Tag Archive - Family

Portraits of a Life

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I wish you could know my mother. To hear her voice as she tells a story, to see the fierce determination in her eyes as she tackles a logic problem or a Sudoku puzzle. I wish you could know how generous she is. I wish you could see her with her grandchildren, and her great granddaughter. I wish you could sit at her breakfast table. For as long as I can remember, she has been my hero.

Today my hero is 70 years old. She has packed a lot of life into her threescore and ten. Here are some of the images I have of her. Many I have seen. Some, I have pieced together from story or from photographs. (Incidentally, in the above photo, she is the pretty little girl on the far left.)

I imagine her as a little girl…running barefoot through the grass with her brother and sisters or plodding the long rows of the cornfield, dropping corn into the planting holes. I see her walking to a little two room school where her mother was her teacher. I like to think of her curled up with Heidi, one of her favorite books, letting her imagination carry her to far off Switzerland, and snow, and warm goat’s milk. I can’t think that she ever imagined she would someday travel there. But she would.

It occurs to me that I do not know who taught her to play the piano. Or if she played school with her siblings, and if so, did she always want to be the teacher? I imagine her shivering as she swam at the Moffit Hole, and playing in the barn. I see her standing beside her mother in the kitchen, learning the art of making good food.

I picture her as a high school student, too pretty to wear make-up. I have seen photographs of her in the smart, fitted dresses she made for herself. Her impossibly tiny waist. Her beautiful smile. It’s no wonder my daddy fell in love with her.

I try not to think too much about that summer after she graduated. About the tractor that died and how her daddy, a farmer, could not feed his family without a tractor. And how her daddy, a farmer, could not buy a new tractor and send her to college. I try not to think of her broken heart.

But she made the best of things and took a job in Washington, DC. This seems quite exotic to me when I think of it now. She was so very brave.

It wasn’t too long before she married her high school sweetheart. They cleaned up the little pink house and moved in and planted flowers. And there was a baby who didn’t live. And that must have been so hard. But out of meager means, she and my daddy began to craft a life for themselves. They had some babies. They bought land with a tiny little house that needed a whole lot of work. A house that would grow with their family and be the site of many, many family celebrations, and much music and laughter.

I have so many pictures of her from the years when I was a little girl. How to choose? Book on her lap, reading fairy tales and poems to my brother and me, opening fantastic worlds to us with her words. Sitting at the piano, coaxing the beautiful music from its keys that would become a siren call to me, a deep desire to know how to make that magic. Sewing machine awhirl as she stitched Easter dresses for the both of us. Working tirelessly in her flowers, surrounding our family with a beauty that I didn’t even know I needed til I left it.

I see her as she put her last little one onto the school bus and decided it was time to finally chase that college dream. She was so very brave. And even though we whined sometimes because we were no longer the whole of her universe, it was fun to see her excitement over all the things she was learning. She was a very good scholar. There is a portrait of the two of us in our graduation gowns, high school for me, college for her. Both of us on the threshold of new adventures.

I imagine her in her classroom, lighting fires in the minds of her students. How lucky they were to have her read to them. How blessed to see the fire in her eyes when she talked about all things math. How sure they must have been that this was a teacher who cared deeply about what happened to them.

I see her with her grandbabies. Traveling any distance to be there when they were born. Getting down on the floor and playing with them. Giving so much of herself to the precious one who was born sick and was not with us nearly long enough. Always the first one into the pool with them. Making chocolate gravy and biscuits for them. Seeking to know them for who they were and not who she wanted them to be.

One of my favorite portraits is a sunny afternoon in early spring. The air is crisp and cool. And my mother sits in a courtyard with her mother, my son, and me. We sing hymns. And the stroke which stole so much from my grandmother can’t take the hymns from her. And the music is this invisible chord that ties all of us up in it. And it is wonderful.

I see her as she received the diagnosis: Cancer. The fear, yes. But also this quiet determination. Simply taking the next step. I see her astonishment as people poured around her with encouragement and assistance. I see the deep gratitude she found in this hard place and how she became my hero all over again.

I see her gallivanting all over the world. Eating fresh mangoes in Hawaii. Sailing under the falls at Niagara. Opening the windows of her hotel onto a snow blanketed Germany. Gliding through the locks of the Panama canal. Exploring the wilds of Alaska. Collecting apples and maple syrup in New England.

