the first time. My mother was outside, gossiping with neighborhood women at Joel Chandler Harris Homes in Atlanta, Georgia. I was inside our apartment playing with my doll babies when I heard my daddy shouting, calling in a harsh voice for my mother. I screamed at him, “Daddy, she’s outside talking to the neighbors.”

“Go get her.” My daddy demanded.

I rushed outside. “Mommy. Daddy wants you inside.”

My mother laughed. “He can come get me,” she said. One of the five women she was gossiping with snickered. “Guess you better get inside. Gotta keep the ruler of the house happy!” All of the women roared in unison.

Living in a housing project, the women were not exactly the Donna Reed style of women, dressed in fine clothing and high heels. My mother wore bed room slippers and a dirty housecoat. No makeup or lipstick. Two of the women were dressed in raggedy jeans and T-shirts. Their hair was messy and they smelled like dirty ashtrays. I decided on that date that I would always do my best to look my best – to groom myself like a woman and wear makeup and have my hair styled. Never did I want to be ‘frumpy’ or a plain Jane.

“Mommy,” I said, my voice rising a bit. “Daddy’s gonna get angry.”

The back door closed. My daddy rushed outside, waving his fist, shouting.

“Sa-rah!” He roared. “You get in here now.”

My mother did not move. Daddy rushed to her, grabbing her arm. She pushed away from him and he shoved her, knocking her to the ground where she hit her forehead on the concrete curb. The metal trash cans by her fell over. I saw blood on my mother’s forehead. Daddy grabbed her arm. “You get up…Now.” He barked.

My mother struggled to get up. I reached to help her. I touched her forehead. “Are you, Ok, Mommy?”

I stood between my parents, my arms crossed tightly in front of me, daring my daddy to reach for her again. “Daddy, don’t you ever do that again!”

My mother glared at me. “Hush, child.”

Daddy stomped back inside. Never did he show any concern for my mother. Mommy followed. The women standing nearby snickered amongst themselves and I realized I was the only one who came to my mother’s rescue. No one cared. Domestic violence was a family matter at that time. Everyone looked away, with exception of me.

One of the women turned to move away, whispering something about a family matter while exhaling smoke from her mouth. I didn’t understand her words, but I did know I didn’t like any of these shabbily dressed women, and I hoped that woman would choke on her cigarette smoke. I wanted to shout at them, asking why they didn’t help my mama. After all, I was a small child. Too young to help, too young to have any rights or say-so. I decided these women were nothing but trouble! ‘Poor white trash,’ I thought to myself…’Nothing but white trash!’ I followed the blood trail from my mother’s forehead back to our apartment.

After Mommy got inside, I got her a cold washcloth, placing it on her forehead.

She rested on the tattered sofa of our apartment, blood still pouring from her forehead. I brought her another washcloth.

“Get me a butter knife,” my mama screamed. I rushed to the kitchen. She placed the cold blade of the butter knife on her forehead.

“Don’t cut yourself, Mama. Please. You’re still bleeding.”

“The butter knife will make the swelling go down.”

That night when I said my nightly prayers, I prayed that my mama would be all right, and I ask God to make my daddy stop hitting and knocking my mother around. After my prayers, I made a promise to myself that I would never allow any man to ever hit me, or knock me down, like my daddy knocked my mother down. At the age of five-years-old, I became the referee to my parents.

Ten years later, I served as the referee for the final time… Arriving home from Russell High School in Atlanta, I rushed inside; anxious to tell my parents I had the lead in a play at school. I knocked on my parent’s door. No answer. I rushed to my room. A voice inside my head encouraged me to go back to my parent’s door. I knocked again. I heard the shuffling of feet, and a slap. I opened the door. My mother was standing hunched over, blue in the face, gasping for breath. A handprint was on the side of her face.

“What’s going on in here?” I asked. My mother was getting weaker. I rushed to her side. My dad stood by the bed, cursing and throwing mail at me.

“She’s made all these damned bills. They’re garnishing my wages. I can’t afford this. To Hell with her.”

Moving my mother to a chair, I sat her down and moved closer to my dad. “Don’t you ever hit her again? Do you hear me, Daddy? I’ve watched you over and over again hitting my mother, and I’ve watched her hitting you, but this has got to stop! One of you needs to leave this house and marriage. One of you needs to leave before someone gets killed.”

