Looking for Signs

Today, 39 years ago, I remember packing  your hair dryer in the blue Samsonite case. It was the same one you’d had since you were nineteen. You were now 35. You hadn’t been feeling well during Christmas, so Dad was preparing to take you to the hospital.

I was used to these regular visits to doctors – checkups for things of which I had no knowledge, save the fact that I knew your skin was getting harder and harder by the day. Your fingers cracked and bled, you had difficulty holding a fork to eat, and now, you were so physically exhausted, a wheelchair had been rented.

I didn’t know that the scleroderma you had also weakened your lungs and caused pneumonia.

I also didn’t know that, sitting there on the bed beside you as Dad packed a few things, this would be the last time I would ever be this close to you.

You died in the hospital five days later.

There are so many times I have rehearsed in my head the things I should have said to you. The things I should have asked of you. How I wanted us to have a”secret sign” that would let me know it was you, paying me a visit on each day I graduated. When I was recovering from the hysterectomy. When I turned 50 a few weeks ago.

But I was eleven. I had no idea those things would be so important down the road. I had no idea I would outlive you.

It never gets easier each year. I just learn to deal with it the best I can.

And I still sit, wait, and look for signs. Just like I think you did

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Momma on her favorite pier – Bogue Pier, NC. 1975.
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Back from the Depths…

First off, I want to apologize for not having posted here in a very long while.

Truth is, I’ve been busy — this writing thing is starting to take off now, and I’m really excited about the direction in which it’s headed.  Over the summer, I submitted two stories for inclusion in anthologies and am honored to say that both of them were accepted for publication!

The first one — Letters for My Little Sister — is a marvelous book about menopause.  It’s filled with stories from women of all ages and walks of life from all over the world.  I’m one of those gals who never learned from my mother about these things because, quite frankly, she passed away when she was only 35.  My grandmother never shared anything, either, because I wasn’t experiencing (or even thinking about) symptoms when she was still here with us.  So when I opened this book and started reading, it felt as if I had settled in among a circle of kindreds — I poured myself a cup of favorite tea, pulled up the blanket, and started reading.  Couldn’t put it down. Several times I felt myself chuckling in acknowledgement at some of the experiences – of course, my husband wondered what I could possibly be laughing at, but he DARED not ask, for fear of what might happen (I’m pre-menopausal, you know?).

The second book — Women Awakening: Discovering Our Personal Truths — is an anthology of I Am Subject Stories that focus on women sharing how the influences of family history, body and mind, internal/external roles, and life-altering moments have helped shape their lives… and their stories.  The stories are raw, honest, risky.  I would like to meet several of these women in person some day.  Diane DeBella, the book’s editor and the creator of the I Am Subject project, has become a friend via the wonders of technology (she lives in Colorado and I’m in North Carolina), and I hope to get together with her very soon to explore some opportunities to expand on this project.

I encourage you to consider these books and their creators.  Here are links to their webpages and book information:

Cecelia Gunther — Letters for My Little Sister Book Order Page
http://thekitchensgarden.com/book-orders/

Diane DeBella — The I Am Subject Project Page
http://iamsubject.com
For Women Awakening Book Orders
http://www.iamsubject.com/diane-debella-books/women-awakening/

Here’s me… as proud as punch!
My Books Sept 2014

 

 

 

 

 

The Writer Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree…

Tonight was one of those nights where I needed a little “perking up” and some inspiration for writing, so while rummaging through the boxes of old photographs acquired over the years (and yet to be properly archived), I came across something so very unexpected – a “confirmation” of sorts.  It was a little booklet that my aunt had made and shared with the family shortly after Granny (my mother’s mother) had passed in 2004.  It contained poems she had written in 1937, when she was 22 years old and not yet married to Pa-Paw.  Even more exciting was the fact that a poem written by my great-grandmother in 1940 was included. She was 62 years old when she wrote it.

Not only was this a wonderful surprise, I also found it quite interesting that my great-grandmother’s poem was about a bird – now, the mystery of my strange attraction to them may have finally been explained.  Apparently, bird lovers run in the family.

