A Story from Mom

On the corner of the desk at my mom and dad’s house, a stack of addressed envelopes in my mother’s handwriting remained for years. Three, four, or more. The cards inside were written to her nieces and nephews. One was for my daughter Lauren. I always wondered why they were never mailed, but one cannot argue with Alzheimer’s. Upon my mother’s death, we opened one that was not addressed, and we found a story from my mom and a letter. I think she wants you to have it. I think it’s all to say that everything will be okay.

I want to tell you a story. This is a true story. It is about me. How my life was changed. From Sharon Savage Petty

When I was a very little girl, before I went to school, our family went to a little white frame church. It was about a half a block east from our house. We walked to church every Sunday. I loved going to church. I loved Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I loved all the songs and the stories that I learned. I loved Jesus and knew that He loved me. When I was in grade school, the church had grown so much that they decided to build a bigger church. It was built about half a block west of our house and it was made of stone. We continued to walk to church every Sunday morning and Sunday evening and sometimes on Wednesday night. I remember one of my Sunday School teachers more than any other. Her name was Mrs. Ward. It was about that time that I began to listen to what the preacher said that we are all sinners and need a savior. He said that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. I knew at the young age of ten years old that I was a sinner and I wanted Jesus to be my Savior.

Our little Baptist Church asked people who wanted to invite Jesus into their lives to be Lord and Savior to come to the front as a witness of our commitment to follow him. I wanted to walk down the aisle to make that commitment, but I was a very shy little girl, and I couldn’t make myself go.

I believe it was the next Sunday. I will never forget what happened that day. I heard a small sound, and I looked across the church and saw one of the girls from my class at school. She was walking down the outside aisle. I thought, “If she can do it, I can too.” So I went down the aisle. I prayed to Jesus asking him to forgive my sins and be my Savior and Lord. It was a strong commitment to follow Jesus.

That afternoon, my Mother’s friend came over to visit. She said that she didn’t believe that I was saved, and she thought I went to the altar because my friend did. Her words put doubt in my mind, but I knew in my heart that Jesus was my Savior. That night when I went to bed, I prayed and prayed asking Jesus if I was really saved. I prayed for a very long time that night and, suddenly, I felt great peace come over me. I knew then for sure that I was saved. I got out of bed and went into the living room where my Mother was and told her that I really believed that I was saved. She said, “I believe that you are too.”

I truly know that Jesus has been with me since that day. He promised us that He would send His Holy Spirit to be our Counselor, Guide, and Teacher. He helped me understand the Bible. The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). I can’t say that I have had a perfect life, but I can say that I have had “A Wonderful Life”. My relationship with Jesus has grown through the years. I read my Bible and pray often. I am very thankful for the life I have had. I have been truly blessed. I hope that you will make a commitment to follow Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him too. I can truly recommend him.

Here Is Where We Meet

When my mother tested positive for COVID-19 before Thanksgiving, I was winding down my fall semester. On the last Sunday of November, she left the nursing home via ambulance to the hospital. On December 7th, she returned to her home of forty-five years for hospice care. My dad, my sister Liz, my brother Scott, and I were all there to hold her hand and love on her some more. Somehow, I believe, my mother orchestrated all of it and brought her family together for our goodbyes. Meanwhile, in the final weeks of my mother’s life, John Berger’s novel Here Is Where We Meet spoke directly to me, and I had a final paper to write. This post is an excerpt. In a fusion of fiction and autobiography, Berger weaves separate and seemingly unrelated threads of memories and experience and time and space to depict the interconnectedness of life and death.

The novel begins in Lisboa with the narrator, an author named John, ruminating on his dreams. In John’s dreams his parents are alive, and he phones them for various reasons, forgetting they are dead (2-3). When the Lisboa scene resumes, John’s mother takes his arm, they cross the street, and she says, “John…The thing you should know is this: the dead don’t stay where they are buried” (3). A person who continues to live in the hearts and minds of others can never truly be dead. We carry the dead with us wherever we go, whether we are awake or asleep. John goes to Lisboa and meets his long-dead mother there.