The next day, I rushed home from school, horrified I would find my parents fighting again. My mother was sitting on the couch with tissues in her hand.

“Is everything all right?” I asked.

My mother threw a tattered pillow in my direction.

“I hope to hell you’re happy now,” she shouted. “Because of you your daddy left me today. It’s all your fault. He’s divorcing me. I hope you’re really proud of yourself, you stupid girl.”

“How is it my fault? Yesterday, he was beating you. You said you hated him. You called him words a child should not say. All I did was make him stop beating you.”

“That ain’t all you said. You told him to leave, and he did. He came home this morning. Packed up his things and moved out. It’s all your fault. You ain’t never to say his name inside this house again. Do you hear me, child? Never! Your daddy is dead. DEAD. Dead. DEAD! It’s all because of you. We’re moving from Atlanta, and I never want to see that bastard again. NEVER!”

“Where are we going, Mama?” I cried, tears rushing down my face.

“We’re moving to Columbus, to the mill village. We’re gonna live with your grandparents now. I hope you’re happy.”

I was heartbroken. I would not get to be in the play, or have the lead. I would not sing on stage. All of my hopes and dreams were vanishing.

Years later, I became an advocate for domestic violence. I was thankful when laws against domestic violence became a crime and I was thankful that I did not have to be the referee between my parents anymore. In their later years, I became their caregiver, serving as a parent to my abusive, cruel parents.

After their divorce, my dad became a new man. Kinder. Happier. Religious and gentle. I received birthday gifts on birthdays and Dad and I bonded as a father and daughter. Never did we discuss domestic abuse. We focused on happy times. The birth of my child. The home Garrett and I bought in South Carolina. Our strong, happy relationship as father and daughter. Before his death in 1999, we were closer than ever. Dad was fun to be around. Never did he show any anger or hostility at my mother. Reborn inside the body and mind of my father was a man easy to love. So different. So kind. So caring.

My mother? Slowly, she became outraged. Violent. Bi-polar. She died a questionable death after suffering a stroke. The one concern from my youngest sister on the day after her death was, and I quote, “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?”

My youngest sister spent the night at the hospital with our mother on the night of her death. Suppose I’ll let this story decide if an autopsy was necessary, although I suspect an autopsy should’ve been completed – to discover the true reason our mother happened to die on the one and only night my youngest sister chose to spend the night at the hospital. Interesting?

And so – now I am developing the poignant story of “Chattahoochee Child.”

Family Matters…Oh how they matter!

On Mother’s Day


On Mother’s Day, I hear so many precious stories about ‘mothers.’ How I wish I could share those precious words written with such love. I never knew ‘unconditional love’ from my mother. She placed price tags or poisonous words on all of her actions. I remember her saying, and I quote, “Actions speak louder than words.” As a young girl, I remember cleaning her house, just to remove my father’s initials, “W W P” scribbled in his penmanship. I suppose he did those ‘actions’ to tell us girls we needed to dust. Once, I wrote it tiny penmanship by W = Why = W – Won’t you P=polish the furniture to remove the dust? Quickly, I sprayed Pledge on his initials, just before he caught me. “Wooo.” I said to myself. “He almost caught me!”
 
On Mother’s Day, I always craved a hug from my mother. I recall holding my arms out to her, just so she and I could embrace with a Mother’s Day hug. She turned away. One Mother’s Day after I started babysitting to earn money, I rushed to a store with $5.00 in my wallet, so ready to find something for Mother’s Day for my mother.
 
