Miss Freda.

You remember the first time you meet some people. The really important ones.

I was working at a day care. I took the job because my young family needed the money, but I couldn’t stand to leave my infant daughter with strangers. It was my first day, babies were screaming and I was wondering if I had made the right choice. Into that vacuum walked this person. She was trying to drop her baby daughter off while her other daughter held onto one of her long legs and wouldn’t let go. She side stepped over to me and unlatched her baby girl from around her neck and deposited her into my arms with a kiss and a quick swipe at her face with mom spit. Then, she gave me her warm grin and made a big deal of leaving while dragging her older daughter behind her along the floor. It made us all laugh. Me. My baby. Her baby. Even her older daughter who still wouldn’t let go of her mom’s legs. As she clicked the door shut behind her she winked at me.

That set the tone for decades of friendship. I could always count on her to bring some humor and warmth to whatever situation we found ourselves in. And, folks, there were lots of situations. We were the moms of that age. We went to work every day, but we still made every soccer practice and game. We made cookies for every party and helped our girls memorize a Bible verse for all 26 letters of the alphabet. We served countless plates of spaghetti at PTA fundraisers. We went to music programs and listened patiently while hundreds of kids butchered every Christmas song you’ve ever heard. We didn’t care. We were in the audience waving like idiots at our girls as they stood on stage in their full little dresses rocking back and forth to make them swish and scanning the audience trying to find us. When they did, we would wave even harder and smile even bigger and relish in every minute.

As the girls got older, we were thrilled when they became friends. Real friends. Quitting time became a flurry of who was going home with who. Her brunette and my blonde taking turns begging to drop their backpacks at our feet and disappear into another family for the afternoon. My kid knew there was more snacks at her house. Cosmic brownies and frequent trips to K-bobs for chicken strips and ice cream. Her kid knew there was a big brother at our house that would tease them and lock them out and add an air of mystery to everything. It was a good thing. In my life and in my daughter’s.

How valuable is another house you feel perfectly safe with your kid spending time in? On a normal day it’s wonderful. On a day when you’re sick, or mad at your husband or have an important project to get done it is the best thing anyone can give you. And, she was always willing to help me in any way she could. And, honestly, she was just farther along than I was. In every way you can be. She had already lived through one baby and knew you didn’t feed them Taco Bell refried beans (don’t ask!). She knew that kids will always find a way to hurt themselves. They will fall off of monkey bars and step in pipes hidden in the ground and do ridiculous things on a trampoline the first time you aren’t looking. She knew that a house will never stay clean and that there is always time to bake something. And, she knew God.

Her faith was as much a part of her as her corny jokes and her inherent kindness. If my daughter was at her house I knew to pack her a dress to go to church in. I knew if there was intrigue and gossip and cattiness happening at work (which there always was!) she would find a way to calm the waters and call out our better side. I knew that if I asked her to pray for me she would. And, I knew those prayers would happen every day until I told her otherwise. Most important? I knew she loved people. In word and deed. She was just there. And good. And ready with a smile. As a young mother, she was one of my first spiritual heroes. I don’t use that word lightly. She really was. She taught me to live my faith in every corner that my life touches. She taught me to show up for people and to extend them grace when they are being a little too human. She taught me how important a friend in Christ can be. And, she continued to be that person for me. For years and years. She was at my daughter’s wedding. I have pictures of our girls together on that bright fall afternoon. Mine in her white wedding gown and hers in a beautiful bridesmaid dress. Miss. Freda and her entire family loaded up and came. Including a new grand baby. Drove for hours just to be there with us on that day. Still living her faith in every corner her life touches. Still cracking jokes and smiling her smile. Still offering me prayers and friendship in equal portions. I basked in both.

This last fall my husband and I walked in a fundraiser for Alzheimers. It was a complete no-brainer. No way would we have missed it. Our t-shirts were purple and glittery and when they took pictures our group was huge. The biggest. It was Miss. Freda’s group. We were all there for her. So many familiar faces from years gone by. So many people touched by this wonderful human. Tears and smiles mixing easily. All of us hoping that every step we took might lead to a cure. A way to stop this disease from passing a shadow over her life. A way to give our sweet friend more time. To be her secret weapon like she has been ours. To live our faith in her life.

I hope we did that on that day. I hope our steps mattered and that some of those dollars raised find a cure. I also hope me being there said thank you. Thank you to my friend who taught me so much, who loved my daughter, who was partially responsible for me finding our Lord, who is the real deal in every way that matters.

E.T. and a funeral

A lot of decades ago, I was a little girl. I had four siblings, goats, dogs, cats and a stuffed purple bull named Lucky that I loved.

And I had an aunt. My Aunt Dee. She wasn’t very tall and she gave the best hugs a kid could hope for. Full, warm, squeezy hugs that pressed my face into whatever shirt she was wearing. I would stand there breathing in the scent of laundry soap and food while she hugged me increasingly tighter and rubbed my back at the same time. Then, as quickly as it had started, it would end. She would release me and move onto whoever else was standing close. But, as she was hugging them, she would look over at me and smile so big I could see both her dimples. Shirley Temple dimples. On my aunt. I loved that. And, for added measure, she had the curls too. Pretty much, she was the best.

A trip to her house meant that I would be the star of the show. As soon as I got there, she would ask me what I wanted to eat. More than once this question caused my kid brain to shut down. I lived in a house of seven people and it wasn’t a typical occurrence that my desires were relevant. Like ever. So, if I asked my Aunt Dee for Neapolitan ice cream ( why isn’t this everyone’s favorite?) a bag of Doritos and two snickers bars they would appear in the middle of her bar later in the day. I always felt like I had just won a kid’s version of the lottery. It was at her house that I first tried onion dip. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to try less, but she teased me until I did and I loved it. I still do to this day. I never open a container of it that I don’t think about her.

