A Thanksgiving Day Post

I am reminded of the song lyric, “some of G-d’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”  Throughout this month of intentional gratitude, I have spent some time each morning appreciating all that my life is and all that I have.  I have so much to be thankful for, most notably my family starting of course with my children who have blessed me beyond anything I imagined possible.  Going beyond the  obvious gratitude for my immediate family, I began to recognize the fact that I am grateful for the presence of people in my life that I would not have if I had been in charge of things from the beginning.

My earliest memory of having a strong desire to control the make up of my family goes back to October 1967 when momma went to the hospital to give birth.  I was adamant, at the age of 3 years old, that she would bring home to me a baby sister.  I remember daddy laughing at me when I told him that a boy baby would not be acceptable and I would refuse to love him.  Thankfully I was wrong.

So many times I resisted change.  Always thinking that I knew what was best and rarely conceding when I was wrong.  My parents divorced when I was ten.  I resisted a new home, new school, and new friends.  I was reluctant when my parents dated and was admittedly a little angry when they introduced me to people that I could find no reason not to like.  I said there was no way I would ever accept step parents.  Thankfully I was wrong.

In 1978, momma asked me what I would say if she told me she was going to have a baby.  I quickly replied, “I’d be fine with it, as long as it isn’t a girl.”  Thankfully I was wrong.

I carried this stubborn notion that life was mine to choreograph into adulthood.  When things didn’t go according to my plan, I fought to change them.  I prayed harder that G-d would step in and ‘fix things’ for me.  I often beat myself up believing that if I just did things a little better or tried a little harder or wasn’t so selfish, then life would be happy and all of my plans would work out.  In reality, the more I resisted, the harder life became.  I thought I knew what was best.  Thankfully I was wrong.

Today I am blessed with a new perspective, one that comes through experience and time.  I look back over my life and see a brother and two sisters, two Dads and two Moms, extra grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a huge list of friends, and many cherished memories, all of which I would never had known if I had been in charge of my life.  Thankfully I was wrong.

I’ve learned to have faith in the grander scheme.  I’ve learned to trust my instincts and to breathe through situations that I don’t readily understand.  I’ve learned that fear is the only obstacle to life and love is the only thing that matters.  I am grateful for every part of my experience, the things I welcomed and the things I resisted.  Life is so good today.  I am blessed.

Red Bows and White Lights

There is no time of the year that I miss my grandmother more than this time right now.  When the weather turns cooler and the leaves begin to fall.  When thoughts turn to cozy fireplaces and warm comfort foods.  When stores begin to decorate and holiday music starts to play.  When the grocery store is full of sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and jugs of apple cider.  When the Fraiser firs begin their journey down the mountains and into our towns.  When I take out my little notebook for names and ideas.  When I do my holiday shopping and my hands are full of bags and I want to stop for a little snack or to check my list and my shopping partners aren’t with me.  This is when I miss her the most.

Nanny is Christmas to me.  She is red bows and white lights.  She is a large plastic Santa, a Frosty the Snowman, and a full Nativity set decorating the front yard up on the hill.  She is a wreath and a white candle in every window and garland on the porch.  She is a door hanging that plays Christmas songs when you knock and a crackling fire in the Buckstove thoutdoor_christmas_decorations_2at greets you when you enter.  She’s a candy dish with Turtles, peanut butter balls, and fudge.  She is a ten layer chocolate cake, Graham cracker crumb cake, lemon pie, coconut pie, coconut cake, Toll house cookies, and the most amazing brownies ever made.  She is the sound of an Elvis Presley vinyl playing on a console stereo alongside the dining room table covered in a red and white cloth.  She is stuffed Santas that sing when you press their gloves and a cradle full of baby dolls.  She is more presents than any one child ever needed all wrapped and stacked neatly beside the most perfect Christmas tree you have ever seen.

Her tree was covered in white lights with shiny red balls.  Over the years an occasional ornament with a hint of a different color could be found but not often.  To her, Christmas was red and white, and that was sacred.  Some years it would take her days to decorate that tree.  When she was done it rivaled something you would find in the Belk store window.  The white skirt laid around the bottom of the tree provided the perfect setting for the wooden creche that Granddaddy made for her.  Inside she placed Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.  Outside she placed the wisemen, a donkey, a shephard, and a sheep.  There were unspoken rules surrounding that tree.  You didn’t touch the ornaments and the nativity was not to be played with.  Presents were stacked separately and neatly for each child and never placed under the tree but were placed around the room and were not to be touched or shaken.

As I grew older and had children of my own, I watched closely as she worked her audience of eager little people on Christmas day.  Each child obediently found a place on the carpet, legs crossed, quietly waiting.  One by one, after she was satisfied that all of the children were paying adequate attention, she would pass out the presents, one stack at a time.  Slowly the quiet order was replaced by managed chaos as bows and paper were ripped away.  It was during this time that I would look over to see her standing in the middle watching the children with a huge smile on her face.  She was in her element.  One by one the children would jump up from their gifts and find their way over the wrapping to her leg.  They would squeeze her tight and she would rub their little backs.  I believe this was her favorite part of Christmas.