Just what could I buy my mother on her special day? Glancing on shelves in a five and dime store, I saw a beautiful  shades of pink bowl with golden edges and four fluted legs. Perfect! The bowl was $4.99. I had just enough money to buy it. I couldn’t wait to wrap it up and give it to my mother for Mother’s Day. I imagined this beautiful bowl would be the perfect bowl to hold her potato salad or banana pudding. While I paid for the bowl, I didn’t have enough money. The cashier looked at me. “5.25,” she said.
“I’ve only got $5.00.”
Reaching inside her pocket, she smiled at me. “I found a quarter this morning, so you’ve got enough. I bet this is for Mother’s Day.”
I nodded, smiling my biggest smile.
Rushing home carefully, so I wouldn’t break the bowl, I rushed to my room to wrap it.
Later that afternoon, I gave the package to my mother. She placed the package on the table.
“Aren’t you gonna open it?” I asked, my voice quivering.
“Nope. Not now.”
“But…It’s Mother’s Day. You can use it for your potato salad.”
“I ain’t making no potato salad today. Maybe I’ll never make it again.”
I stared at the beautiful bowl. Tears danced in my eyes. I turned away. I did not want my mother to see me crying again.
On our next special occasion at home, I looked for the bowl to be placed on the dinner table. I was confident the bowl would be holding mama’s potato salad. I never saw the bowl again.
My mother died under questionable circumstances on September 11, 2002.
After her death, I wanted to have something to remember her. I gave her diamond earrings when I was 16. I asked my sister if I could have the earrings as a token, to remember her.
“You ain’t getting nothing…” She spat at me.
Two years ago, I entered an antique shop near my home. I moved from booth to booth. “Just looking,” I said. I stopped at a booth with depression glass. Since I collect depression glass I walked slowly, glancing at stemware, bowls, plates of all colors.
Resting in the center of a display, my eyes stared at a bowl. Fluted legs. The bowl was oval in shape. Beautiful. I picked it up. The bowl was heavy. Could it be?
Tracing the shape of the bowl with my fingertips, tears danced in my eyes. This was the same bowl. A bowl similar to the bowl I gave my mother so many years ago.
The price tag was $29.95. I carried the bowl to the desk. The manager of the store remembered me.
Retired now, he found his happiness in his antique shop. His hair was silver. His face embraced lines. He smelled a bit like cigarette smoke. No smoking signs were inside the building.
“How much will you take for this bowl?”
He reached for it. “Well, it’s been here a while. One of the legs isn’t even so the bowl wobbles a bit. “How about $15.00.”
I smiled. Paid for the bowl and left. Arriving home, I washed the bowl noticing the wobbling legs.
“This will be perfect for potato salad or green beans,” I said. Remembering my childhood, tears filled my eyes.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” I said, lifting my head to see the sunset. Remembering. Thinking Still craving my mother’s embrace. On special occasions, or family dinners, I use that bowl, filling it with sautéed green beans, or potato salad. Each time I use the bowl, I remember Mother’s Day.
Although I never saw my mother using that bowl, today, I have something significant to look at — just to remember her and Mother’s Day.

Chattahoochee Child – Bibb City


Bibb City – mid 1960’s

 Papa worked as a loom fitter at Bibb Mill. Wearing Bibb overalls and a denim shirt to work, rarely did he find the freedom or time to take a tobacco chew break. He knew the repercussions if Grammy caught him chewing tobacco; and he realized if he chewed tobacco at the mill someone would tell her. There were no secrets in Bibb City.

My grandparents lived from pay day, to pay day, thankful to have food on the table and a roof over their heads. Papa lived on a farm before meeting Grammy, planting corn, tobacco and cotton during the day. At night, he raised Hell, drinking moonshine and homemade wine. He had a reputation of trouble and fast times with the women. I’ve often wondered if his reputation was because he was considered a half-breed, because of his Indian heritage.

Perhaps that is why Papa and I never agreed on anything. He questioned every action taken by me. In retaliation, I rebelled from him and Grammy, asking questions, demanding answers. My philosophy in life was if someone asked a question, they deserved an answer. Papa said children don’t need answers; they need discipline, and a swift pat on the bottom. He had a pet name for me, calling me Little Miss Sassy Fras. I hated being called that and told him so. He simply cackled, mimicking the way I behaved.

At thirteen, I earned money by babysitting. I rushed to the drug store to buy makeup. Furious with me, Papa found the eye shadow, Maybelline mascara and eyeliner, tossing it in the trash. He said girls who wore makeup were whores. My new nickname was whore. When I told Papa a virgin could not be a whore, he slapped me hard on the face.

On weekends, Papa took Rusty fishing at the boat club. The boat club was a little fishing club, upstream from the mill, located about twenty miles from where the crow flies in Bibb City.

Although Papa could fish from the riverbanks by the mill, he chose not to. “The Chattahoochee waters are too muddy,” He said. “We think the mill dumps waste in the waters.”

The floating dead fish and garbage he saw floating along the crest of the dirty waters was a testament of the pollution.

Papa’s fishing boat was a small two-seater wooden boat structure, with a small Johnson motor. The boat was not fancy, compared to modern bass boats or ski boats. Papa’s fishing boat was painted a faded pea green color with the words ‘Gone Fishing’ painted in black.