Apparently, so does the love of writing as well.  Not only did Great Grandma Archy enjoy writing the occasional poem, I learned from my aunt that she also wrote for the Charlotte Observer sometime in the 1920s and 1930s under the pen name, “Ichabod.”  During that time, I suppose women weren’t strongly encouraged to write for the paper, so she found a way to get around that barrier.  (Way to go, Great-Grandma!) I am currently in the process of contacting the archives division in Charlotte to see if they can help me find more information…and hopefully some of her articles.

At the back of the booklet were some loose pages.  Brown and ragged at the edges – I discovered they were the original handwritten poems.  There was something about holding those pieces of paper in my hand and lightly running fingers across the words that made me feel as if, for a moment, I was right there when they were being crafted over 70 years ago.

Gr Grandma Archy's Poem 1940
Granny's Poem 1937

Digging deeper into the box, two yellowed envelopes also appeared.  They were typewritten – addressed to my Granny from my Momma.  They had been returned to me after her death, and I never realized exactly what they contained – until opening and reading them tonight.

Mom's Letter 1974

Before me was three generations of writing – and I couldn’t help but see a similarity in my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s style.  But what touched me the most was the letter from Momma to my Granny – 40 years ago, just after Pa-Paw had suffered a heart attack.  Momma had graduated from a business college and worked for a while as a secretary for J.P. Stevens Company in Greensboro when I was young.  I vaguely remember us having a typewriter, and I also think I remember her allowing me to use some of her onion skin typing paper and “practice” now and then.

But I digress.  Momma’s letter was dated 1974 – less than four years before she died.  As the years go by, it’s growing more and more difficult to remember little things about her.  But this letter brought all the memories flooding back when I saw how her writing reflected the deeply caring nature I still remembered and how she expressed specific concern over making sure that a close eye was kept on Pa-Paw because “he was used to doing what he wants to.” She mentioned me in the letter and that I was excited about going to see Elvis (yes, I saw him!) and that she regretted not buying a ticket for herself.  When I read that sentence, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of deep regret also – had she bought another ticket to the concert and joined my neighborhood friend, his mother, and me, that would have made for just one more fond memory to add to the small handful I was able to gather in her short time here with me on this earth.

Great Grandmother Archy’s poem was written about a Mockingbird, but it reflected a mother’s sense of loss after her last child left the “nest.” She needed to “keep on singing” after her children left home, as did the Mockingbird, despite losing her own “nestlings.”

Granny’s poem was an ode to her mother – the one who was her best friend and her “lighthouse.”

Momma’s letter to her mother was one of deep caring, compassion, and encouragement in a time of difficulty — and a precious, unexpected and much-needed gift of memories for her daughter 40 years later.

Three generations of mothers expressing themselves through writing – and confirmation to me that what they say about apples… well…

 To My Mockingbirdby Archy Harris Morrison (1940)

Oh, little bird, come sing your sweet song;
With your notes full of cheer the whole day long.
You sit on your bough and sing to me;
As if you are happy, as happy can be.

And, oh, mockingbird, sing on your sweet song;
Put pep in my step and cheer up the throng.
Who chance to pass and hear your sweet song;
Sing your sweet song, sing on, sing on.

Sometimes the cruel cat your nestlings take;
And you are left to mourn your sad fate.
But you sing your song from early morn;
Oh, who could guess you were left so forlorn.

May the sweet melody that you make;
Cause us some joy and courage to take.
That when our home ties are broken may we;
Still scatter sunshine where ’ere we be.

 

Mother – by Willie Morrison Taylor (1937)

You, mother are the dearest
Of all my friends to me.
You’ve been the inspiration
Of all my childest glee.

Tho’ all the years have passed
Since I was but a child
You have been my lighthouse –
Even your bright smile.

You’ve cheered me when I’m lonely
And helped me when I’m blue,
You’ve made the burdens lighter
And skies of brighter hue.

I hope when life is over
And our days here are done
You’ll have a crown victorious
With every battle won.

 

Irma, the Great Menopausal Philosopher

Flash Therefore Fan

Come on out… the air’s just fine…

A story I wrote has been accepted for publication in the book, I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves.