I asked my mama one time if she ever missed earlier stages of her life. Maybe the one when her kids were little, for instance. In that wise way of hers, she said that each stage has had its great joys and its difficulties. But that for her, the best place to be is always right where she is. I love that about her. I hope that someday I grow to be as wise as she.

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Happy birthday, mama!! I love you! God grant you many, many years!

If Not You….

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On this day, 73 years ago, in Lancing, Tennessee, in a house whose wooden walls were covered with brick siding on the outside and newspapers inside, a baby boy was born. That baby boy grew up to be my daddy. For this, I am grateful.

For you, Daddy, some thoughts on what the world might have looked like if there had not been you…

If not you, who would have helped Grandpa kill the hogs and make his legendary sausage? Who would have been the star of the typing class in high school? Who would have bought the first car your family ever owned, and waited patiently, or not so patiently, with your brother and co-conspirator for the spring thaw so you could finally drive her.

If not you, who might have courted my pretty mama? Who would have looked at her perfect face, the smartly tailored clothes she crafted for herself, and her hungry mind, seeing the remarkable wife and mother she would make?

If not you, who would have tamed the wild lands of our farm, cutting underbrush, felling trees for lumber to build the barns, carving out spaces for planting, always seeing what could be? Who would have crafted our ever expanding house? Who would have plowed the garden and planted the orchard, the berries and grapes? Who would have built the arbor, the clothesline, and houses for bluebirds and bats.

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If not you, who would have fixed stuff? At home, at church, for the grandparents, even for your children as they moved into homes of their own. Who would have carved a crochet hook for Mama and me so we could make latch rugs?

If not you, who would have given light and power to homes, churches, elementary schools, nuclear reactors, and one particularly intriguing house hanging over the edge of a cliff? And who would have made sure the breaker boxes looked like street maps; orderly, beautiful, works of art?

If not you, who would I remember shining his shoes every Sunday morning, then sitting in the living room with his Bible across his knees readying himself to be in God’s house? Who would have taught me to approach God reverently and humbly?

If not you, who would have made the music? At church, at home, in the cornfield and in the car? At tent revivals, brush arbors, and river baptisms? Who would have planted music so deep in your children that it has flowed through them to your grandchildren and even your great granddaughter?

If not you, who would have looked after Grandma when she could no longer look after herself? And who would have been mama’s constant companion as she fought the ugly enemy: cancer.

If not you, who would have taught your children to be curious? To approach the world, especially the natural world, with a sense of awe? Who would have taught them that there are lots of swear words that are not exactly cuss words. 😉 Who would have taught them the names of trees? Who would have shown them how to love long and deep?

If not you, there would be none of this:

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Happy Birthday, Daddy! I am awfully glad there is you in the world. God grant you many years!

 

Shimmers…

In the ancient practice of lectio divina, one reads a passage of scripture until a word or phrase “shimmers”. The reader stops reading, and begins to meditate on the word or phrase, rolling it around and sucking all the nectar from it. Not studying, really. No outside sources. Just living with it and letting it seep deep inside.

My house is quiet today. All around me are echoes of Christmas. Shimmers. Vignettes that linger in my memory; inserting themselves over and over into my thoughts. Ordinary moments with threads of the extraordinary woven through them.

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“This is my very beautiful present,” Kenzie whispers in awe, clutching a foil wrapped copy of Where the Wild Things Are tight to her chest. She has chosen the blue bow. She runs her fingers over the shiny paper like it is silk. She does not know what is inside. It doesn’t matter.

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This.

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Christmas Eve. Expectation hovers in the air like incense. Candles, Nativity Icon draped in green, little girls turned out in smocked lawn and velvet. We read all the prophecies, all the Nativity passages. Father Stephen fairly sings the homily. It is too good to be true, this! Incarnation! God with us! The reality of it whirls around us like wind. During the Great Entrance, a whole warren of acolytes spills out of the altar. Father Stephen has told them they can all serve on this most auspicious night. Their faces glow. And God is with us, moving among us, in the Body and Blood. And we sing. We sing a truth that is deeper than we will ever fully understand.

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We named our farm after Tolkien’s mythical land because it was hilly and beautiful, and because we hoped it would always be a haven of hope and restoration to those who lived there, and to those who were our guests. We made the name part of a stone wall that framed the entrance to our long driveway. Five and a half years ago we bade farewell to Rivendell and moved back in to town.