In her farewell to John, Mother shares a final philosophy on life and some motherly advice, which shapes the course of the novel. She says, “we are here to repair a little of what was broken” (51) and “we come to the eternal conundrum of making something out of nothing” (53). She advises her son, the writer, to “Just write down what you find…and do us the courtesy of noticing us” (53). For the rest of the novel, John does his mother the courtesy of practicing her advice, noticing the dead, and writing down his memories of them. Perhaps the narrator John and the author John Berger are one in the same, and in writing this book, perhaps both Johns repair a little of what was broken.

John, the narrator, spends the rest of the book traveling throughout Europe, from Lisboa to Genève to Kraków to Islington to Le Pont d’Arc to Madrid and to the Polish village of Górecko, as if travel is one of life’s secrets. He moves fluidly between settings, the past and present, the living and the dead. His travels reveal the most important people, places, and experiences of his life. John Berger published Here Is Where We Meet at age 79, probably when he considered the influences and interconnections of life and death more than ever before. 

John Berger’s eight chapters conclude with chapter 8 ½, a one-page dialogue scene with his mother that ends where the novel begins and connects it all together. Mother repeats her earlier advice, “Just write down what you find” (237). Perhaps life ends in the same way—we remember our loved ones and their words and connect all the pieces. John’s mother returns to her point in the way that people do when they want to make sure their audience has heard the message. Yet, even after eight chapters depicting the courtesy of noticing and writing it down, John responds by saying, “I’ll never know what I’ve found.” He doubts what he knows as we all tend to do, but in truth, John has found more than he realizes, making something out of nothing.

My mother passed at home on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her family. She is no longer here, yet she is vividly here. In my mind, my beautiful Mama radiates the sheer joy of her prime and laughs a sparkling twenty-year-old laugh. She lives on through my family, in our hearts and minds, and in the countless number of trees she planted around my hometown. I can only hope to do my mother the courtesy of continuing to notice, to write down what I find, and to repair a little of what was broken..

My Mama’s Voice

My Mama and Me
My first memories
include my Mama’s voice.
No matter where she is,
no matter where I am,
I hear her—
  
“There was a little girl,
who had a little curl, 
right in the middle 
of her forehead.”
       Mama points in thin air,
       draws a circle.
“And when she was good,
she was very, very good,”
      she emphasizes very,
     nods up and down,
“and when she was bad,”
      she exaggerates bad,
      lifts an eyebrow,
“she was horrid.”
     Mama shudders,
     shakes her head. 
It’s a gentle warning.
Her words still ring true.
  
At the end of each day,
Mama would always say,
“Goodnight, sleep tight.
Don’t let the bed bugs bite.
And if they do…”
      This is my cue.
     I say, “Take your shoe, 
     and rub their tummies
     black and blue.”
Mama says, “I love you.”
    And I say back, “I love you, too.”
It's our routine. 
  
In times of trouble, 
Mama stands on God’s word.
How many times did I hear
her say?
  
“And we know that all things
work together for good
to those who love the Lord
to those who are called
according to His purpose.”
     Mama would say it now 
     if she could.
And then—"I love you.”
   
But I hear her voice. 
     "I love you, too, Mama."
     No matter where you are.
    No matter where I am.
Mama had three children. Somehow she always made me feel I had her undivided attention. How adorable is she? Family vacation, July 1972, Hoover Dam.

A New Tradition

Have you ever opened the bible at random to find a divine message from God? Perhaps I have. If so, it’s been awhile.