 

 

Chattahoochee Child


PART TWO

The headlines in the newspaper caught my attention. Bibb Manufacturing Company becomes a ghost town. I stared at the caption with a tight bewildered look on my face, reading it again, picturing the desolate hope filled community of Bibb City, Georgia, the destitute textile community of my youth. Bibb City was the small cotton mill town where my footprints were imprinted within the clay riverbeds. Bibb City was the only place I had roots established. Bibb City was Home to me.

The richness of life in a mill town is disappearing now while the little town called Bibb slowly becomes extinct. Bibb Manufacturing Company abandoned the area in 1998, closing the mill, leaving a graveyard of homes, failing businesses, broken families and memories behind. The hunger for better jobs, civil rights, and the race for modern technology prevailed, leaving the Town of Bibb City devastated.

I poured another cup of coffee, reading the article again. The years of working as a reporter filled my mind with curiosities and questions about the dying communities of mill workers. I scribbled notes on a pad. My mind rushed back to my youth, playing a mental continuous loop video of memories from the small town of Bibb City, Georgia.

Why was the little town  called Bibb City distressing me? Years ago, I drove away from the Village without looking back, embarrassed to be associated with people who judged others by the colors of skin, religion, sexual preference, or political choice. Sipping a hot cup of coffee, I realized my perspective about Bibb City was changing.

Reading the article again, my body was shaking. If the mill is no longer in business, what will the residents of this precious mill village do for survival? Bibb Mill provided housing and when the Mill decided to sell those homes to mill workers, many of the hard working employees took their first steps to independence and the American dream — a home — a brick and mortar foundation where roots could remain.  My grandparents became homeowners, buying a tiny brick home on Walnut Street. Grammy  insisted on buying a home so Mom could have a place to live.

After Grammy’s death, Mom had other ideas. She sold the house, wasting away all of the money. What about the historical value of the Bibb Mill? Couldn’t the politicians see the potential for historical recording? Was everything in the corporate world about the potential for a profit? What about the families who lived in the Village?

A whirlpool of mixed emotions churned inside me. As I read the article about the abolishment of the town I knew so well, I discovered childhood feelings resurfacing. I debated my anger for a few moments, realizing I could do nothing to stop the bureaucracy of developers, who had no comprehension of the premise of life in a mill town. The one thing I could do was to write about the rise and fall of Bibb Manufacturing Company. As my grandfather reminded me, “You work for the Mill, you’ll always have a job.” Papa died before the Mill closed.

I called my editor, leaving a voice mail, expressing interest in a story about mill workers. Bibb City would be the focal point. When he returned my call, I pitched the idea.

“We have to do this story,” I said. “It isn’t just about life in a mill town. It’s a story about relationships, civil rights, bigotry, and so much more. It’s a feature, maybe even a series. We’ll start with The Rise and Fall of The Bibb Manufacturing Company.”

I waited for his response.

“Let me think about it.”

“I need a commitment now,” I pushed aggressively. “I’m packing my bags. There’s a story there and I’m going to get it,” I said. “My mother lives there. She’s had a stroke.”

“Sounds like you have some issues,” Garrett groaned.

“A few. If you’re not interested in the story, I’ll find someone else.”

Garrett laughed. “That’s what I like about you, Rebecca. You always push to the limit.”

“I’ll call you later,” Garrett breathed into the phone.

I hung up.

 

 

A Toast To The Little Things In Life…


Dearest Readers:

I suppose today is a day to reminisce, in hopes I might convince myself it is time to break away from social media, interruptions, along with the intense doubts I have about the ability to write. Below is another award-winning story I wrote a few months after losing my father. Hope you enjoy!

Arriving in Greensboro, I met Joan at Friendly Shopping Center. I parked the car in the first available spot and headed towards Hecht’s Department Store. I rushed across the congested parking lot waving to Joan standing by the door. The after Thanksgiving sale crowd was anxious for the doors to open, pushing, and shoving to get closer to the entrance. Joan and I moved aside to let an elderly woman in a wheel chair take our spot in line. This year, holiday sales and life in general meant nothing to me. I’d experienced the worst year in my life, watching my father melting away from the toxic poisons of esophageal cancer and chemo-radiation therapy.