A month ago, we learned that a neighbor had a seizure while driving and ran into the wall, leaving it in shambles. Without a word to any of us, our 16 year old drove out to the farm, knocked on the door, and asked the current owners if they were planning to re-use the stone that bore the name. When they said no, he asked if he could have it. He dug through the rubble to extricate the pieces and loaded them into his car. On Christmas morning he led us out into the garden where he had lain them the night before. And I cried.

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 Happy Birthday Jesus! Love, Kenzie. (Click HERE)

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We can hear the music leaking out the door before we cross the porch. My mom sits at the piano, and my dad, my brothers and their families, my 97 year old grandpa, and my aunt and uncle are singing their way through old church favorites which eventually give way to Christmas carols.  I am home.

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My mom has asked all the grandkids for Christmas suggestions, but has said nothing to my brothers and me. I wonder what is afoot. Each of us is presented with a lumpy, unwieldy package, variously corralled. In them, we find treasures. Quilts made by my grandmother (who is 20 Christmases gone from us, now). String quilts for one brother and myself–Mom, Dad, and Aunt Janice help us find fabrics in them we recognize and remember. A dress of granny’s, shirts for the boys, an apron… Many of them old flour sacks–And for my baby brother, a red and white Drunkard’s Path that my grandmother stitched the summer my mom was carrying him.

Amazing, all that gets accidentally sewn up into quilts. I hold it in my hands, and I hear the treadle of Grandma’s sewing machine. I am a little girl playing under her quilting frame, a legacy from her own grandmother, that hangs from the ceiling like a table, while she pushes the needle in and out with her thimble. One tiny stitch after another. I recall the smell of her: line dried laundry, coffee, Bruton snuff, Juicy Fruit.

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I am curious. What are the shimmery moments from your Christmas? The ones that make you smile every time you think about them. Please, share. 🙂

 

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Last night as we drove home from early Thanksgiving in East Tennessee with my family, my sleep deprived son laid his head on my shoulder and slept. And I wondered how long it had been since I pillowed that beloved head. There in the dark quiet, as mile after mile slipped away underneath us, a treasure trove of images came flooding into my mind. Bits and pieces of a life. My life, with this darling boy of mine.

I saw him as a wriggling bundle of soft. Always hungry. Hungry for milk, yes, but hungry also for life. Voraciously drinking in everything around him. Storing it away. Making it part of him.

There was an image of him hunched over paper and pencil as wondrous pictures took shape under his hands. We were astounded by them. So was everyone else. Dragons, robot warriors, complex pieces of machinery, staggering in their detail and precision.

I saw him brandishing a sword. Usually of his own making. Ferocious grimace on his face, eyes blazing, leaping off something.

I remembered my dear boy, tender and serious, telling me that when he grows up he is going to marry me. I could never bring myself to explain to him why that was a problem.

There was Jake the explorer; stick in hand, dogs at his feet, traipsing up and down hills, across creeks, and over the wide expanse of our farm.

And Jake the Lego master, fingers flying as he gathered a gaggle of loose pieces into some extraordinary creation.

I thought of the many, many friends my boy has accumulated over the years. It is almost impossible to not like Jake. Ask anyone who knows him. Loyal, gregarious, funny, smart. What’s not to love?

I saw Jake the musician coaxing marvelous sounds from piano, guitar, mandolin, melodica, banjo…. And singing. Singing with the family on long car trips. Harmonizing with friends. Pulling something from deep inside himself and translating it into a language that we could all hear, and feel, and understand.

How many times has he told me, “Thank you for supper. It was delicious.”? How many long, deep conversations have we had about life, and love, and hurt, and joy? How many sweet hugs? How many hikes and vacations have been better because his delight made them so?

Last night, as I pillowed the head of my baby boy, my heart nearly burst with gratitude for the gift of knowing him. For the weighty responsibility and privilege of caring for him. For the way the world has been different because I have experienced it with him.

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Happy Birthday, Jake!! Welcome to your twenties. I predict it is going to be your best decade yet. I love you. Always. God grant you many, many years.

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Once Upon a Time…

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Once upon a time, in a not too distant land, a baby girl was born. She was the delight of her parents. She had a great shock of hair on top of her head, but the hair on the sides was not long for this world. Still, the mother and father loved their little mohawk baby.

Sometimes the baby girl would curl up in a ball on daddy’s chest and fall asleep. This was his favorite.

The mommy loved the baby’s sleep drunk smiles, and the smell of her, and the little sounds she made when she was mostly awake, but not quite. She loved the way the baby would push her tiny fists against the air when she stretched, like it was heavy.

