Saturday, April 26, 2014

Special Days To Remember

Crooked Bridge, Virginia

What can I say about death except that it is a sure thing; Like breathing and birth and the setting of the sun. No matter how many times we encounter death, souls are shaken and someone vibrant and beneficial is suddenly gone from our life. 

And then what are we supposed to do without them? 

Death has taken from me some of the most wonderful people. Some by old age or illness, some by accidents and some, sadly, regrettably, by their own hand. BUT most left peacefully, as if they knew it was time to go and God had called them home.

The hardest deaths I have had to settle in my soul are the ones I have been present for; where no medicine or prayer or heroic act would spare them. They were just gone, and I was left with a painful - hallow feeling in the pit of my stomach; and no words could express the deepness of the loss. 

There are no words for those kinds of feelings.

The death of my Mom and My Great Aunt Grace are two of the most significant ones; and the days they left will forever be branded in my mind, because they left on days that were significant in mine. 

My Aunt passed away on my 36 birthday and my Mom on my wedding anniversary. 

My mom Betzi
Two days I will never forget. Two days that come around to remind me of the two most influential women in my life. Two days I make sure I celebrate because these women are worth remembering.

My mom left all us way too soon, she was only 65. We were becoming friend, finally, after all the years of me being a daughter of distance and way too much attitude sometimes. She would have said I was acting "too big for my britches," and she was probably right. We were finally sharing secrets and calling each other during the week and just dropping by to say hello, just to see if either needed anything. And then suddenly she was gone. 

In one deep, desperate breath, she left us. I was holding her hand when her spirit slipped away to Heaven. 

It was such a bitter sweet good -  bye. I will never, EVER, stop missing her. I am sure as I am of the sun shining tomorrow that she is sometimes watching me from Heaven, standing next to Jesus, saying, "There's my Amy ... I am so proud of her."  I cannot wait to hug her when I get to Heaven. I cannot wait to be with her for the rest of forever. I think I will have a very hard time letting her go. (Oh boy, these tears I have at this moment are warm and  emotional, its hard to see what I am writing)! 

My Great Aunt Grace, who was such a wonderful teacher in my life, left us all on my 36 Birthday. My mother and I were planning to take her with us to lunch to celebrate but instead, as circumstances played out, my mom found my Aunt laying on her kitchen floor with a broken hip, unable to move, unable to get to her phone, unable to get off the floor, slowly slipping away. My mom called the ambulance, which my Aunt protested loudly and with great debate I was told, and got her to the hospital for treatment. The doctor's found her hip shattered, inoperable, and because of that it was decided to make her comfortable and to spend as much time with her as was possible.
My very young Great Aunt Grace.

I spent my whole 36 Birthday with her. We talked about New York City and 911 and my trip to Ground Zero. We talked about her favorite flowers and her friends that had come to see her and how she was going to clean up her house when we got her home again. We talked about my sister and brother and what their future's held and how she missed them, and slowly, she began to to get tired. It was he second day in ICU, and I think she was just ready to go be with Jesus. He had been the focus of her life, along with all of her other Church responsibilities, and I think she knew she wasn't going back home; I think she knew her next stop was Heaven.

My mom was there with me and together we held her hands. My mom's sister called about then, and as she talked to my mom my Aunt began to slip away. My mom hung up the phone and ran to her side and as we stood there, silently, her spirit left, leaving her with a smile on her face. My mom and I looked at her, and then at each other and smiled. We somehow knew she had made it to her final destination.

I know Jesus was waiting for her, along with so many others. I know I will see her again with my mom, and I know if they do ever talk about me, they are proud of me, because I am a product of them; they were amazing influences on me and my life and I find myself thinking about what would they do when surrounded with life's drama?

That is the result of great influence I would have to admit.

Just writing this has caused more tears to flow than I was prepared for; They are tears of longing for my Aunt I think, just like the tears for Mom. 