Her house was also where my cousin Susie lived. As much as I loved my Aunt Dee, I loved Susie more. She was fun and always had the best toys and shared them freely. She was my age and, most important, she wasn’t one of my siblings. She was the different I needed coming from my crowded home. I spent many hours with her under her bed, laying flat on our backs, and staring up at the Valentine she had tucked under her bed frame. It was from the boy she loved and we both thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world. We knew she would grow up and marry him. We knew her wedding would be absolutely beautiful and we knew I would be there. It would be a dazzling day of yellow and parasols and happiness. The only thing we didn’t know was that none of it would happen. My family moved away to Texas and our relationship became summer visits full of walks and bus rides and begged-for puppies.

Then, years later, when I was a young girl and at my Grandmother’s house the phone on the wall in the kitchen rang. It was a hot summer afternoon and someone answered it. Of course they did. Why wouldn’t someone answer a phone ringing on a Sunday afternoon? I was sitting at my Grandma’s peeling formica table when I heard my mom start screaming. There’s not really a reference point for your mom screaming when you are a kid. It’s just terrifying. It was that day too. What came next was worse. My cousin was gone. Susie. She was gone.

That’s what my mom kept saying over and over again. “It’s Susie. She’s gone.” At first, I thought she had run away, but I couldn’t imagine that I wouldn’t have heard about that. Surely she would have called me first.

The next thing I knew my Dad’s heavy hand was on my shoulder. “Jean Ann, go pack the suitcases. We have to go.”

I went to the dark air conditioned room where all of our stuff was scattered and tried to pack like a grown up. I couldn’t. My dad found me sitting in the middle of the floor crying with clothes covering my lap. He put his hand on the top of my head and left it there until I stopped crying.

After that, it was a long car trip with my mother sobbing softly in the front seat while I pushed my face as hard as I could into the hard window. So hard that my nose felt bruised by the time we pulled up to Susie’s familiar house.

I hung back as my parents went to the door. I didn’t know if this was a house for me anymore. Where would I go? Sit? Be? But then, my aunt met me on the sidewalk and I was smooshed into a blue plaid shirt. She held me forever. At least it felt that way. When she pulled back her dimples weren’t there, but her kind brown eyes were.

“Come in,” she said. “Come in and let’s find you something to eat. Are you hungry?”

I didn’t really think my answer mattered, so I just followed her and ate whatever she put in front of me. I ate and ate while the grownups cried. Eventually, I understood that my cousin had drowned. It was a freak accident on a camping trip and it was forever.

That was the part that I couldn’t figure out. The forever part. It seemed so unnecessary, I was willing to live this new life for a while if I had to, but forever? That was too big.

Eventually, one of the grown ups asked me if I wanted to go to Susie’s room. I did not. I wanted to do that less than I had ever wanted to do anything in my life. I couldn’t imagine that room without my cousin. Without us. I froze in the middle of my aunt’s kitchen with an empty paper plate in my hands. Froze. Couldn’t have moved for anything. My aunt swung around from the casserole dish she was serving and announced that there was no time right then to look at Susie’s room because I was going to the movies with my cousin David.

My cousin David looked at me and I looked at him. We really didn’t have a relationship. There was no need. He had my brother and I had Susie. But, my brother wasn’t there and Susie wasn’t either. So, I went in the bathroom and brushed my hair and got in the car with my cousin. An awkward car ride with him was better than opening that second doorway on the left. I knew that. We didn’t talk much, but we did stop and pick up his girlfriend and another friend. A boy.

This boy climbed in the back seat with me and I suddenly couldn’t breathe. How had I come to be in a back seat with a boy? My first thought was that I wanted to tell Susie. My second thought was that the world had gone crazy and I couldn’t tell Susie. So, we went to the movie.

It was E.T. I sat in that darkened theatre and watched Elliott and E.T. forge their relationship and, somewhere in the middle, that boy I was sitting next to held my hand. It was me. I was in a movie theatre holding someone’s hand and I was biting the inside of my cheek to keep from sobbing. Life is weird.

When we got back to my Aunt’s house she was there to greet me. Again. With a hug. She fed me more food and I still didn’t go to that second door on the left. I couldn’t.

Instead, I hung out in their family room and played with my little cousin Rona. I knew how much Susie loved her and and how glad she had been to finally be a big sister so I tried extra hard to take care of her. I played every game she wanted to play and sang every song. I helped her get things she couldn’t reach and basically made myself her chief care taker for the rest of the day. It was something to do while I processed that I was in my Aunt’s house without my cousin and that a boy had held my hand.

It was because of my helpfulness that I was given charge of my little cousin the next day at the cemetery. It was me holding her hand while her mom sobbed and threw herself on her daughter’s coffin. It was me showing her flowers while people led her mom to the car and it was me that played with her the rest of that day too. I just wanted to help my aunt. I wanted to make her smile. I wanted to see her dimples and her eyes light up. I didn’t want to lose my aunt and my cousin. I didn’t think I could handle that. I didn’t want to handle it.

Finally, on the day it was time for my family to go back to Texas, I walked down that hallway by myself. I walked into my cousin’s room and I dropped down and looked under her bed. The Valentine was still there. I whispered into the dusty emptiness and told her my last secret.