“Crowds bother me,” I said. “I hate the rudeness of women when they’re searching for a bargain.” Joan nodded. I turned my back to the street, noticing the trees decorated with bright lights. With exception of today, I’d forgotten Christmas was less than a month away.

“How are you doing now,” Joan asked.

“Okay,” I said, a little too quickly. “The trees are beautiful this year.”

I blinked several times, my eyes glaring at the spruce trees, melting snow on the ground.

“Just okay, huh,” Joan said. “It’s been six months since he died. If you need to talk, I’m here.”

Tears danced in my eyes. I looked away from her stare.

When the doors opened, I looked over my shoulder. Something caught my eye. Perhaps the uniqueness of the moment, the after effects of stress, combined with my desire to disconnect from life, forced me to see things in a different perspective. Something was lying in the road. Someone probably dropped a jacket, I thought, ignoring my discovery.

“Joan,” I said. “I’ll meet you in ladies wear.”

Curiosity of the image in the road captivated me, so I stepped aside.

An inner voice whispered to me. ‘Go check to see what’s in the road.’

I didn’t hear Joan answer me. By now, there were hundreds of shoppers pushing and shoving into Hecht’s.

While shoppers rushed for the early morning bargains, my eyes refused to leave the road. As I moved closer, I recognized the item by the curb wasn’t a jacket, but an elderly gentleman.

“He must be drunk,” I mumbled, moving closer to him. What if he’s dead? I can’t do this. Not again. I dialed 9-1-1 on my cell phone.

My mind rewound, stopping at the memories and heartache of July, 1999. That Tuesday evening in July I was late arriving at Sandpiper Convalescent Center. When I placed my hand on the door of my father’s room, a nurse intercepted me. Nurses were rushing around Dad’s bed.

“Can you get a pulse?” I heard someone say.

“His daughter is here. What should we do?”

Nurse Angie joined me at the doorway. Her eyes locked into mine.

“No, I screamed. No! Please God, No!”

Nurse Angie sat me down. She didn’t need to tell me what was going on. I knew the day had arrived, and although oncologist specialists told me in 1997 that I needed to prepare myself, I wasn’t ready to let Dad go. I still needed him in my life. He couldn’t leave me now. Not now.

Just how does one prepare for death? When I spoke with medical professionals, asking that question, no one could give me a defiant answer. Financial, I was prepared. Arrangements were made, but emotionally – I would never be prepared to lose my father.

Nurse Angie whispered. “He’s a DNR. Do you want us to do anything?”

I knew the definition of DNR, and I did not want to disobey my Dad’s orders of do not resuscitate. “I- uh – I can’t override his decision. Not even if it means—.” I couldn’t finish the words. Since childhood, Dad was my lifeline. Always ready to cheer me up. Always ready to teach me things. He and my grandmother taught me about God and prayer. Dad was the provider who taught me to stand up for myself and to speak my mind – but gently. Dad was the one who beamed with a golden halo when I sang in the choir. Dad was the one who encouraged me to reach for the stars. Now, my shining star was getting brighter, only at the cost of losing my helping hand. My lifeline.

“Dear God, give me strength,” I prayed. “Take care of my dad. Use his talents. Let him know I love him.”

A screaming horn brought me back to reality. I stared into the eyes of a driver. “Get the hell out of the way,” the burgundy haired woman shrieked. “I need to turn.”

I walked over to her. She had body piercings in her eyebrow and nose. “I’m sorry to inconvenience you,” I said. “There’s a gentleman unconscious in the road. I’m not moving him until EMS gets here.”

“Yeah, whatever,” she mouthed. “I’m in a hurry.”

“Aren’t we all?”

I kneeled down, touching the elderly gentleman’s forehead, feeling beads of cold sweat. His hair was thin, salt and pepper gray. His face was weathered, hands wrinkled but firm. “Dear God please. Don’t let him die. Not today.” My face lifted to the skyline.

His hands felt like ice. His body was thin. A gray beard covered his face. He wore a gold wedding band. By now, curious shoppers were moving closer to us. Removing my coat, I covered him. Although it was freezing cold outside, I could not allow this man to freeze under my watch. A young man with spiked hair removed his leather coat, bundled it into a ball, lifting the gentleman’s head.

“Does he have a pulse?” He asked.

“I didn’t check.”