The baby girl grew. Her hair was golden and her eyes were blue. She told stories, and sang songs, and created imaginary worlds. And when her little brother came along, she used to sneak into his room and fill his crib with toys. She liked to splash in puddles and catch raindrops on her tongue.

Then the little girl became a teenager. Her eyes were still blue, but her hair? Well, it depended on the week. 🙂 She traded dolls and legos for a camera and a saute pan. She collected music and films and tried to educate her mother about both. Her heart was wide open and always seemed to have room for those who were on the outside.

Almost before anyone knew what was happening, the teenager became a young woman. She finished school, got a job, and bought a car. She had become her own person with her own distinct opinions about pretty much everything. She bought a phonograph and a food processor. She became a juicing fiend, and made her own bath salts and soaps.

And then, that young woman had a baby girl of her own. Her heart was so full of love that it spilled out on everyone around her. She loved snuggling with her little baby. She took about a million photos. She forgot how to buy anything for herself because she always ended up buying things for the baby instead. She took her baby girl to the beach and to the zoo. She taught her to like vegetable juices, and smoothies, and curry. And Batman. And hockey. 🙂

She made those difficult decisions that parents make. She rose early and worked hard to provide a good life for her little girl. And then, one day, she and her little girl moved into a home of their own. And they were glad.

And the mommy and daddy looked at this daughter of theirs and were so proud, and grateful to have been given the privilege of being her parents.

And they all lived…

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Dearest Kelsey, it is dizzying to think of all that has happened since I first held you in my arms 22 years ago today. Sometimes it seems like yesterday. Happy Birthday, Beloved!! God grant you many, many years!

 

When Little Birds Fly the Nest

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It began at birth, really. Even while I held my baby girl in my arms for the first time, while the scent of her was becoming an imprint in my brain and tiny tendrils inextricably wound themselves round my heart, the dance of separation had already begun.

A push and a cry and a snip of a cord were the first steps.

Over the next few years we cheered her on as she learned her own peculiar military style of crawling, then took her first steps. We video taped her telling stories at her second birthday party. She learned to feed herself; dress herself. She spent an hour away from us. Then a night. Then several days at Mammaw’s house in the summer. And I cried as we drove away. This crazy mix of pride, and joy, and loss.

And she learned, and grew, and thrived.

We wrote wonderful stories with those years. Travels and explores. Slumber parties, butterfly gardens, secrets, friends. She took photographs and wrote poems and learned to cook, and bit by bit the young woman she was made to be revealed itself.

And she was lovely.

There were growing pains. All of us figuring out how to walk in new seasons. Conflict. Anger. Tears.

But from that, a deep knowing. An understanding stamped on all our hearts of what it means to love one another relentlessly. To fail one another. To forgive.

She finished high school. She got a job. Or two. She bought her own clothes, did her own laundry, dreamed her own dreams. She collected classic films, artisanal teas, and gourmet cooking implements. She cooked us some fantastic meals.

And then, my baby girl had a baby girl of her own. And she grew some more. We watched her love this little one fiercely. We saw her make sacrifices. We saw her rise before the sun, work hard, spend wisely and save. She was driven to make a good life for her daughter.

Today, Kelsey is buying a home. And over the next few days, she will move all her belongings out of our house. And she will wake up somewhere else. And I have never been more proud of her. Never.

And my heart hurts.

Just a little.

I help her pack things up. She hums like she always does when she is happy. And this is so right. And I would not wish it other for a minute. But our family as it has been for a very long time will be no more. And I am grieving that.

And thinking about birds. Who do this every year. And giving thanks that I only have three.

Incidentally, Jake is going with her. As, of course, is Kenzie. So our household of six is becoming a household of three.

New season.

Godspeed, dear ones. Fly far and true. I love you. Always.

“To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven…
He hath made everything beautiful in its time.”
~Ecclesiastes 3:1,11

 

*Painting by Cari Humphry

Into the Wild…

It was supposed to be just a simple training trip. The Warner Parks had given us some good hill training, but we needed the physical and mental fatigue of long sustained miles of up, and significant altitude gain, in preparation for the Grand Canyon. So we headed to the Smoky Mountains for a couple of back to back hikes.