A day or two after Thanksgiving, my daughter Lauren called to tell me about her encounter with God. I could hear her smile and energy through my cell phone. “I opened the Bible and ended up in Amos, and I was like, ‘Amos, where am I?’” She laughed her twenty-eight-year-old laugh. “And this is what I found, I’m going to read it.” She hesitated through the words. “‘Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is’ (Amos 5:14). The words were bolded. They jumped off the page. I was like, ‘Seek good, not evil.’” She paused. The way she phrased the scripture sounded more like a question. “Of course, that makes sense.”

And I said, “No matter what you believe, the Bible has some good advice.”

Lauren agreed, and eventually we said our goodbyes, and a day or so later while Facebook scrolling, I found this:

I texted the image and a message to Lauren: I saw this today. I think I’m going to do this.

 She texted me: Oh that sounds good maybe I should do that

Me to her: We could read it and talk about it. New tradition.

And so I read Luke 1. If I ever knew the story, I didn’t remember that the angel Gabriel appeared to Elizabeth’s husband as well as Mary to announce immaculate conceptions for both. Two immaculate conceptions. One for a menopausal woman. The other for a virgin. I love a good miracle. Miracles keep my hope alive.   

On December 1, my friend Denise called. Denise, my friend since age five. I told her about Luke, and she wanted to join Lauren and me in the new tradition.

Later she texted me and some friends: I’m reading Luke – a chapter a day. I hadn’t remembered Mary going to Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist). All we need is that one friend right!?! God knew.

And I texted: Love that perspective.

And Cheri texted: Same here. I’ll join you.

And now for Luke 2. Let me tell you, Luke is not messing around. He jumps into the story. Jesus is born, and within the chapter he is twelve. Sitting among teachers at the temple. Listening. Asking questions. Growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

And no matter what you believe, Jesus was a good guy. We could all learn a little something through him. Who’s in? New tradition. The reason for the season.

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

A Tree for Andres

Rosa was on a mission. At the time, I didn’t know it. On a crisp November morning, she pulled us into the parking lot at Memorial Park. Me in the front passenger seat. Her daughter Kimberly, age twenty-one, in the back. We had just dropped off her son Andres for his day at kindergarten.

This was my first Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail expedition. 2.9 miles. Once you start, your only option is to make the full loop or turn back. We would never turn back. The three of us opened our car doors, extricated ourselves, slammed the doors shut, and stretched a bit. Kimberly waved, smiled, and took off running. Rosa and I followed at a quick walking pace, then jogged some. She wanted to resume the walk before me, and that was new. My endurance for jogging has improved since I met my neighbor Rosa back in July. At age fifty I discovered that I could run and make progress after all.

Along the way, Rosa told me about a family tradition. Back in Mexico, when she was a little girl, her father would set off for the mountains and bring back a Christmas tree. For Rosa, he would find a tree branch, fallen and dead. He would clean it up and spray paint it white, stick it in a bucket of sand, for lights, angel hair, and decorations of her own. Rosa’s tree. And Rosa wanted that tradition for Andres.

About a mile-and-a-half into our walk, we spotted the perfect branch, dead and fallen. We stopped and together snapped off the extraneous twigs. For the final mile-and-a-half, Rosa carried it like an Olympic torch. A five or six foot branch. At one point she said, “Let’s run.” And we did.

And other runners shook their heads. And other people on the trail shot photos or video. And Rosa and I jogged and laughed. A laugh that jingled all the way. And when Kimberly discovered her mother walking toward the car, carrying the dead tree branch, she covered her face with her hands and turned various shades of crimson, but she didn’t run and hide. Kimberly laughed a jolly laugh and said, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to be all over social media.” And she helped her mother fit the tree for Andres into the back of the SUV.

And Rosa reminded me of how the dead and fallen can take on new life, how the broken can bring new joy, how traditions are a form of magic, a way of speaking with the past.  

Hidden Valley Road

The Galvin family, Air Force photo, 1961.

My heart hurts. I just finished Hidden Valley Road. Then again, my adult son has paranoid schizophrenia. Our ten-year journey toward help has been rocky and torturous. My heart often hurts.  

