We were guests at a Memorial Day celebration. Children ran around laughing and playing, and adults sat chatting and sipping cool summer drinks. Curiosity captured the crowd’s attention when a huge truck backed up the long, narrow driveway. As everyone watched, the drivers got out, adjusted some mechanical gadgets, and slowly raised a huge, portable rock wall.
The kids swiftly lined up to give it a try, and with the complete fearlessness most children possess, scrambled to the top and rang the bell of success. There wasn’t really anything to be afraid of since they were all belted into place, and three people could climb side by side and talk to each other, so gradually the adults tried it, too.
“Come on; let’s go get in line,” Neil urged. “No, you go ahead without me.” I had all sorts of good excuses: I don’t have the right shoes, I forgot my sunglasses, I have to help the hostess, but as I watched everyone else having fun, I gradually convinced myself to try it.
With all the nerve I could muster, I started the climb. The belt wrapped around me like a diaper so there was no way to fall. Yes, I thought, this is fun and safe! Concentrating on each foot and looking closely at the wall’s indentations in my path, I slowly made my way up. I specifically avoided looking down just to prevent any sudden panic and within a few minutes I made it to the top and proudly rang the bell.
“Woo hoo!” My daughters called up to me. “Way to go, Col!” Neil yelled. I enjoyed my success and the fabulous view of fields and farmland until I realized there was a line below me waiting for a turn. It was time to go down.
Oh dear, it was time to go down. Continue reading →
Before Neil and I were married, we often talked on the phone for hours in the middle of the night. After he closed his restaurant and sent his staff home, he relaxed with his feet up and called me. Sometimes I was at work in the ER, or sometimes I was sleeping at home. Either way, the world was generally fairly quiet at three in the morning.
During one of those calls, when I was home in bed in the dark, I thought I heard a strange sound in the house. Neil insisted we hang up and call 911, but I refused. What if it was just the pets, or Gina thrashing around in her crib? It didn’t really sound like that, but with Neil still on the phone I decided to search the house.
I grabbed the flashlight from my bedside table and tiptoed out of my bedroom. From that angle, I could see the entire first floor. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and everything seemed to be in place. I stood quietly for a few seconds, waiting for another noise or flicker of movement, but there was nothing. Next, I climbed the stairs, Neil breathing in my ear on the phone, but conversation halted to minimize any noise. Continue reading →
Neil loved water: oceans, lakes, pools, showers, hot tubs, steam rooms, he loved it all. And he enjoyed being in it in it, whether to swim, kayak, sail, float or simply sit in the sand feeling the tide wash over his toes. I enjoy looking at water, but I don’t need to touch it. I’m perfectly content to watch a waterfall from the path or feel the rhythm of the ocean from the shore. How you feel about water depends on your perspective.
My water hesitance is based on several things. First of all, water is often cold. I hate cold. Second, water is often deep. I can’t swim. Neil coached me for a while, but I couldn’t master it. I could probably float well enough to save myself or one of the kids in an emergency, but to swim for fun is beyond me. That brings me to the third reason I don’t go in water very often.
I was taking swimming lessons at our local park in the summer after third grade. I did fine until the day it was time to jump from the diving board. Continue reading →
When I went to bed on December 27, 1996, with Neil reading quietly in bed beside me, I had no idea that Jordan would be born the next day, or how much drama would be involved in her arrival. After struggling with preterm labor for two months, dealing with medicines, bedrest, and frequent doctor visits, I should have known things wouldn’t suddenly become easy.
Neil and I woke up leisurely to weather that promised to be unseasonable warm, and then sipped coffee in the living room, admiring our enormous Christmas tree. As I got up to refill our mugs, my water broke, and after the initial shock, it was a relief to know the time had really come to go to the hospital.
As we drove the hour to the medical center in Roanoke, the contractions started coming hard and strong. I distracted myself by singing along with the radio. When Celine Dion’s powerful voice noted, “It’s all coming back to me now,” I belted the words loudly right along with her, thinking it was ironic that I had forgotten until then how painful labor really was. Continue reading →
The smaller of my two cats is Kitty Girl. She appeared on our fenced-in patio shortly after sunrise one hot summer morning. I was awake early that day, sipping coffee at the picnic table, and saw a flash of black and white inside the flower box. At first I panicked, thinking it was a skunk. I studied it for a minute, and deciding it was too small to cause much damage, went over to investigate. Peering into the box, I couldn’t tell what I was seeing. It was a tiny blob of coarse dirty fur, and when I reached out to poke it I heard an almost imperceptible meow. Within a few seconds, the ugliest kitten I’d ever seen unrolled itself and looked at me with a combination of curiosity and desperation. Fleas hopped all over her, and yellow green drainage from her swollen eyes matted her face. I brought her inside, cleaned her up, treated her eyes, and fell in love with the perky, petite cat I call Kitty Girl.