IMG_5348It was 2:00 in the east by the time we hit the trail to Rocky Top. Ten minutes in we had our first surprise. Mike was in the lead, but I saw her first. “Stop,” I whispered. He continued. I grabbed the back of his shirt and said, more helpfully, “It’s a bear.” He stopped. We were already closer than advisable so we backed up a little. Then the first baby tumbled out of the brush. We backed up some more. But not so far that we did not see the other two come chasing after their brother. They rolled and played, bounded and pounced, and mom mostly ignored them. They were in no particular hurry to get anywhere, so we just watched. And I tried to remember if I had any food in my pack that was not wrapped. Anything that might make me smell tasty. Once they finally left the path, we began to move tentatively forward, keeping an eye on them. As it turns out, they were keeping an eye on us too. The little guys stretched up onto their hind legs to see the tall funny looking people with humps on their backs. Mom, though, had apparently written us off as harmless. Good.

We climbed, mile after mile, practicing our rest step, hydrating frequently, stopping occasionally to remove our packs and relieve our feet. When we connected to the Appalachian Trail, the path began to go down, then up again, then down, as we moved across the crest of several mountains to get to the one we were after. This was more mentally fatiguing than you might imagine. It is difficult to give up altitude painfully gained, knowing you are about to have to climb it again. But then there was the up that was only up, and we ascended past the trees and onto the rocky crest and the world opened up all around us and it was so glorious that I thought I would gladly do it all again, though, in fact, I can’t imagine that that would have even been possible, but in that moment you feel invincible and will promise yourself almost anything. We dropped our packs and spread our arms and let the wind cool our hot, weary bodies. And it was so quiet. And still. And lovely.

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The descent took roughly half the time. Still, darkness overtook us. We pulled out flashlights, listened as the song of crickets joined the gurgle of the stream, dodged a few diving bats, and tried to remember exactly where it was that we saw the bears. Mike wondered aloud if they locked the picnic area where the trailhead was located at night.  As it turns out…

We suspected we were in trouble when we saw no other cars. We knew we were in trouble when we drove up to the gate. With the padlock. As we tried to figure out exactly who one might call in such a situation, I got out to see if just maybe the padlock was not locked. I suppose some ranger had gotten tired of being dragged away from his family to rescue crazy hikers who did not bother reading signs about parking areas closing at dark. Thank God for that. I slid the padlock out, Mike drove through, and I carefully replaced it just as I had found it and breathed a thank you to kind, practical human beings everywhere.

After a shower and a late supper, we looked at the forecast one more time before setting the alarm for an early wake up. No change.

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A light mist fell as we commenced our ascent to Mount Leconte. We congratulated ourselves on our fortitude and thought how silly we would have felt for backing out for something as innocuous as this.

Though the Smokies are littered with waterfalls and cascades of every sort, Rainbow Falls is the tallest. That, and the rainbow it produces on sunny afternoons, are its claim to fame. But as a general rule, the output is rather meager. As a general rule…

IMG_5375A couple of miles in, the rain picked up considerably. We pulled on rain jackets and carried on. We noticed how the colors of the leaves became more intense when wet. We looked out through openings in the trees at a world swathed in mist. We gave thanks for the canopy that withheld much of the water. Several streams crossed the trail. There were log bridges for a couple. The rest were crossed by stepping on larger rocks that stood above the water. We remarked early on how even the trail itself looked like a dry creek bed. As we neared the top, it wasn’t dry any more. Rivulets of water had begun to course down the center of the path. A curiosity. A slight inconvenience. For now.

By the time we reached the summit, our breath poured out in clouds of vapor and there were bits of ice in the rain. A fire burned in the lodge. We poured the water out of our boots, wrung out socks and jackets and hung them over chair backs to dry, and snuggled up to the stove. We devoured our lunch and drank our weight in coffee and hot chocolate. The memory of that warm coffee would be a comfort to me for some miles after.

Tearing ourselves away from the fire was painful. Shoving my feet back into those cold, wet boots made me want to cry a little. But it’s amazing how quickly the body acclimates. We started back down the way we had come, but we soon recognized that a considerable change in the trail had taken place while we rested. The rivulet was now a stream four or five inches deep. We straddled the path walking on its sides where we could, occasionally finding large rocks in the middle, avoiding stepping into the water at all costs. We would eventually give up on that.

The first water crossing was the worst. It had occurred to me by then that the rocks we had crossed on before might be difficult to find now. It had not occurred to me that they would be buried under a foot of roaring water tumbling headlong down the mountain. We walked up and down the creek looking for a place to string together rocks and make a crossing above water. It was not to be found. We dared not cross on the higher rocks for fear of being washed off and carried over the cliffs below. So we walked behind them figuring that if the water took us, the rocks would stop us. The freezing water came up to our thighs. We held our breath and held onto one another and pushed through to the other side. My heart was filled with gratitude and my boots were full of water.