“Susie, I held a boy’s hand and I miss you so much.”

That was the last time I ever went in my cousin’s room. In fact, I buried all of these memories. Put them in a room in my brain and closed the door.

I still went back to visit my aunt and she still hugged me tighter than anyone and fed me as much as she could get me to eat, but our relationship was infected. It was infected with sadness and it made being together painful and jagged.

When I grew up and got married we exchanged Christmas cards every year and she always began them, “Dear one.” I loved that. It was how she made me feel. Like I was dear. How many people in life make you feel that way? But, sadly, because of moves and miles and a greater distance than either of us could really travel we didn’t get to see each other much.

Then, the other day, my phone rang again. Not on a kitchen wall, but the message was the same.

Loss.

My aunt was gone.

Gone from me, but reunited with Susie. I hope they are hugging. I hope Susie’s face is squeezed against her mom’s shirt and that they have days and years and an eternity to not let go.

And, I hope these words help me remember. Remember what it feels like when someone makes you feel dear. Remember that you can do that with something as simple as a tub of onion dip and a warm hug. Remember that awful and wonderful sometimes show up together. Remember that many decades ago I was a little girl. I had four siblings, goats, dogs, cats and a stuffed purple bull named Lucky that I loved.

Remember that forever is forever.

The group on the corner.

What do you get when an Italian couple, an art teacher, a hunter, a couple of musicians and two salt of the earth southerners walk into a pandemic together? Well, if you live on a certain street in Houston, you get neighbors.

Not that we weren’t all neighbors before. We were. Old timers in our subdivision. Seen people come and go. Knew who lived in such and thus house before the people with the loud car did. Knew which neighbors scooped the poop and which didn’t. Knew whose kids took a path through the grass and whose didn’t. Knew each other to wave and to borrow a ladder and to drop off a Christmas cup towel and some cookies at the holidays. But, that’s it. And it worked. My dad always used to say people have things the way they have them because that’s the way they want them. Of course, my dad never lived through a pandemic. A world pandemic. The kind where they tell you to stay in your house and not go anywhere.

Remember those days? When we had all watched everything there was to watch on Netflix and were starting to go a little crazy? Every messy cabinet we had been meaning to get to had been gotten to. Every outside chore had been done. We had tried our hand at making homemade bread and sat through every hour of Tiger King and walked away embarrassed that we had. Something had to happen. And, in our neighborhood, it did.

It started one afternoon with our neighbors across the street. We were out getting the mail and they yelled, “Happy hour tonight at six. Bring your own chairs. Sit in your driveway. It’s happening!” So, we did.

Please know that my husband and I are not these type of people. We are nice, but not exactly friendly. If you are the same way you understand.

But, that night, we pulled our camp chairs out of the garage, dusted them off and plopped them on either side of our mail box. Our neighbors across the street did the same. So did the folks next door. And, for the next few hours we just visited. I don’t remember what we talked about that first night, but I know we’ve covered a lot since then. Politics-we all have different opinions. Movies–we all have different opinions. Music–boy, do we all have different opinions. We’ve set lanterns on fire and watched them float up into the sky. We’ve thrown hundreds of popcorn bags into the fire and cheered as they burned (don’t ask–it’s a thing.) We’ve cooked food together and had too much to drink together and dutifully looked at pictures of each other’s grandkids and offered up words like “adorable” and “the cutest”. We’ve even sang together. Granted, some of us are better than others, but it’s ok. As long as someone can carry the tune the rest of us will follow. Heck, we will follow even if nobody is carrying the tune. It doesn’t really matter, because in those moments we are having fun.

Remember that? The act of doing something for the sheer enjoyment? That’s what those nights have become. Those nights with their starry skies and bloodthirsty mosquitoes and the sound of laughter echoing off the walls of our houses. They are fun. They remind us to be human. To connect. To enjoy each other. They make the news headlines and the trauma we’ve all endured these past few years go away. For about three or four hours every Friday night everything is all alright.

And, I am happy to say, the official end of the pandemic hasn’t changed that. When they lifted the stay six feet away rule we brought our chairs a little closer. Now, everyone is in one driveway and still meeting. Over a year and a half later every Friday night that little crew drags their chairs out and sits and enjoys each other. Some things have changed. We added a ton of new people. Holidays and birthday celebrations have been added. And, I’m very sorry to report, my husband and I up and moved. The neighbors helped us and promised not to like the new people more than us and promised we would always have a spot around the fire.

That means a lot to me.

Knowing that if I’m ever in my beloved Houston on a Friday night around six-thirty I can drive to the corner of that cul-de-sac and find my neighbors. Find a lively conversation about which decade produced the best music or the best movie ever made or whether or not clean energy is ever going to take off. Find my friends. With everything the pandemic took from us it gave us that little group of people and I don’t want to ever forget what those nights meant to all of us. What they still mean.

I guess that’s why I’m writing this. In fact, I should have added myself to that list above. What do you get when an Italian couple, an art teacher, a hunter, a couple of musicians, two salt of the earth southerners and a writer walk into a pandemic together? I’ll tell you. You get life long friendships and you get this blog.

Here’s to you happy hour crew.

And here’s to the humid, co-vid, laugh-filled nights that made us a thing.