I’m extremely excited about this. I believe there are over 70 stories from women – all over the world – that will be included in this anthology. It’s amazing and quite humbling to know that my story has been heard… and acknowledged.

I-AM-Subject-cover_Capture_15Nov2013-199x300

And it couldn’t have come at a better time in my life — a time when “the change” has my body going haywire, the mind following suit most of the time, and my spirit jumping up and down, waving its hand in the air, frantically screaming, “Hey!  Remember me?  Can I please come out and play now?”

Through this project, the box lid on my comfortable, safe, secure little world has been ripped open and exposed to the elements, and I’m finding that the air outside is safe to breathe. Actually, it’s quite refreshing.

 

So go on, spirit. Climb out now. Inhale deeply… and play ’til your heart’s content.

For more information on Diane DeBella and her wonderful project, visit her website: http://www.iamsubject.com/

Ch-Ch-Ch Changes… (Sorry, Mr. Bowie)

Hey, all.  Those of you who regularly visit my page (thank you!) will notice that I decided to change the theme and re-do my banner. I’m in the midst of transformation here… and trying to focus direction a bit. These days, it’s increasingly difficult for me to wrangle in all these ideas… sometimes I feel like my twelve-year-old stepdaughter after downing a 20oz bottle of Dr. Pepper.

So, here’s the deal.  I’m 47, have a little over six years to go before I can fully retire, and I’m beginning to do that “wonder what’s ahead for me?” thing.

Throw into the mix that I’m menopausal.  Yep, it’s official.  Got the lab reports and the “welcome to the club” from the doc to confirm it.  Damn.

Menogram 1

Actually, it’s not so bad, this time of life.  I thought menopause meant everything pretty much shuts down — but I hafta’ tell ya, I haven’t had this much enthusiasm and hope for the future in a while now.

You’re going to start seeing more about midlife on my pages — no, not the clinical stuff — I’ll leave that to the doctors.  I want to get down-and-dirty with it, get right in its face and say, “Come on! Is that all you’ve got?” I’m going to share a serious side to this journey, hopefully connect with those of you who are along for the ride (or are waiting at the station), and poke a little fun in the meantime.

Why not?  A good friend of mine always said, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”  I like the way she thinks, and she practices what she preaches (love you, Cheryl).

So, welcome to my “new” page — please do me the kind favor of following my blog or sharing it with anyone you feel might benefit from a little midlife message every now and then.

Whew.  Gotta go turn on the fan.  All this excitement cranked up a “flash.”

Peace.

Living with Ghosts – Finding My Spirit

I am participating in Diane DeBella’s #iamsubject project http://www.iamsubject.com/the-iamsubject-project/. Here is my #iamsubject story.

 

“You live with too many ghosts.”

That’s what he said to me one night after seeing the title of the book, Motherless Daughters.  I was reading it in an attempt to begin processing what had been kept hidden inside for over 25 years. So I put the book away, just as I had done with several other attempts to find out exactly who I was.

On the outside, there was the confident, organized college administrator who received glowing evaluations and loved helping anyone she could, especially those who seemed to need that extra push or vote of confidence. Her door was always open, yet, on the rides home, she secretly longed for her own advisor to help make sense of everything and to tell her she was on the right track.   There was the “coach’s wife,” who attended every game and stood (literally) on the sidelines, filming her husband’s rise to fame during a winning season.  No one ever knew her name or even cared to, for that matter – she was simply “coach’s wife.”  And at a showing of the video she had created, his only acknowledgement of her efforts were, “Oh, yeah.  This is just a little hobby she has.”

I began to feel a slow grating at the base of my gut each time everything I said or did was interrupted by a better, bigger story or altogether ignored. I was important, and although I had allowed myself to focus on who I was externally – defining myself based on what I did for others – inside, my spirit was withering.