Over the years some things changed.  There were cakes baked that lacked ingredients.  There were presents purchased and forgotten that never made it under the tree.  The shopping ended and with it the ritual of the tree.  But what remains is the loving spirit she provided each of us.  The pure joy she felt for everything Christmas.  Yesterday at the grocery store I stopped at a display of wooden figures, snowmen, santas, gingerbread boys, and a christmas moose.  Nanny would have gotten one for each of the “babies.”  Today I’m going back to buy them for her.  Some things should never change.

In Her Kitchen

We lost my grandmother this past year to Alzheimer’s.  That’s not exactly true.  We lost her many years ago to Alzheimer’s, this past year we were finally forced to let her go.  Anyone who has dealt with this horrific disease knows without my explanation what a heart-wrenching and long good-bye a family experiences.  Our story is similar to so many that I’ve heard and read over the past few years but that does nothing to ease the pain of what we all have shared.  There’s a quote that comes to mind that says something about shared love being multiplied and shared sorrow being divided.  I’m not so certain that applies in the case of Alzheimer’s.

The number of things I miss about my Nanny increases with each passing day.  She was my constant, my biggest fan, and my first exposure to unconditional love.  She was yellow grits in the morning, fried bologna sandwiches at lunch, and rice & gravy at supper time.  She was a pitcher full of sweet tea in the fridge and a cookie jar that never emptied.  She was a pack of Juicy Fruit gum in her pocketbook to keep us quiet during church.  She was mud pies and baby dolls.  She was an envelope in my college mailbox full of one dollar bills taped together accordion style and a note saying, “Be my sweet girl.”  She was red bows at Christmas and homemade birthday cakes with little pink flowers.  She was soft and warm and she smelled like Ivory soap.

I grew up in her kitchen.  Wearing her bib apron, faded and worn, I followed direction and basked in her attention.  For Sunday dinner, my jobs were specific and never really varied much no matter how old I was.  Fill the tea glasses with ice.  Butter the brown-n-serve rolls.  Fix the deviled eggs and stuff the pears with creamed cheese.  I can recite that menu in my sleep:  fried chicken, rice & gravy, butterbeans with okra, sliced tomatoes in season, corn on the cob, brown-n-serve rolls, deviled eggs, and pears with creamed cheese.  Occasionally the butterbeans were replaced with green beans or field peas but the main menu items stayed the same on Sundays.  Dessert would vary depending on who was in attendance.  If my uncle was home from college, we could count on banana pudding and lemon meringue pie.  On these occasions my job also included crushing Nilla wafers for the pie crust and lining the pudding dish with cookies.

In 1991, Nanny decided to write down a few of her recipes for me in a spiral bound notebook.  I don’t recall the reasoning for this if any was ever given and around 2005 when I started to notice her memory fading, I started asking her to write down all of the things we had cooked together.  I cherish these notebooks and pull them out when I need to feel close to her.  The funny thing is, that trying to cook from her notes is next to impossible and I end up laughing at her when I get to the end of a recipe and see a note that says, “add a little milk to the filling”.  It’s at this point that I talk out loud to her and ask, “Really Nanny?”  I guess I should have paid closer attention when she was here, then maybe I would know what “a little milk” is.  Or maybe it’s best this way, some things will never be the same.  No matter how many times I try to figure out the correct measurement of “a little,” there is a part of me that hopes I never get it right.

The Artist Within

Another of my favorite authors spoke to me recently.  This time through a TED talk recommended by a friend.  Elizabeth Gilbert spoke about creative genius and the pressure on artists placed by society’s idea of where genius originates.  Her premise is that creative people need to release themselves of the burden of producing great works all of the time.  Often times, artists are frozen by pressure.  “What if’s” scream so loudly that writers can no longer hear inspiration.

I’ve been writing about this phenomenon for months now.  This fear of failure.  The fear of not being validated.  The fear of rejection.  What if no one likes my work?  What if no one reads it?  What would that mean?

Am I a writer only if there is a reader?

Genius has many definitions.


To the mother, Swan Lake was never more brilliantly performed, than by her own young daughter.

Priceless works of art are displayed on refrigerators and young artists write essays for audiences of one.

Children create for the joy of expression with no inhibition and little need for validation.

Over time this changes.

The artist within us begins to grow silent in the absence of approval.

Only the creative spirit strong enough to silence the critic survives.

Had Steinbeck’s works been lost would they have been any less brilliant?   If the first person that read his essays had told him they were no good, would he have stopped writing?  How many sketches and paintings done by the Masters never made it into public view?  Recently my mother was wandering through a flea market in England when she stumbled across a small sketch in a broken frame.  Unsigned and discarded, nevertheless the image spoke to her and she purchased it.  Later she learned the little sketch was an original Matisse.  Had mom not been drawn to this piece of art and taken it home to frame would its value have been any less?

What defines creative genius and who among us is qualified to make this determination?  What role does opinion play and what value do we assign it?  Ultimately, what do we care?  Going back to Steinbeck, I would imagine that no opinion could have caused him to stop writing.  Do any of us believe that Picasso, Monet, Warhol, or Banksy would have stopped creating in the absence of public approval?

Creativity is genius expressing itself.  For the artist to deny the overwhelming passion to create is to deny the expression of Self.  There comes a time when suppression is no longer possible, when as a child, it no longer matters what or if anyone thinks about the created result but only that creation occurs.