Mike made me jump across the second stream. I didn’t think I could do it. We were jumping from one wet, mossy rock to another and it was a big gap and the pack made me feel like a rhinoceros on stilts. But he would not let me be a coward. He jumped first and did not die. He promised to catch me if I fell. I also did not die. I was very glad about that.

We continued to dodge water in the paths until the last mile and a half or so. It was mentally exhausting, all that navigating. It took us as long to get down as it did to get up. That never happens. But, we were rewarded by a view of the falls that most people never get. People who were only hiking as far as the falls were turning back because a couple of the water crossings were on that side of the falls. Perhaps we would have turned back if we had started then, I don’t know. I am glad now that was not an option.

As a training hike, it was far more effective than we planned. We learned a lot about packing for rain and are making some adjustments in our gear. Though the Grand Canyon is in the desert, sudden thunderstorms are always a possibility. As an adventure, it exceeded anything we might have hoped for.

Mike said to me, “When I am old and can’t remember anything any more, will you tell me the story of how we almost died but didn’t?”

“Yes, my love, I will.”

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Rainbow Falls before

Rainbow Falls after

Rainbow Falls after

The First 50 Years…

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Dearest Mom and Dad,

To live with the same person for 50 years is an extraordinary work of grace. Ask anyone who has been married more than a minute. To love long is also an extraordinary gift; to one another and to all those who love you. For this, I thank you.

As this auspicious day has drawn near, I have wondered: when you look back over 50 years, what is it you remember? When the film reel plays in your mind, what are the images you see?

Here is a little taste of what I remember.

Music. Before any of us kids were born, maybe even before you were married, you were the song leader and piano player. And as soon as we were old enough, each of us joined you singing in church. It was like a right of passage. We sang in the cornfield and in the car, and for whole evenings around the piano. Dad had Don Williams and Merle Haggard on 8 track and mom liked WEZK on the radio, and everywhere there was Southern Gospel and bluegrass. Now your grandchildren gather in your living room with guitar, dulcimer, mandolin, banjo, and piano and sing like we sang. And your legacy continues…

Faith. God and His Church were the axis upon which our whole life as a family was oriented. We fitted our week around it; leaving the garden or the field on Saturday afternoons to wash and dress for the evening service and consecrating Sunday as a day of worship and rest and family. And though all of us serve God in different places now, the thread of faith still binds us together wherever we are.

Travel. I suppose I owe my gypsy wanderlust to the two of you. We grew up camping in the mountains or on the river. So many trips to the beach with cousins. The Great Smoky Mountains, New Orleans, Washington D.C… As retirement has given you more time to travel, I find myself following you to places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Alaska. Thank you for stoking my curiosity.

Magic. In a thousand different shapes and forms. Birthday cakes you bought us from the bakery; Snow White on mine, horses on Marvin’s. Every year. Huffy trail bikes that made us masters of our world. Piling in the back of the truck on a hot day and heading for the river. Swimming til we were exhausted, then eating watermelon and peanut butter and crackers while the cool of the water still tingled in our skin. Catching lightening bugs on summer evenings. Walking barefoot in soft earth, still warm from the plow. Watching calves be born. So. Many. Stories. Tramping through the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree. The Raggedy Man. Snow sledding. Gathering wild Muscadines….

For Better or Worse. You had a fight once. On a Sunday afternoon. I don’t know if you remember it, but I do. I remember what it was about and even some of the exact things you said. Marvin and Monty and I sat out in the back yard deciding who we would go live with if the two of you split up. I mention this mostly because it was such a singular event. In all my growing up, it was the only time I ever thought, even for a minute, that I might be one of those kids shuttled between homes. Certainly you have disagreed and hurt one another from time to time, but I have always known you were in this for the long haul. It means more than you know.

For Richer or Poorer. The early years were lean. I know that now. I don’t think I thought much about it then. Dad worked extra jobs in the evening and mom made all our clothes. But in the process, Marvin learned the electrical trade he practices today and I learned to sew. Gifts. In the time of plenty, you have been generous with us and with others. Thank you for making the most of both.

In Sickness and in Health. When I was a kid, I thought adults never got sick. The two of you didn’t. In recent years, that has changed, of course. I have watched you love and care for one another through Mom’s battle with breast cancer and Dad’s open heart surgery. A team. I remember coming to help after Mom’s surgery and being a little hurt that she preferred Dad’s care to mine. But that is how it should be. And I am glad. You tended both your mothers with kindness and dignity as their health failed. And when little Tucker was born needing extra special care, you gave him your all. I know Monty will never forget that. None of us will.