Fast forward 13 years. Kitty Girl is no longer an ugly duckling. She is a dainty, lively, sweet cat who loves adventure and has used up at least six of her nine lives with exploits.
Once she wandered about a quarter mile away and climbed a tree. She was stuck there for three days and we were resigned to the idea that she died. Unwilling to accept that, Jackie and a search party of eight-year-old friends set out to find her. Continue reading →
Shots fired. That was the message on my cell phone at 3:30 in the morning from the instant alert program at my daughter’s college. As I forced my eyes to focus on the little screen, the next message came: three people injured; police on scene. It gave the address of the incident, too, and it was the corner by my daughter’s apartment building. Now I was wide awake. I read the update again, and quickly called my daughter. She didn’t answer, which wasn’t unusual, so I sent a text. I waited a few minutes, and still got no answer. I said a fervent prayer for her safety, and then a miracle happened: I went back to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning there was a message from my daughter reporting she was fine and that she hadn’t even seen my text until she woke up to go to the bathroom. She hadn’t heard any police sirens or shots during the night and her roommates were also home safe. I couldn’t decide whether to be proud of myself for going back to sleep or ashamed.
Then the negative self-talk started. What kind a person goes back to sleep after a message like that? Who doesn’t get up and pace the floor worried sick about their child? Continue reading →
The back of my beautiful house looks down onto the river. Many people walk or bike the trail that meanders alongside it, and in the summer people kayak or canoe or float inner tubes in the water. One day, I was driving down my narrow gravel road and saw three young people walking. Two boys and a girl, they looked to be in their early twenties. They were wearing wet bathing suits and dragging a single inner tube behind them. They had no shoes, and as I steered around them, I noticed the girl’s feet were bleeding. I realized they must have come up from the river.
I looked down at the comfy slip-ons I was wearing on my way to the grocery store and stopped the car. As they caught up, I offered the girl my shoes. The gratitude in her face was overwhelming as she reached out and took them with a joyful smile. Her companions looked surprised, but they shrugged and kept walking. Continue reading →
Neil and I had hoped to retire at age 62. I knew his death would have financial ramifications, but in the last few months I started to wonder just what they would be.
In an attempt to help, my financial advisor gave me a checklist for assessing my future plans. I have to admit, this was hard. Not just because of the detailed financial budget questions, but because I had to look to the future.
Until then I had started to adjust to my present and cherish my past, but I had not yet been able to embrace my future. Neil and I dreamed of exploring the world in a little camper. We were going to drink coffee all morning, then sit around the campfire counting stars and drinking beer or wine all evening. We were going to surprise our relatives with unexpected visits. We were going to stay with friends at the beach, and while Neil napped or read in a hammock I would explore the shoreline collecting shells. Continue reading →
Have you ever been in a hot air balloon? The pilot uses a propane fire to heat the air inside the balloon, and since hot air rises, the balloon floats upward. As the air inside it cools, the balloon descends. The pilot can’t really steer, but he goes up and down until he finds a wind current that carries him in the direction he wants to go. The balloon can’t travel any faster than the wind – if there’s no wind the balloon just sits there in the sky. The passengers are carried in a basket made of wicker which is a fairly sturdy, flexible material, and can absorb some of the energy shock during landing. And speaking of landing, the pilot is improvising moment to moment. He doesn’t know where he is going to land until the end of the flight based on the wind currents he finds and the geography he sees. He needs a reliable ground crew to pick him up wherever he lands. Fascinating, right?
Neil and I thought so, too, so we celebrated our first wedding anniversary with an early morning hot air balloon ride. Continue reading →
One Saturday morning, Neil was in charge at home while I went to the store. The baby was sleeping and Gina was visiting a friend’s house, so all he had to do was entertain four-year old Jacquelyn. I had the harder job. The grocery list was long, the store was crowded, and by the time I got home I was cranky.
I found Neil on the patio chatting with a neighbor. “Where is Jackie?”
“I think she’s in the living room,” he said, completely unconcerned she wasn’t planted at his feet. Continue reading →