“It’s okay. I’m a medical student.” He checked for a pulse, nodding yes to me.

The gentleman coughed.

“Sir, what happened?”

“I fell. I’m sick. My wife wanted to be here early for the sale.”

“Where’s your wife?”

“I don’t know. I drove her here. I let her out by the door. I parked the car. I had chemo this week.”

I warmed his freezing hands with mine. “Chemo,” I muttered, understanding his weakness.

Joan stood next to me, touching my shoulder. “You okay?”

I nodded.

“Cancer,” I said. “You go shopping. I’ll stay with him.”

“Sirens,” someone said. “They’re coming.”

The man squeezed my hand. “Don’t leave me,” he said.

“Your wife. Where’s your wife?”

“She wanted to shop. She’s buying me some fishing tackle.”

“You must like to fish,” I said, hoping he’d remain alert. “Is there someone else we can call?”

“My grandson. His number’s in my wallet.”

The medical student found his wallet, dialed the number.

When EMS arrived, the man grabbed my hand. “Bless you for helping me,” he said. Moments later, EMS rushed away. I lifted my head to look at the gray skyline. “Please God, don’t let him die. Not today. Touch him. Keep him safe.”

At lunch, I found myself able to talk. A sudden burst of adrenalin had me chatting non-stop about Dad’s terminal illness, forgiveness and death.

“When I was little, I was hit by a car. My Grammy said I was spared for a reason,” I said to Joan, sipping a steaming cup of coffee. “Until today, I never understood what she meant.”

“You really have a way with old people,” she said.

I laughed. “Not until Dad’s illness. I’ve never told you this, but my relationship with my parents wasn’t good. When they divorced, I was angry. Until Dad got sick, I couldn’t forgive them.”

I looked around the crowded restaurant. “Life is so short. So unfair. I guess I never took life and death seriously until Dad died. Now, I try to make the most of each day. I’ve started praying every night. That’s something I didn’t do for many years. I was living in a spinning wheel headed nowhere, until Dad’s illness.”

Biting my lip, I continued. “I suppose I’ve learned to appreciate the little things in life. Those special moments. Laughter – something I haven’t done in a long time. Smiles. Reading to a child. Listening to music. Watching a classic movie, and reading good books. Funny. Now, I cherish those moments.”

Joan smiled, nodding her head. “When I met you, I thought you were so special and I knew I wanted us to be friends.”

“I remember. You encouraged me while I pulled away. All of my life I’ve had friends I couldn’t trust and I realized I needed a good friend. I’m so thankful we are friends.”

Joan sighed. “I don’t mean this to be critical. You were amazing with that man today. You put your needs aside while you held his hand. You wouldn’t leave him. I watched you.”

“Life is so short,” I said, biting my lip. “I didn’t do anything you wouldn’t do.”

“Yes, you did. People were rushing by you. You stood your ground, holding that frail man’s hand. You probably saved his life today.”

“No. I did what I had to do.”

“Maybe it’s time you did something for you! Losing your dad changed you. You must move on while remembering your dad and those special moments you shared. He wouldn’t want you to be so depressed, or to shut yourself and your life away. We’re all worried about you.”

Still in denial, I nodded, attempting a smile.

“Do you know Dad came to me one night in a vision? You do know I’ve had visions all of my life, but this one was different. I was tossing and turning in bed. I saw a ghostly white figure at the foot of the bed, and then I heard his voice. He pinched my toe and told me, and I quote, “You need to move on with your life. I’m fine. Stop worrying about me and grieving me. I’m all right!”

I glanced out the window. “As quickly as the vision came, it left, and I knew Dad was telling me I needed to move on. People think I’m crazy when I tell them I have visions, but I do. It’s a gift my grandmother gave to me when she died. I know Dad is all right. It’s just hard to let him go.”

“You have to continue living your life. You were there for him every day of his illness. You were the perfect daughter to him.”

I laughed. “Perfect? Hardly. But when the time came, I was there, and I know I have to live again. I have to make each day a good day while enjoying the sunshine and all of the little things. I think I finally understand. Perhaps this year, my Christmas tree will have a theme of ‘Little Things.”

Joan smiled. “Here’s to the little things in life, and the friendship we cherish.”

Wiping tears from my eyes, I smiled at Joan. “Maybe we should order two glasses of wine – just to celebrate the little things, Christmas and new beginnings.”