Friday, November 22, 2013

Falling into Winter

Fall came on rather dully this year.  The trees seemed to be changing one at a time and only a few times in early October did I have any wow moments of color.

At the end of October I went to Wildacres and the fall began to come alive.

In early November my sister and I took a trip to my hometown, Greensboro.  The purpose of the trip was to go see this amazing performance put on by the Touring Theatre of North Carolina.  While there we tripped down nostalgia lane by visiting relatives, cruising my dad's old house, strolling down Elm Street to see the revitalization of our old stomping grounds. The red- and yellow-leaved trees were in full splendor, especially in the cemetery where my parents and grandparents and several other relatives are buried.

As soon as I got home, I washed all my clothes and repacked in anticipation of the birth of my first grandchild, due November 19th. Within hours of getting the call that my daughter was in labor, my husband and I were ready to leave.

As we flew over Baltimore where we would change planes, I noticed that the fall colors there were brilliant. Clusters of color were everywhere as the plane prepared to land.

In the northern town where my daughter lives, the leaves were mostly gone but the weather was balmy and beautiful for the first few days we were there. My husband and I took a drive up into the low mountain-y area of the state and enjoyed the serenity of the landscape.  Everywhere there were large piles of stacked firewood. People were definitely thinking about winter.

For the time we were there, though, the main event wasn't the weather. It was the birth of our grandson, only the third male in my side of the family in four generations. All of us--parents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles--were beside ourselves with joy at the new life in our family.  After my other daughters and my husband left to go home, I was fortunate to have two whole days with the baby and my middle daughter before having to come home. I watched him at peace, sleeping in the same wicker bassinet that had cradled my mother, me and my daughters.

The morning I was to leave, the wind turned chilly and there was frost on the car window and the ground.  I wrapped my scarf around my neck and buttoned my coat; winter would be in this area of the country very soon.

On the way home on the plane, I realized that my life too has changed from fall to winter.  When I got the call from my daughter I was still a mother of older children. With the birth of my grandchild, I can feel the press of time more keenly.  I'm a grandmother. There's a richness in being the family elder, but a poignancy too, a tartness, a sense that every moment that I'm a part of this child's life is important. A sense that I cannot waste a single bit of it.

All the color was gone except for some red here and there when we taxied into Raleigh. I welcome the coming cool-down of the seasons. It holds the promise of the holidays and time with family. Time with that beautiful little boy and my strong and beautiful daughters.  Time that I will not use unwisely.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dying Thoughts

How many of you have thought about what you'd like for your funeral? Beyond cremation and burial, what music do you want? Who do you want to speak and what do you want them to say? Once a group of friends and I wrote our obituaries and it was interesting to consider what I'd like for people to say about me when I die, what I'd like to have accomplished, who might have been born or died in my family, how old I'll be and what I'll die from, where I'd like donations to go.

When my dad was going in for surgery the last week of his life, my youngest sister told him that our sister from Orlando was coming to town. It was rare for her to come unless we were celebrating something and he asked if the doctor had told us to call her.  My sister said no, but that he had said it was serious surgery. My father began to tell her the songs he wanted sung at his funeral and who he wanted for his pall bearers.

To have been so clear at a time when he must have been scared out of his mind tells me that he had been thinking about this for a while.  My sister had the presence of mind to write it all down, and when we had his funeral a week or so later, we followed his wishes.

Over the past three and a half years since his death, I've tried to remember many times the title of one of the songs he requested. I could only remember, as the congregation sang, being very moved by the lyrics and what they might have meant to him. 

Last night I was coming home from yoga and had Pandora on my radio.  How Great Thou Art, a song often heard at funerals, came on and I tried to recall once again the song from the funeral.  And then the very next song that came on was it: Great is Thy Faithfulness (it was this version played by Chris Rice).

Because I couldn't remember the words, I thought that my dad might have chosen it because it was about a believer who had been faithful to God.  My father wasn't perfect by any means--who of us is?-- but I think the early death of my mother was a wake-up call for him and he realized then that many times there are no second chances. 

But tonight, preparing to write this post, I finally looked up the lyrics and now I realize that the song is about God's faithfulness to us. His choice of the song took on a totally different spin. He felt that God had faithfully loved and blessed him. I was touched just as strongly as the day of his funeral. 

Here are the lyrics:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.


Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

I love that the song, which I'd never heard on that station before though I listen to it every day in the car and at work, came on when I was trying to think of it. 

Feeling blessed myself....

Sunday, November 3, 2013


I just spent a week at Wildacres Retreat Center.  You might remember that I was also there back in April of this year.  This time I had seven unscheduled days to work on my writing. I took two notebooks of stories--over thirty of them--that needed revision.

I didn't expect this, but it was peak leaf week in that part of the mountains.  From every side of the property there was the most magnificent view.

The auditorium overlooks Table Rock.

I spent my days working in my room or in the library.

When I'd take a break, there were so many places to walk around. Ladybugs were everywhere, crawling on rails and decks and swarming trees.

At night there were readings by some of the writers.  I finally got up my nerve and read two stories on Friday night.  The first was a piece of flash entitled Just Before Christmas, and the second a fairy tale about a weary doctor who meets Death on the way home one night. It was perfect for All Saints Day!

As my sister-in-law and I headed down the mountain on Saturday, the serenity and fall colors we'd experienced at the center began to fade.  Traffic picked up and soon we were speeding home to normalcy.

We stopped at Stamey's Barbecue in Greensboro for lunch. I got a little teary thinking about my dad and the loss of his home as a place to stop on my way home from the mountains. Outside the restaurant though was this beautiful reminder of the fall beauty we had just been immersed in:

Finally home, I kept catching a glimpse of brightness out my den window and opened the front door to discover this brilliant tree in my own front yard.

I started unpacking and washing clothes.  Everything went right back into my suitcase so I will be ready when we get the call telling us that our daughter is in labor.

For the time of renewal at Wildacres, the new friends I made there and special time with my sister-in-law, a pile of revised stories, and the anticipation of the baby and the holidays, I feel very full right now.