Award winning journalist Robert Kolker combines an examination of twentieth century mental health treatment and the components of schizophrenia with the narrative of the Galvin family. Between 1945 and 1965, Don and Mimi Galvin had twelve children, ten boys and two girls. By the mid-1970s, six of the brothers had developed schizophrenia.

The Galvin family became one of the first to contribute to the genetic studies of the National Institute of Mental Health, and for their donation to the body of research, I am grateful. I will continue to keep the remaining family in my thoughts. Part of my sadness lies in the continued wait for a scientific breakthrough.

If you have experience with mental health issues, especially schizophrenia, Hidden Valley Road is a must read. If not and you are interested in knowing more, may you find compassion for those who suffer with severe mental illness and their families who are doing the best they can. There must be better help on the horizon.

Just Breathe

For those times when I have to remind myself to “Just Breathe,” I pull up this song from Pearl Jam’s ninth album. I’m not sure if it actually helps me breathe. In fact, it might just make me cry.

You might like the 2012 remake by Willie Nelson and his son Lukas.

But I’m loving this brand-new Miley Cyrus version. She’s set to release her seventh album on November 27, four days after her twenty-eighth birthday, and she is six months clean and sober. I’m finding her inspirational these days.

I would like to dedicate “Just Breathe” in loving memory of our Uncle Tony. December 24, 1950—October 9, 2020. We listened to some Pearl Jam together, and we had some really fun times. I think he might be listening right now.

“Yes, I understand that every life must end…Meet you on the other side.”

Allyson and the Ranch

 There is a little girl 
 named Allyson. 
 She lives on a ranch
 with endless skies,
 wide open spaces,
 and her big sister Olivia. 
 Together they explore
 all kinds of places
 with so many animals
 and things to do.
 
 
There are dogs that bark. 
And cows that moo. 
  Kittens to hold and catch mice 
  and horny toads, too. 
 Butterflies flutter, 
 turtles crawl, 
 and bees buzz. 
 Guineas squawk,
 chickens cluck,
 and turkeys gobble. 
  Of course, the horses say neigh. 
 Cottontail bunnies visit
 and then hop away. 
 Scissortail flycatchers and robins—
 what colorful eggs they lay! 
 On Allyson’s ranch, 
 it’s always a beautiful day!
   

And a BIG Happy Birthday to my most favorite four-year-old, my GREAT niece, Allyson Kate! She reminds me of the JOY to be found in small pleasures. The gorgeous photography featured is courtesy of Allyson’s Mom. Follow her Instagram @shesdoinok .





Friends and Prayers Like Gondolas

Telluride, CO, August 2020

In August the Rocky Mountains beckoned, or maybe it was my friend Cheri in Denver—Girls Trip 2020, Telluride, Colorado. Cheri has a Telluride connection, and she invited me and three other friends for a complimentary weekend at a posh three-bedroom condominium in the heart of the action. We grew up together in the Oklahoma panhandle. We’ve all known each other since fifth grade or before. I had never been to Telluride. AND we all rolled up to fifty within the past eight months or so. This was a celebration of empowered women and a new decade, the ultimate slumber party and the feat of forty-year friendships, hot tubs in the mountains and an offer I couldn’t refuse. COVID, shmovid.

The Telluride/Mountain Village Gondola carrying us up the mountain we face.

One Thursday, after sitting on my ass for 155 nearly-consecutive days with minimal human interaction since mid-March, I made my way to and through George Bush International all masked up and onto an airplane that touched down at Denver International. Denise from Dallas, my friend since age five, arrived ahead of me and waited with Cheri to pick me up. The three of us worked really hard to stay out of trouble before Starla, my friend since age seven, landed later that evening from California. On Friday morning, we three road-tripped into the Rockies and picked up Pamela, who flew from Austin to Montrose, sixty miles or so from our destination. Pamela has been my friend since age ten. Do I realize this is rare? Grown women, who grew up together, now staying connected, and still growing?