Jillietta Macallicutta

On my twenty-first birthday I was not at a bar. Or a club. I wasn’t taking shots or dancing to a band. I was in my friend’s sunny house across the street from my childhood home. There was a pan of chicken and noodles cooking on the stove and a freshly iced German Chocolate Cake waiting on the counter. If you could go back in time and look through the front window of that house you would see us there. Me and Jill. Both young. Both blonde. Both probably discussing the shocking centerfold Burt Reynolds had just done for Cosmo magazine. In the middle of all those giggles and preparations you would also see a little blonde boy who darted in and out talking about model airplanes and when we could eat the cake calling to us from the kitchen cabinet. It was a perfect hot day at the end of summer with the promise of so many good times to come. That night and in the future. It was the kind of day you hope exists for people in this world and it did. It existed for me. Because of Jill.

I don’t remember how many people came that night, or the presents I got, or even if we got a twenty-first birthday measure of drunk, but I do remember how I felt. I’ve never forgotten that. I felt like I was worth using up an entire Saturday on. Like I was worth my friend spending some of what was a single mom’s tight budget on balloons and cake ingredients and that Cosmo magazine–just so she could shock me with it and then laugh when I kept going back to take another look. And, I’m telling y’all, we laughed. So, so much. That night and many times over the years to come. About so many different things. If I could, I would catalog them all right here so you could all laugh with us. Those two young girls with life stretching out in front of them.

You would love the story of how I showed up at Jill’s house late one night and asked her to help me play a prank on someone. And, of course, she said yes. It involved intrigue and heavy lifting and mud. And, of course, laughter. When we were done, we drove back through town with the windows down and icy air blowing through her car singing some Dolly Parton song at the top of our lungs. I remember that night. It gets taken out and turned over in my mind and treasured. I can close my eyes in this moment and see her laughing from the driver’s seat. She is forever caught in the light of that open car door laughing at me and telling me to hurry before we got caught–a mischievous glint in her eye waiting to pop the clutch and get us to safety. I can see our muddy footprints tracked across her kitchen floor and I can see the steaming cup of spiced tea she put in front of me while we analyzed the genius of our prank and the impact it would have. We were sure it was the best prank ever played. I wish you could peek through that window too. It would also make you glad that nights like that exist for people. That there are friends like Jill that will answer their door late at night to help you pull a prank and then serve you warmth after. I am so lucky to have had her.

When I got married and we moved far away from each other and got really, really busy being grownups and responsible and weighted down we still found a way to stay close. To matter to each other. Then, it was long phone calls and surprise packages in the mail. Travel brochures from places I mentioned I wanted to visit. They would arrive in brown envelopes with her familiar looped handwriting printed across the front. Always anonymous except for her super-cool spy name she invented. She invented one for me too. We were going to use them when we ran away to live on a beach and be served umbrella drinks all day every day. I would send back brochures from house builders and even more travel brochures from her places. It was our way of seeing each other. Of remembering who we were before our grown up lives absorbed us. Before life and bills and being serious about things became so important. If you would have asked me then if I could ever lose Jill I would have said no.

I was wrong. I did lose her. Twice.

Once, the first Sunday of the new year to this damn, interminable virus that I hate with every tiny part of myself. And once, before that, in a way that hurts me even more. I say that because when Jill died it had been five years since I had talked to her.

How do I justify that? How do I pretend I don’t know better?

If you’ve been following my blog for even a minute you know I know better.

How could I not? My life has unfurled in a way that has taught me the same lesson over and over. I know how hot a funeral church is when you’re wearing panty hose and snot is running off the end of your nose and you just want out of there. I know that random men with pens in their pockets will always look like my dad in a crowd. I know that going to a little kid’s funeral is every kind of awful you can imagine and ironing their jeans beforehand is worse. I know that when one of your friends dies, barely a year after her wedding, you will keep the furry crown she wore at her bachelorette shower because you can’t bear to get rid of it. It will stay in your hope chest for years shedding pink fluff like it’s molting your memories. I know all of this and I still forgot. I got lulled into complacency. Into believing the awful lie that tomorrow would be a good day to check in. It’s a really crappy thing how life ends suddenly. And, almost always, when you think you have more time.

Jill and I had one more visit after we were young. I went home for a high school reunion and, even though it had been a minute since we had actually seen each other, she opened up her house to me. To my little girl. To my brother and his wife. She folded out couches and fixed breakfast and made us all laugh the entire weekend. When we left that morning I gave her a big hug and we promised to do a better job of staying in touch. And, then we didn’t. I didn’t. In the end, I should have held on tighter and sent more brown envelopes. I should have remembered who she was in that sunny little house across the street from mine. That moment when she was young, with her son running in out of the room, when the future was unwritten. I shouldn’t have lost her before life took her.

So, I’m sorry Jillietta Macallicutta for losing you before I needed to. I’m also sorry for revealing your most excellent spy name in this blog for the whole world to see. Can you forgive me for both? I hope so. One of us needs to.

Why I got vaccinated.

It was a muggy little town in east Texas. Town square. Signs on shop windows left over from the previous football season. A restaurant called Cindy’s or Lori’s or something like that with a parking lot full of pick-up trucks and a dining room full of men waiting on coffee. My husband was trying to navigate the narrow streets to find the courthouse, but I was drinking in the measure of the town. It was a new place. I had never been there and I felt like it was a town I would never forget. Not because of its’ numerous flowered bushes or bricked churches that would be full that Sunday, but because it was where I was going to get my vaccine. By some strange quirk of fate, I was in a town I had never been in to get a shot I never could have imagined I would need.

We found the courthouse and, after a brief argument, a parking place in front of a lawyer’s office. (I was convinced it was not reserved and Richard was convinced it was.) We gathered up our things, made sure we had our masks, got out into the early morning heat and joined all of the other people walking toward the courthouse. There were a lot of them.