My Birthday and my (un)anniversary will always be days to remember these two amazing women that helped shape me, I miss them more than words could ever express. 

Will I ever get over them being gone?  No, probably not, and that is OK,  because I would never want to forget them. They are the source of a lifetime of memories. Though bitter-sweet, those special days will keep them alive for me until the day we are together again. 

Their memories are priceless and keep me headed in the right direction, and I wouldn't trade them for anything, except, of course, one more day with each of them.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What is Easter?

When I was a little girl Sunday School was a mandatory part of my parents "custody" agreement,(weather it was written down on paper or not). 

Every Sunday, just like clock work, we had to get up early and get dressed, no matter where we were(me, my brother and step-sister), and get ready for the Sunday shuffle. 

We'd get crammed into the back seat of my dad's car and off we would go to the big Presbyterian church in town. Once he knew we were inside, he and my step-mom would blaze away to some other destination, it was never to church. 

It was a weekly ritual that my brother and me and my step-sister got used to, and I actually looked forward to it. Some of the same kids that were in Sunday School class were in my regular school class and it was nice to know there was someone in regular school who knew what I knew about Jesus. 

We learned a lot there; and we goofed off a lot there too, but we all were well educated in the ways of the Gospel. 

I was a quiet kid and I took in a lot at Sunday School. I got in trouble sometimes,  but I was mostly a good student, and it is this one thing I have to admit, something that has stayed with me my whole entire life; Sunday School is where I fell in love with Jesus; and He has been my hero ever since.

As a little girl who's parent's were divorcing, I found a quiet calm and peace in Jesus, because I learned in Sunday School that Jesus was always with me, no matter where I was, so I talked to him a lot when I went to bed and heard my mom and step-dad fighting.

In Sunday School there was always a quiet calm in the room we met in, and hanging off the wall was a picture of Him that seemed to produce an intense feeling of love and acceptance, and for that matter, the same feeling was felt from anyone who walked in that room.

It was the picture of Him sitting in a beautiful meadow, with children gathering around Him. He had a beautiful smile on his face and his eyes glowed kindness and peace, and his arms are open and outstretched, encouraging the children to come and just sit with Him. He is dressed in a white gown with a red robe over top of it,  and his hair is flowing around his shoulders and gently laying on his back and chest as he waits for them to come and to sit and to share in His abundant love.

I remember one Easter in particular and my Sunday School class was having a contest to see who could name certain events in Jesus life and some holidays. 

The examples were Christmas, which would have signified his birth. Good Friday, which would have been the day he was Crucified, and the calming of the sea, when he and the disciples were crossing over the Sea of Galilee and he was asleep in the back of the boat. We were asked to tell the class what he said to them when he woke up; And then it went onto the very best, my number one favorite anyway, Easter. 

I remember the teacher asking,"does anyone know what Easter is, anyone?"

I knew, I knew because I knew that Jesus had died on the Cross for me and he rose in three days to go be with His father.

I knew, and from the looks on everyone else's faces, they DID NOT, so I blurted it out before anyone else could ... "It was the day Jesus rose from the dead to go to Heaven," I said.

"You are right, Amy," I heard the teacher say and I was rewarded with that great feeling of really knowing something no one else knew. Or if they did know, the events didn't match up with the name of the holiday.

My sister made fun of me and so did some of the other kids. "How did you know that, you must have cheated," they kept saying to me. But I really didn't care much. I got it right and Jesus was happy, and so was I, so what else mattered?

Thinking back I remember just ignoring them. I figure this was one lesson they would never forget.

Since that day in Sunday School the death and Resurrection of Jesus had turned my life around completely. 

It is a guarantee that He lives in me and I in Him and we are ONE and no one can take that away.

Learning that he loves me with an unfathomable love ... there are no words. I only know that the picture hanging in that Sunday School room painted a picture of an unassuming man with a Love so deep, and high and wide and long there is no way for me to escape it, and why would I want to?