Til Death… I sometimes wonder if the two of you are aging backwards. Yes, I know that your bodies don’t always cooperate like they used to, but your minds and your hearts seem to keep expanding. Your curiosity knows no bounds. Listening to you describe your trip to the Panama Canal this year was almost as good as being there. Mom is always adding some new flower to the garden and dad is always finding some new, old fruit tree. New grand babies and great grand babies keep coming who need to ride Papaw’s tractor and eat Mamaw’s chocolate gravy and biscuits. Life is full of so much possibility. I can’t wait to see what the next 50 years hold. 🙂

Happy Anniversary!!

I love you!

God grant you many, many more…

North To Alaska, Part the Second

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24 May: And then there were three. Last night we put our 19 year old on a plane in Anchorage, and this morning he is home in Franklin. Meanwhile, Mike, Josh and I begin the drive to Seward. Astonishing vistas meet us round every turn in the road, and I am enchanted by mountains straddling sea and sky.

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A pallet of blues and grays prevails with only the occasional intrusion.  A world where shadows are blue. Some conspiracy of sky and snow. We pass Dall sheep grazing, snowmobilers plying the high passes still drenched in snow, and mountain lakes of icy green. Finally, we plunge seaward to meet our ship in Seward.

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25 May: How is it that I never knew a glacier is blue? The ice and snow are compressed so densely that they only reflect blue light. It is like a great wall of topaz with millions of dazzling facets. We grip cameras and binoculars in gloved hands, crowding the railings. This place palpitates with glory and we all feel the need to be near it.

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Hubbard Glacier (on the right) extends about 76 miles from its source. The ice at its base is approximately 400 years old. It regularly “calves”, dropping icebergs into the sea that can be as large as a building. It’s smaller neighbor on the left is Turner  Glacier. I love how the feathery clouds have arranged themselves as if to  say, “Tah dah!”

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A final look back as we pull away from the glacier. Icebergs, cottony clouds, and jagged clots of snow appear to be cut of the same cloth, scattered indiscriminately across a gray/blue ground.

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26 May: We gather to pray with believers in Juneau. The prayers and hymns are familiar. And it is good to be so far away and so at home. We stay for coffee and swap stories with dear brothers and sisters.

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After church, we board a small boat to go see us some whales. We watch a mother humpback teaching her baby to “spy hop” (lifting the head out of the water to have a look around). She demos, then he practices. We watch the graceful curve of their backs as they dive for food. Flip of the tail, sometimes for propulsion, sometimes for fun. 🙂 We also visit a colony of sea lions sunning themselves on rocks. My, how I wish you could hear them! There must have been a hundred of them. I don’t have great pictures of either, (or of the porpoises), but here are a few sea lions who came out to play with us.

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27 May: Skagway was a departure point for many starry-eyed dreamers looking for gold. Today we follow their treacherous path on the White Pass Yukon Route Railway. I feel a little like I’m in an old Western film. Keeping an eye out for train robbers. 🙂

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We pass waterfalls, deep ravines, rickety old bridges that look like they belong in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, and the tragic “dead horse gulch” (named for the many horses who died while attempting to carry prospectors’ supplies up over the pass).

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There is a glacial lake at the top of the pass, mostly frozen still. Sometimes we travel through a great corridor of snow, tall as the cars in places, carved out for our sakes.

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I spend most of the return trip out on the porch of the car breathing the clean scent of evergreen and snow, catching the spray of waterfalls in my hands and on my face, and trying, once again, to get inside this landscape. To get it inside me.

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We spend the afternoon doing what most of our friends at home are doing on this Memorial Day, sitting out by the pool. It is 70 degrees, after all. The view from my deck chair….

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28 May: If I lived in Alaska my whole life, I would never get over seeing a bald eagle in flight. We see them every day of the cruise; sitting on buildings, in the woods, or in their tree top nest in Hoonah. But the best is to see them soaring overhead. And I have to stop and watch. My eyes fill with tears, and my heart pounds from the sheer majesty of it. (In fact I couldn’t write this without tears.) My gratitude is so deep.