We climbed the steep steps into the building and, because I was busy thinking about how I would reenact the scene from Rocky, I almost ran right into a police officer. He was standing on the very edge of the top step and his boots were so shiny I immediately thought his mom must have helped him shine them. I say mom because there was no way he was married. He couldn’t have been older than twelve. Of course, he did have a gun strapped to his side so I guess I could have been wrong about the age thing. He was greeting everyone with a big good morning and questions, “Did you pre-register? So, you have an appointment time? Go to the right. You don’t have an appointment? No? Go to the left. We have some extra shots for you folks.”

Our next stop was a long table that ran the width of the building as soon as you came in the door. It was manned with various women looking at you over the top of their glasses. You’ve seen similar tables I’m sure. Church. Charity events. NATO. These women and the tables they man might be the last bastion between order and chaos. Nobody was getting past those ladies until they had done what they were supposed to do.

Turns out what we were supposed to do was fill out some paperwork. Who are you? Where do you live? Various medical questions to determine you didn’t have prior knowledge that this shot contained things you were allergic to. Similar to when you get the flu shot every year. I went through them with the secret panic that I was forgetting something important. Like, maybe I really was allergic to eggs and I had just never noticed? So, I asked my husband. “Babe, I’m not allergic to eggs am I?” Without looking up, he said “Dear–it’s a different kind of shot. They don’t need to know that.” “Well, I know they aren’t specifically asking, but am I?” He stopped filling out his own form, pulled his glasses down and just looked at me. For a significant amount of time. Then, he put them back on and went back to reading sentences and checking the corresponding boxes. That meant no.

So, I took his word for it and checked no I was not allergic to anything and no I didn’t have any prior knowledge that made me think I should not take this shot. I will admit my pen hovered over that box. Just that morning I had read four posts on Facebook about how I should not do exactly what I was doing. That knowledge was definitely with me as I handed in my paper to one of the table ladies and waited nervously while she checked it over. She was a little scary, I’m not going to lie. But, then wonders of wonders, she looked up and smiled with her eyes, gave me a number to put on my shirt and sent me over to “Those big long benches over there honey. The ones right outside those double doors. Do not go in until they call your number. Do. Not.”

No way lady. I’m going right to the benches. I found myself a spot on the end where Richard could stand next to me–he will never sit anywhere in public where seats are a hot commodity. It’s one of the things I love about him. Then, we waited. I didn’t mind. I’m a people watcher. It was a bounty.

There was an old lady just down from me trying to fold up an umbrella. I don’t know either. But she had one. There was a young couple across from us sitting thigh to thigh staring at their phones. Matching masks. So romantic. There were two older men just down from me with mud encased boots talking in low voices about something that seemed to be extremely important. Could have been tractors. That’s what my city-girl mind thought, but probably it was something like peace in the Middle East. But, my favorite was Madge. No clue if that’s really what her name was, but it’s what I’ll forever call her. I’d say she was old enough to be my grandma, but I’m getting old enough I really shouldn’t say that anymore. She was skinny. So skinny that I wondered how she was standing. Her heels were at least six inches and I just knew there was a cigarette waiting somewhere in her day. Everything on Madge matched. Her purse matched her shoes which matched her lipstick which matched her mask which matched her earrings. I saw the girl from the matching masks couple give Madge a brief nod acknowledging her superiority before going back to her phone. Y’all, Madge was turned out. And, she was so happy. She greeted everyone that came near her with her gravely voice and coffee stained smile. “Hello honey. How are you this mornin’. Wadn’t that snow last year somethin? Last night I answered three questions right on Jeapordy.” Then, she would reach up and pat her hair that I’m almost positive was a wig, but I didn’t care. Madge was owning the waiting line. Fake eyelashes and all. I was still admiring Madge’s pep when I realized they were calling my number. 38. It was my turn. I gave my husband a big hug which he returned– sort of. He hates it when I’m dramatic. Then, with a nervous look at the table ladies I made my way to the double doors.

The next room was organized chaos. There was a gentleman with too much cologne to check my papers one more time to make sure I was where I was supposed to be. I also told him I wasn’t allergic to eggs. He looked at me the same way my husband did. Then, there was a lady directing traffic like they do at Chik-Fil-A, “Stand right here hon. You’re going to go in that line right there. Before the lady with the kids, but after the guy with the baseball hat.”

The next thing I knew, I was in a plastic lunchroom chair talking to Sheila. Sheila was very nice and smelled like vanilla. That was comforting. She was wearing scrubs and her glasses were connected to one of those really pretty eyeglass holder necklaces things. I love those things. I buy them continually, but they just end up broken in the bottom of my purse and I am forever getting rid of the little beads! But, Sheila was actually using hers and she pulled her glasses up to once again check my paper work. Then, she asked me how I was. I told her I was good how was she. She said she was great and asked me to roll up my sleeve. I started swinging my feet and told Sheila there was a big crowd outside. She probably already knew that but, I needed words. She said it had been like that since they started. She told me she went home so tired at night she didn’t even eat. But she added, “I’m not going to say I don’t have a little candy. I need my Mars Bar.” I liked Sheila.

And, I really hoped Sheila liked me since she was fixing to stick a needle in my arm with an experimental vaccine for a world pandemic that was killing people. Whoa.

“I was just wondering if you’ve had anyone cry?” I asked Sheila.

She put her hand on my knee and said, ” I sure have. I sure, sure have.”

I was glad I wasn’t the only one.