L-R. Cheri with dimples for days, Starla with stars in her eyes, and me mindful of this moment.

I’m sure I could tell some stories, but I would prefer to keep our secrets, just like I know they will keep mine. At the end of our time together, we shared photos and take-aways and one last hug. I can’t stop thinking about how the gondola carried us up and over the mountain, just like the best of friendships.

L-R. Denise, the badass blonde, and Pamela, my guru.

You see, when I returned home, the sky fell off my life, again. My son Drew, who lives with paranoid schizophrenia and dysfunctionally depends on his dad and me, returned to the hospital for the first time since 2015. An overdue hospitalization. His medication of the past five years, no longer effective. His doctor has been telling me for three years there’s nothing he can do. Me—after living through the 2017 hurricane, and in a hotel for ten months while rebuilding home, and starting a new job in 2017, another in 2018, and then a long-term sub job in 2019, and finally returning to school as a graduate student in 2020—well, I’ve stayed too fucking exhausted to look for a new doctor. Besides, Drew is an adult, and so he must agree to any changes. That’s the problem with seeking help for a person who doesn’t believe he has a problem. Meanwhile at home, Drew shouts at the voices he hears in his head most of the days of the month. His words. Terrible and angry. Racist and sexist. Filthy and threatening. His body odor vile. I don’t care to dive into further detail. All of this is an ongoing battle, Drew is now safe in the hospital, and of course, he wasn’t always this way. This brain disorder has transformed my son and stolen ten years of his life, and of course, I’m sad. In no way do I mean to imply schizophrenia is worse than cancer or Alzheimer’s or drug addiction or Lou Gehrig’s disease or any other infirmity leading to ultimate death. Wow. This post suddenly turned dark as tends to happen when I go down the path of what is wrong. Therefore, I focus on gratitude. Otherwise I may remain in fetal position for the rest of my days. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Cheers to women who uplift each other! Oh, and to age fifty. Happy Birthdays to us!

And so—I continue to count my blessings. When I don’t even care to put one foot in front of the next or speak a single word, I am so very thankful for the friends and family I have who carry me and for their prayers that lift me like a gondola up the mountain I continue to face.

“Who is set up for the tragedy of suffering? Nobody. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy—that is every man’s tragedy.”   

Philip Roth

And by the way, if you are the type who prays, please join me in believing Drew will understand there is better for him and that his dad and I are here to help and that we love him and that God will direct our steps and give us wisdom in dealing with this illness and that there will be a helpful, hopeful outcome to this hospitalization including a new doctor who believes along with me.

Amen. And thank you.

Simple [Hu]Man

Sometimes I feel that I write these posts as advice I wish I had given my kids. You see, I had my first baby at age nineteen and my second at barely twenty-two. Looking back, I was so young and dumb, and my mother’s guilt would tell you, “I wish I had parented better.”

Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.

I don’t beat myself up over this anymore, but my former self was super hard on me. Now I let the past stay there, and I understand that all of my past lives have shaped me into my current self. I did the best I could at the time, I loved those babies hard, and I still love these adults fiercely.

I suppose all this draws me to the lyrics of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 “Simple Man.”

My mama told me when I was young
Said, sit beside me my only son [baby girl, too]
And listen closely to what I say
And if you do this it'll help you some sunny day…

Oh, take your time, don't live too fast
Troubles will come and they will pass
You'll find a woman [or a man] and you'll find love
And don't forget that there is a someone up above [SO IMPORTANT!!!]

And be a simple kind of [hu]man 
And be something you'll love and understand

Allow me to introduce the lovely Sierra Eagleson. I think she’s twenty-four. I feel her stripped down strength and believe you’ll love and understand.

Photo by MIRTO KON on Pexels.com

For Remake Monday today, I think I’ll try to keep it simple and love and understand and remember that troubles will pass.