It took something extremely personal, extremely physical, for me to realize that things needed to change.  That I was an individual who had a name, a body, and a spirit who deserved to be recognized and appreciated.  Most importantly, I needed to learn how to appreciate myself. In 2005, after suffering through years of painful menstrual cycles and noticing (but not addressing) a growing abdomen, I found the courage to face one of my biggest fears and have a hysterectomy.  Since Momma died, I had always had this deep terror of hospitals, knowing they were the places “where you went to and never came out of.” I also feared the simple act of going to doctors because they “could always discover some horrible disease that would end up killing you.”

Something was different this time.  For once, I didn’t feel like the terrified eleven-year-old.  I knew I was taking care of me for the first time. So, in the quiet hours of the first night after surgery, listening to my husband grumble about “having his sleep interrupted by the nurse coming in to check vitals,” I began to heal – on several levels.

He wasn’t there the morning I was released.  No, he had decided to spend the remaining time of my hospital stay at home, studying for his teaching boards.  Eventually, I decided to leave the marriage.

Jokingly, I comment to my girlfriends that I received a “two-for-one” deal when I went to the hospital – not only did I have my uterus removed, they helped me remove an a**hole as well.

Nine years later, I can’t say that I’ve completely healed from the scars of mother loss or the hysterectomy, nor have I fully discovered who, at 47, I truly am.  But I can tell you that I’ve taken some amazing steps in the journey so far.

The man I married three years ago understands that I am on a journey toward self.  Although I have the outward challenges of trying to learn how to be a good wife, stepmother, survive menopause, etc., he also respects that I have some “me work” to continue.

Hubs and I met through our love for music.  About two years ago, we formed a vintage blues band that (very surprisingly) won a competition that sent us to Beale Street, Memphis.  In the past, my voice was stifled by, “No, you can’t join a band. Why would you want to, anyway?”  Now, when I sing, I feel alive.  Powerful. Sexy. Like a woman who’s beginning to take control of her life.

"Coming out of My Box" by Bob Powell
“Coming out of My Box” by Bob Powell

One day, while having a less-than-powerful moment on the journey, I was searching for another self-help book on “taking chances.”  That’s when I came across You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. The author, Jen Sincero, exemplified to me the type of woman I was seeking to become – strong, opinionated, in-charge, creative.  I read it like a college textbook, making notes in the margins and highlighting just about every other paragraph.  I needed to come out of my protective little shell, admit and face up to my challenges, and “get the hell on with” my life.  The author sent out a request for video clips from readers, sharing why they felt they should be selected for her 8-week course.  I submitted…and was selected.  In fact, I’m finishing up the final week right now.  I’ve learned how to maintain focus on what desires and goals I want and to step out of that comfortable little box I’ve lived in for so long.  I am close to earning my B.A. in “B-A.” Heh.

That book that I hid away years ago? Well, funny how things happen.  One night, Hubs showed me a book that had been recommended by someone.  He was trying to understand and support me in my healing over Momma’s death. It was the same book – Motherless Daughters.  That loving gesture started a crazy chain of events.  I joined the author’s fan page.  She sent out a call for stories of mother loss.  I took a huge leap of faith and submitted one.  A few weeks later, she contacted me for permission to use the story in her 20th Anniversary edition of Letters from Motherless Daughters (by the way, my story is on page 162 under a fictitious name).  In March 2014, I attended my first meeting of the Triangle Motherless Daughters Group.  For the first time in 36 years, I was among sisters.  I was able to express grief, challenges, and successes and be listened to and valued. The book’s author, Hope Edelman, was also there. She signed a copy of the book and gave it to me.  Hope's NoteOn May 10, 2014, I wrote a feature story in the Greensboro News & Record about life as a motherless daughter and shared that I was starting a support group for other motherless daughters in the area.  I’ve been contacted by numerous women (and supportive men) who thanked me for helping them and who want to join the group. I hope to hold the first meeting at the end of June. Visit my website http://momlesslife.wordpress.com for more information.

Do I live with ghosts?  Of course, I do, and I’m proud of it.  They stay by my side constantly, gently coaxing me along the way.  They sit quietly by me in the evenings when I feel compelled to write.  They give me the “thumbs up” as I click “enter” and submit yet another story for consideration.  They see that I am beginning to cut those spectral apron strings and come into my own self. If I listen closely enough, I can hear them say, “Atta girl!”