I stood up, thanked Sheila and wondered out into the big holding room and started looking for Richard. I didn’t see him so I went and found us a good leaning spot on the wall and dug for my sunglasses in my purse. I was ok with Sheila seeing me cry, but not necessarily my husband. Eventually, he found me despite my sunglasses/mask/hat ensemble (think unabomber!) and we leaned on the wall together for the necessary thirty minutes (I added an extra ten) to make sure we weren’t going to have a reaction and then we left. On the way out, the guy holding the door open for everyone was dressed in an orange striped jumpsuit with big black letters that said prisoner. He was telling everyone to have a nice day and be safe. I told him to have a nice day too and then felt a little dumb. But, I reasoned, maybe it was nice to stand in the sunshine and send people on their way having just been vaccinated. I hoped he had sat in Sheila’s chair too. And then, we were done. We stopped in the parking lot to smile at each other and then walked back to our car in front of the lawyer’s office. It was fine.

We stopped at a fast food joint on our way out of town and not being in the mood for eggs, but still feeling like I should do something breakfast-y, I got an egg roll. Shannon, the girl working the register, looked tired. I had a feeling she wished she could have the day off to go get a vaccine. Before we drove off, Richard handed her an extra five dollars. “What’s this for? Do y’all want something else?” Richard just smiled and told her to put it in her kitty. I don’t think she had a clue what that meant but she smiled and tucked it in her pocket. That guy.

Then, we drove home. Journey playing on the radio and my husband’s hand in mine.

I know, I know– I titled this blog, ‘Why I got vaccinated.’ and you are probably wondering when I’m going to get to the point. But, I have. Y’all just haven’t been paying attention. You might need a Mars bar.

I got vaccinated for the men waiting on coffee, and the table ladies and Madge and Sheila and the prisoner at the door and the tired fast food worker. All of them. And, if it had been in any other town, in any other state, it would have been a different cast of characters but the same hearts. All over this country, people are setting their alarms so they can wake up early and go set up tables and put up signs and direct people through cavernous rooms to a nurse like Sheila who’s waiting to give them a shot in the arm that will help save the folks they just stood in line with. Folks like me. The lady wearing the Whataburger shirt and Houston ball cap that cried when she got vaccinated. My own family and friends and the people in their lines. The way I see it, all of this is happening because this my America. The one I’m so proud of. The one that makes me clap and hug the people around me when I see fireworks. (By the way, they don’t always like that–especially now. Social distancing is the worst!) Or, at least it’s the America I’ve always known. The one my preacher talks about on Sunday mornings when I’m wishing he would hurry and finish before the restaurants get crowded. The one that stops to help change a tire. The one that helps pick up pieces after a tornado. The America that pulls our car over to the side of the road when a funeral procession goes by and helps a lost little kid in Walmart find his mom. The one that buys the old lady eating alone at the restaurant her dinner and sneaks out before she knows it. The one that gets up in the middle of the night to answer a Volunteer Fire Department call. The America that does for others. The America that leans so someone else can sit. It’s the America I will always want to be a part of.

One more thing before I go, for all of you that are nervous about getting an experimental vaccine for a world pandemic that’s killing people I have only this to say–same girl same. (My daughter says I’m too old to say that, but I think it’s catchy!) But, I can’t figure it’s any more scary than the thought of being in a hospital for weeks–or even worse– leaving your loved ones behind. Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith and trust yourself. Kind of like I did with that parking spot in front of the lawyers office. I just knew that space wasn’t reserved. For those that can’t get vaccinated, I’m sorry. I especially took the jab for you! And lastly, for those of you convinced that the vaccine is a conspiracy meant for our harm, you can rest easy and make your appointment for Monday morning. Because, I’m here to tell you that Madge is way too sharp to fall for that and Sheila would never be a party to it! Not to mention those two men in the muddy boots. Those dudes were sharp. I could just tell.

Rest in peace pretty lady, we cared.

You and I never met. Our paths never crossed. It was more– I knew someone who knew you. But, for those five days after you posted your note on Facebook, turned off your phone and disappeared you never left my mind. I poured over your page looking for clues as to where you might be. Looking for hints as to your mental state. Looking for you.

What I found was me.

Your social media looked like mine. You had a grandson you adored. I do too. You were excited about selling your house and hitting the road in an RV for some adventures. Me too. We had a lot in common. Had we met, I think we would have liked each other. I think if things had been different we might have ended up at the same RV park and ran into each other on a walk. I would have loved your sunny smile and kind eyes. I’m sure we would have stopped and visited for a minute and I would have gone back and told my husband, “I met the nicest lady on my walk today. She seemed so happy! I love this new life and meeting folks like that.”

Then, I would have pulled out a sack of potatoes and hummed while I peeled them. Conscious of needing to get dinner started. Needing to keep my life moving. And, just like with you, nobody would have ever known that sometimes I’m really sad and overwhelmed and just unable.

Or at least they wouldn’t if I didn’t tell them. If I didn’t go sometimes and put my head on my husband’s shoulder and say, “Babe, I just need to be close to you for a minute. Can we sit here and be still?” If I didn’t call my sister from whatever place is breaking my heart with memories of my mom and say, “I’m crying in public again. I’m such a dork.” If I didn’t sit on that white, rustling paper at my doc’s office and say, “This year has been a lot. The pandemic and selling our house and losing a grand baby I never got to meet. I think I need a little help for a minute. Is there something you would suggest?”