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In Hoonah, we sit for a long time with a store owner who talks to us about her life in Alaska. This is an unexpected gift. She tells us about a group of Tlingit artists who are crafting totem poles and panels for the new visitor center for Glacier Bay National Park using traditional tools and stories. They welcome us into their workshop and tell us about their work. We are honored to be drawn into this tradition.

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29 May: We are only ever rained on twice in Alaska. One of these days, appropriately, is in Ketchikan–purportedly  the rainiest city in North America, as well as the king salmon capital of the world.

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Creek Street is the former red light district. (Prostitution was legal here until 1953.) It is a charming clutter of buildings sitting on stilts which today house galleries, jewelry stores, and souvenir shops.

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30 May: Our last day on the ship is spent entirely at sea. It is the coldest day of the trip with intermittent rain, but the rain brings gifts of its own. Shafts of light stab through gray clouds, while slender columns of steam rise tenuously skyward to rejoin their fellows.

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And then this. I take it all in in greedy, grateful gulps.

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Tomorrow, we will wake in Vancouver, and all around will be city, and noise, and hurry. But tonight, during dinner, this is outside our window. This is Alaska as I will remember her. Wild. Unfettered. Unpredictable. And utterly wondrous…

North to Alaska…

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20 May: We chase the moon to Alaska. She shines against an indigo sky that has no memory of black. Sometimes she slides down snow blanketed peaks to drop into the sea, winking up at us between floating blocks of ice, the ripples bending her light into a thousand faces, littering the sea with diamonds. When the sea is still she pours herself out like butter, soft and golden, puddling, then spreading. Languid. Easy. This is the first enchantment.

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21 May: They tell us it has been a late spring. That there was a snow fall of 11 inches just 4 days ago. And I wonder why it never occurred to me to wish for this.

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We get our first glimpse of Denali (Mt. McKinley) down the endless stretch of roadway ahead of us, framed by trees. We pull off at an overlook to drink in the glory of her. To be with her. It is a pristine day. She is wholly unfettered by clouds and altogether magnificent. We do not learn until later that these views only happen 60 days or so each year. Gift.

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Denali does not make trails, however they do recognize community trails that have formed naturally and point you toward those. On this day, we follow footprints in the snow across frozen streams that begin to crack with thaw, across bridges where only the handrails are visible above the snow (barely), along cantilevered shards of ice that are melting from the bottom up, through an enchanted wood that is very Narnia.

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22 May: There is a quiet in Denali so deep you can feel it on your skin. You breathe it in the snow scented air. To stand in this is to know something profoundly important about life and the world, a knowing that happens in your bones. And even the ptarmigan’s bluster, the soar and swoop of nest building magpies, the snort and huff of grizzlies as they frolic in the river bottoms, seem to lose themselves in the endless expanse of blue sky and mountain and frozen lake.

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Denali is generous to us this day. We see a moose cow who has just calved. She is still tidying up number two while number one begins to test out wobbly legs. All of us press against the bus windows with binoculars and cameras, and no one says a word. Later we see a bull moose in all his glory, a herd of caribou, Dall sheep (for whom the park was created, incidentally), as well as the aforementioned grizzles, ptarmigans and magpies.

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The call of the mountains is too much for Jake, and he determines early in the day that we must climb something. So we have our driver leave us off near an approach that appears reasonably navigable.

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The going is steep and precarious at times with dense shrubbery, rock slides, and snow fields that are packed solid for some expanse, then suddenly drop you 12 inches in and fill your shoes. But the vistas from up here are spectacular and it is good to plant our bodies in the middle of all this without the insulation of a piece of machinery, and no sound but our breathing.

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I take approximately a million photographs, even though I understand the futility of trying to capture this moment with a lens. To stand inside the grandeur of this place, to once be here, is an unrepeatable wonder. But I know that when I look at the photos, I will remember…

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We are, for a time, held hostage by this guy who plants himself squarely  in the road ahead of us just after we descend from the mountain. We are required to give him 70 yards clearance, a directive which is superfluous as we know Dall sheep are sometimes known to charge when ticked off. This photo is taken after he finally decides to clear out.

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23 May: Our last experience in Denali is a visit to the Canine Rangers who patrol the park all winter. They are beautiful and strong and sweet. One of the rangers tells us that they occasionally adopt out puppies if a litter is too large or if a dog does not have the characteristics necessary to make it a good dog sled dog, and Josh wants very much to bring one of them home, but we can’t figure out how to make this work…

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All photos taken with my iPhone. No editing. The colors you see are the colors we saw. If you would like more photos and less talk, check out my Facebook album HERE.

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