(Ephesians 3:17-19 So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God)

I don't go to Sunday School anymore but because of those years I did spend there, I know I have the awesome Truth of Jesus in my heart and in my life. 

Because HE has risen - so will I one day. And to be with my Hero, my first Love, Jesus makes this holiday shine above all others.

Happy Resurrection day. My the words of the Scripture in Ephesians 3:17-19 make you curious to explore his deep and everlasting Love; and create in you a deep desire to really Know His Love.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Clutter Can Wait

I finally did it.

I finally hid away in my turquoise colored bedroom, wrapped myself in my fluffy burgundy blanket, propped myself up on my pile of pillows and read for an entire 24 hours. 

Give or take a few brakes and stalled moments at the kitchen sink as I read.

My ability to actually do this had been lacking for some time, because as I have gotten older it has become a test of will to make myself sit still long enough to read a chapter; Or ever sit through a one hour television show. 

But it has finally happened.

Thanks to John Steinbeck. 

Thanks to his vision and his ability to create nail biting conflict in life situations that I would never see with my ordinary eyes. Though in reality, they are there staring you in the face. 

Steinbeck did not have ordinary vision.

His stories so effectively reflect the everyday human condition, I wonder, when reading his creations, how he knew that something like that happened in my family? 

And he got me to leave the dishes in the sink for over two days. The sun rising and setting on them, cluttering up the kitchen, with my thoughts occasionally drifting back to the "responsibility" of keeping the kitchen clean and the little voice in my head screaming at me "put the book down," and get busy with what you are supposed to be doing, the book will wait.

But it wouldn't.

I only took brakes to go to the bathroom or get something cold to drink; dragging my blanket along behind me like "Pigpen" in the Charley Brown cartoon, dust cloud and all. 

And I kept on reading, standing there in the kitchen window, wrapped in my blanket, holding my breath as the characters in "The Pearl" struggle with the Evil that has crept upon their family. The Evil that forced them out of their village, into the night, into hiding in the mountains, dragging with them anger and regret and animal instinct for survival ... and returning, still carrying with them their great regret and a new, terrible heart braking loss. I will end there ... I don't want to ruin it for someone who hasn't read it and might decide to.

It was 24 hours of emotions that I wish I could put down on my own piece of paper.

It was 24 hours where the cat was lucky he got fed or recognized even with his excessive meowing; And the dog was lucky she got put out to take a pee and kick up some dirt. They were reluctant brakes to say the least, and they were few and far between.

It was 24 hours of letting the dishes stay dirty, the cloths remain in the dryer, the floor remain un-swept and myself un-showered, with my main source of food PBJ's and coffee. 

Cold coffee. 

Hard crust on my PBJ. 

My blanket still trailing behind me as I made my way back into my bedroom, wrapped in my fuzzy blanket, onto my pillows that covered my bed remaining continuously hooked into The Pearl. 

A book that made me forsake my tidy house and all that it is made of.

And I don't regret one minute of those 24 hours. 

Steinbeck has become my most favorite author of late. Well, of ever, I suppose. I have never had a favorite author, they all seem to be random depending on the book; but this time, this time I am hooked. He is like a drug that gets me to turn the television off. I forget about food and drink and caring for animals or other people for that matter. I submerge myself into a world of characters and conflicts that cause one to say to themselves; "Now why didn't I think of that?" And you begin to plot the next great American Novel...and then you hear that little voice saying, "Good luck with that."

When I finished it was early evening and the sun was just setting. The dust was in the air from moving through the kitchen and back to my room and back to the kitchen; It could be seen in the streams of light beaming through the dirty windows I had planned to wash the day I picked up the book. The sunlight illuminating not only the dust in the air but the pile of dishes that needed to be cleaned. 

"All in good time," I said to myself, because I can honestly say I didn't care. 

Now I have some seed to propagate my own imagination, my own Great American Novel. 