It’s a hard thing to ask for help. Almost impossible. We are women. We soldier on. We peel potatoes and meet needs and do it all with a smile on our faces. Our social media looks just like yours did. People hate-like our posts wondering why they can’t get it together like us. They don’t know that some days are like that, but a lot aren’t. A lot of days are spent in a bed in the cool dusk crying into a flowered pillowcase and thankful for the fan blowing on us as we try to get our bearings. They are days full of bugs in the trash can and flat tires and slammed doors. They are days full of pain and regrets and things that haunt us. Our days look just like yours did.

I wish I could have told you that. That I understood. I so wish I had happened upon your car in that parking lot. I would have gotten in the car with you. I would have given you something to wash your face. I would have told you I had the whole day to sit there with you. I would have told you I am a great keeper of secrets. That you could deposit anything into my heart and I would hold it for you until you could take it back. I would have cried with you until I thought you needed to laugh and then I would have cracked a joke hoping to see a smile break across your face as the first sign that maybe you were going to be ok. When you were ready, we would have gotten something to eat and a hot cup of coffee. We would have made it through that night. And the next day. And the next. Most of all, I think I’m not the only one to wish this. The women who loved you are wishing the same thing. The women who only knew you from work, or church or the neighborhood are wishing it too. Every woman who reads this blog will wish it. All of us. Wishing to be in that parking lot with our hand on that door handle. Before. Before you took that last step. Before you finally asked for help in the only way that wouldn’t help anyone.

I’ll be honest, from the first moment I got the text message about your story, I settled in my mind that you were going to be ok. That that scene I described above was going to happen. That someone would find you in time. I imagined you in a cheap hotel watching bad tv and eating multiple cans of Pringles. I imagined you picking up the phone numerous times, but being too embarrassed to hit send. I imagined you stepping outside the door for just a few minutes every morning to let the sun hit you, before you ducked back into your gold and green room to continue working your way through it all. I always believed someone would find you in time to help. I was wrong.

Now, I’m left wondering what I’m supposed to do with the knowledge of you. With this heaviness I’m carrying.

It’s such a hard thing to be too late. To know, but not in time to help. I hate that feeling.

You with your sunshine smile and broken heart have made me understand how dangerous it is to not be known. To feel alone. To not ask for help.

So, today, on this Tuesday while your family is planning your funeral, I am going to reach out. To my girls. My crew. They’ve been with me for years. They know that life is never a Facebook page. They know that because they also have hurt and trauma and a messy house. Everybody has stuff. Big and bad and sad stuff. We just never talk about it. Today, we will.

I’ll tell them if they ever need me I’m here. That my own life isn’t perfect. Maybe, I’ll tell them that I am dreading this holiday season. It should have been a lot different than it’s going to be and that makes me cry every time I let myself settle there. I’ll tell them that I love life, and my husband with the gentle eyes, and the way dust floats in the air on a quiet afternoon at home. But, that sometimes life is a heavy load. I’ll tell them I’m sad and they can be sad too. I’ll tell them they can deposit anything into my heart and I will hold it until they are ready to take it back. I’ll tell them I will always be in that parking lot with my hand on the car door just in time. They just have to tell me where they are so I can find them.

May none of us ever be too late.

Rest in peace pretty lady, we cared.

Hey there buddy.

I’m sitting here with some semi-disco music playing, the sun shining outside and Cia snoring at my feet. And, as real as all of those things are to me, you are too. In my heart, you made it. You are here safe. You are where I am.

You are running the halls of my little house with your brother. Y’all are screaming and chasing each other and every time you take that tight corner by my glass stoves I hold my breath hoping there isn’t a crash to follow. When one of you bumps the other, I am a referee to decide who needs a hug and who needs a gentle reminder to be careful. There are two solid little bodies to lift up to ring the bells and to count how many there are. Later, when I look out the window Pa-paw is bookended in the backyard–both of you looking up at him to see what he’s going to do next.

From the moment my phone dinged and I got the picture from your mom with E wearing a big brother shirt you were real to us. We traveled the road. We loved you.

There were Christmases, and birthday parties and two high school graduations. We made that Disney trip and bought two sets of mouse ears. There were bunk beds in my spare room. Your life happened. We saw it stretched out in front of us in an endless ribbon of jokes, and sunny mornings and family.

But there is another thing that is real too. Another thing I know. I know I answered my phone and your daddy was on the other end with his heart shattered. I know your Sassy bought the first plane ticket available and that your mommy cried enough tears to fill an ocean. I know that you and Miss will always share a birthday nobody expected. There are crumpled tissues, broken hearts and a nurse named Sunshine that bear witness to what happened. It’s a sadness deeper than we want to go.

But, the thing brave enough to pick up a chair and fight that sadness is those minutes. Those minutes we lived with you in our hearts. Every minute we thought we were promised. Every minute we counted on. The big ones I mentioned and a million small ones that meant just as much. The first time I kept you without your brother and realized I needed to know what your favorite snacks were. The time we were the first ones up on a Saturday and you helped me make coffee. The text messages you sent as I got older to remind me to take my vitamins. The catch I felt in my chest when you called to say you were going overseas for the first time.

It’s all real.

It’s as real as any memory I’ve ever had. The very minute we knew you were coming you were already here. We scooted over. We made room. We pulled another chair up to the table. We folded you into the mix that is us and nothing is ever going to change that. Nothing. You belong to us. You are a part of who we are. All of us. The grandparents, your big brother, the friend you would have found over animal crackers the first day of kindergarten. Your mommy and daddy. We have all loved you. Will always love you.