Those 24 hours made me realize that its OK the indulge in guilty pleasure, though I am sure most wouldn't consider a full 24 hours of reading an indulgence. For me it was like being set free from a prison of everyday, boring, "they will be there when you get back" chores. 

To have allowed myself that much time to enjoy something I find satisfying had been a long time coming; And it makes cleaning up the clutter that much more satisfying.

And the next 24 hours of reading a pleasure I am looking forward to with great anticipation.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

California Dreamin'

California ... it was the destination of my dreams and I planned, like a handful of other teenagers I knew, on getting there at least once before I was out of high school. I wanted to go just for the thrill and glamour and excitement of it all; and who knew, I thought, maybe I might ever meet a Super Star.

The dream was a glamorous one. I'd jet away and head to Hollywood to meet my favorite teen idol music stars crushes; like Leif Garret and Andy Gibb and Tony DeFranko (if anyone can remember those fly by night heart
throbs). The one's, I must confess, I hung pictures of on my bedroom wall and stared into their eyes on their one dimensional faces, professing my love, and dreaming of the day I would meet them in person.
Or better yet, become a Star myself; I would get noticed walking down a famous street like Hollywood Blvd. and the powers that be would proclaim that I was "just what they were looking for", the one beautiful person Hollywood just had to have to add to their list of Who's Who in Hollywood. My name would be put up in HUGE flashing neon lights for my first movie; and maybe even get my own special star on the Walk of Fame.

Oh they were the most glorious day dreams; and I would dream them everyday ... and night, for hours on end.

 What a wonderful world of make believe we have in our minds.

And for me, at 14, that dream did come true, and I literally got to experience the trip of a lifetime; and it was amazing!

I got to go to Hollywood; and Beverly Hills and Los Angels and San Diego and it was the most amazing vacation any 14 year old could have ever dreamed of. 

The Hollywood sign leave so much more to be explored. It may be the opening pan for quite a few movies there; but relatively speaking, there is so much MORE there - the sign is the tip of the ice berg.

And, although I returned to Shaw Road intact on the outside, (with a great West Coast tan) my inside was now home to a totally different girl.

As luck would have it, the family I baby sat for here in New York moved out to California to start a Sanoco gas station, and because we had grown so close, they invited me to come the following summer. It was so hard to see them go, for one because they were a major source of income and the other, I knew I would truly miss them.

I was more than anxious for summer vacation to come back around.

I remember babysitting more than ever that winter, saving every penny. I made enough for half of the trip and my mom paid for the rest. In June of 1980, a week before school was out, I was on my way to California, on a huge American Airlines 747 Jet, all the way across the US ... I got to finish up school a week early to go. The fact that I got out of school early to go on vacation to California was cause for less than enthusiastic reactions form friends and siblings.

It was the trip that transformed me somehow. It changed a simple dirt road county kid into a more independent individual who now had an amazing adventure to tell about, "My summer vacation to California." It was like a dream to me, and traveling to a great place like that, at such a young age brought envy to my siblings and friends, and praise from any adults. 

It was a growing experience, a challenge to be brave and on my own in some very adult situations. I look at 14 year old kids today and wonder would they even want to go do something like I did at 14? Would their parents even let them?

The adventures were numerous, and going to so many new places and to learn to trust my judgment and the character of others; it was a learning experience that not too many at 14 years old get to embark on.

It was a thrilling and remarkable adventure for a country girl fresh off Shaw Road. 

My tour of Hollywood was jam packed with sights and sounds; and I got to look upon famous people's houses and see tourist attractions I thought I would only see on television. I visited the homes of movie greats like Marilyn Monroe and Burt Reynolds and Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Taylor, to name just a few, (that I remember). We traveled through the Hollywood Hills where people strategically built and hid their houses and driveways, and were we were lucky enough to find Bert Reynolds house with his awesome car from Smoky and the Bandit parked. I used to have a picture of that Trans Am, but, I guess through the years it lost it's sparkle, and I literally lost the picture. (But boy did I love that movie)!

This picture brought it all back!
Attack ... boy do I remember this!

Universal Studies would have to have been my number one adventure; with the best ride, hands down, being the one that took me through the Jaws set. The roller coaster ride started out innocent enough, and then it took you down into the pool with that monstrous shark coming at you, stalking you, to the point where you thought you were going to be gobbled up by his huge open mouth full of teeth aimed right at the trolley car (as per the attached photo)! I lived, of course, but the screams and fake blood and the water spraying all over us riders made it so real and fun and yes, pretty scary too.

The 2nd best part of my trip was going out to the California desert and camping for a few days. It was the most amazing experience. We got to go riding in dune buggies, all over t desert, for hours on end. It put three wheeler rides to shame. It was a good thing I didn't mind getting dirty, it was so dusty and dry on those rides that when I got out of the buggy sand poured out of my cloths, and clung to every inch of my body, exposed or not.

We road through herds of free roaming, long horn cattle.They just stared at us as we drove by. We chased a few Jack Rabbits across the sand and even found a few lizards lazily sunning themselves in the heat of the day. The drive was amazing and the mountains were spectacular; I had never had so much fun.

Afterward, in the evening, the kids and I would dig for Fools Gold in some of the clearest, coldest mountain water I have ever seen or drank in my life. And even though the "Fools Gold" was fake, it gave us a reason to be in the stream in that wonderful cold water. It was ice cold and so refreshing on those very hot, dry days in the desert

The nights were equally amazing. They were cold and mysterious, and the skies were clear and the noises were different from any in New York. The camp was surrounded by the mystery of the desert at night - and we were just visitors. The California desert was its own private world.

Admittedly, this trip out West really changed my life - even at 14. It added a layer of experience that no one else I knew had, and I was proud of it. I stood a little taller and I felt like I knew stuff that no one else knew and I could share about California. That bit of added knowledge made conversations I had with anyone more exciting.

It gave me a great sense of independence; looking back I suppose it should have revealed to me how much trust and faith my mom had in me and other people, especially strangers; I was, after all, only 14 years old. It was for sure one of the most important developmental hurtles I experienced in my life. It turned me into a true believer that traveling at a young age is good for the soul of a teenage. And it brings out strengths that only stretching one's boundaries can develop.

I spent some time in San Diego with my cousin who was in the Navy and I was given a guided tour of a air craft carrier at the Naval Docks in San Diego. We spend that 4th of July at the Naval base with many other families and got to enjoy some amazing fire works. My stay with him and his wife was short but it was fun and I had not a care in the world. It was fun to connect with family so far away but who had come from the same common cord, family and Shaw Road. 

Ties that bind.

That is how life should be for a 14 year old ... especially when they are on a grand vacation on the West Coast. Carefree, fun and adventurous and open to whatever the opportunity holds for them.

It was bitter - sweet having to come home. Returning to Shaw Road was a quick trip back to reality but now, my day dreams had true substance - true meaning, and they weren't just day dreams anymore.

Hands down traveling to California is one of my favorite life memories.

As always, there are stories that have been chipped loose inside of this one. I use these memories as a primer for new material, to find out what else is lingering just below the surface. One day I will have more to say about it. I look forward to sharing more.

But for now I must admit out of all the places i have been, my trip to California was the one that instilled in me a great love of travel; and I know one day I will get to jet myself out to California again, even if its just for a visit. 

Hollywood, L.A., San Diego, the amazing Northern California Desert (High Desert I believe it is called) they all became a part of a 14 year old girl in 1980 and it is one adventure I will always find a pleasure in remembering and sharing with whoever wants to hear.

California Dreamin', it can still take me there - and the memories are just as crisp as if it had happened yesterday. It made me a braver person and it made me an explorer; and it gave me an inner strength that will never be taken away from me. 

That is what adventures are created for.