Just like there will always be a shadow sadness while we are packing suitcases and making doctor appointments and accepting birthday invitations there will also be a shadow happiness. An understanding that life with you is real. It’s real because we love you so much we made it real. Given the chance you would have been the second most loved little boy in the whole wide world. There would have been so many toys, and fishing trips and millions of happy squeals while your daddy let you walk on the ceiling. There would have been Harry Potter books with your mommy and digging in the mud with your brother. Tummy giggles and new cars.

This horrible thing that happened can’t stop any of it. It never could. It was a done deal from day one.

We are yours and you are ours.

Always.

Any pizza joint on any corner.

Y’all, I’m a writer. I don’t say that because you can go to your local bookstore and find a book written by me and pay too much for it only to let it gather dust on your nightstand. I say that because writing is how I process. How I live. Lose my parents? I’ll write about it. Face infertility–there’s blog posts. Angry at the world? Crumpled napkins stashed in my hope chest bear witness.

But, when this pandemic started, I stopped writing. Completely. For over a year I haven’t written a word. While my family, my country and my world spun out of control I had nothing to say. Nothing. No blog posts. No diary entries. Nothing. It scared me. I knew it was all there. I knew there were things to say. I just couldn’t say them.

What are the words you write about a world pandemic? What are the words you write about so many people dying? What words would ever do that justice? And, it wasn’t just the big things. It was the small. When my daughter called to say she had a cough. A cough. Small thing right? Not in the last year. Suddenly, that cough was huge. It meant we might become a family that others would be talking about. I don’t know anyone, but did you hear about their family? They lost someone. How could I assign words to that feeling? It was all too big. Too unmanageable, so I didn’t try.

I hunkered down. I ate ice cream. I grew tomatoes. I sold a house and bought an RV. I coped. But, I didn’t write. I felt like all the emotions and fears were stuck without an outlet. I was the ketchup bottle on the Heinz commercial. Pick me up. Turn me upside down. Shake me up. Nothing was coming out.

Then, something happened. It was a Friday night. The air was calm, the trees were green and my husband and I were hungry. And, we went to a restaurant. A pizza joint. Our local neighborhood pizza joint. We ordered from them a few times during the pandemic. Various paper bags, pizza boxes and little plastic cups of cheese lined up across my kitchen counter, but this was the first time we had gone there to eat. To sit down. To smile at people. And, if I’m being honest, it was amazing. Wonderful. Glorious.

I really mean that.

And, it wasn’t just the food. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the food was great. Pizza hot and steaming with just the right amount of cheese to sauce. A crisp salad served in a funny little sideways bowl. But, it wasn’t the food that made me cry. That made my husband stop eating and ask me if I was ok. That, finally, after a horrible year of horrible horrors made me feel like there was something I wanted to say.

It was the normalcy. It was the people. It was the air. It was life.

And, most of all, it was being a part of it. All of it. I watched the old couple make their way through the tables and stop to talk to every little person they saw. You’re such a big boy! Is that your airplane? Are you helping your mom? I listened to the table of college girls behind us laugh and visit. Did you pass that class? I think he’s cute. I can’t believe she called him. It was the family with four kids and a dad trying to navigate a dinner out without mom. Put your phone away. Does mom let you order that? Get your feet out of that chair. And, most of all, it was our waiter. I’m so glad to see you folks. How was your week. I have two more shifts to work before a day off. You’ll like that. It’s one of my favorites.

My words probably aren’t doing the moment justice. The sheer glory of it. Being at a restaurant on a Friday night with the sun just going down and people enjoying themselves.

But, that’s still not what made me cry if i’m being really, really honest.

What made me cry was thankfulness. To God? Sure. To the people who solved the vaccine riddle? Yep. But, mostly, in that moment, I was thankful to whomever owns my pizza joint. Thankful for so many, many reasons. That my favorite pizza was still on the menu. That, somehow, they still had workers who were pleasant and happy to be at their job. That they had made it. No locked doors and boarded up windows. My little place on the corner was just as I had left it twelve months earlier. They had, against all odds, hung in there.

For me. For my husband. For the old couple and the college girls and the family. They had hung on through shut-downs and canceled orders and lack of sales. They had had difficult meetings on the shiny steel counters of their kitchen trying to figure out a way to weather the storm and pay their workers and just be there with an open sign on their door.

I know they had their own reasons for doing it. Mortgages and car payments and employees they love, but I think they mostly did it for us. Their customers. They know there is nothing better than a meal out. Nothing better than the familiarity of a well-loved menu you have ordered from on many Friday nights when the air is calm and your loved one is across the table from you.

These pizza joints and coffee houses and steak places are serving food. They have ice tea and cheesecake and complimentary chips and salsa. But, right now they have so much more than that. They have normal with a heaping side of comfort and, best of all, they have people. Other faces besides our own. Friendly folks that love the same place you do. Folks that also made it through the last year and are looking for a little taste of everything is going to be ok. Just like you are.

So, if you are lucky enough to have a pizza place open on your corner, gather up your family and go. Go and order an appetizer and a specialty drink and dessert for the whole table. Smile a lot. Say hello to everyone and tip like you just won the lottery. And, if you are like me, cry. It’s ok.

This is a big thing that is happening. We are coming out of the last year. Slowly, but surely. A little worn out and frazzled and unsure, but hopeful.

And, our favorite restaurants, are there to help smooth the transition. So, to my pizza joint– Locatellis on the corner of Louetta and Grant in Houston Texas. Thank you for your delicious green chile and pepperoni pizza. For your Popeye salad–heavy on the blue cheese dressing and cranberries. For the pleasant outdoor eating area you created in your parking lot. For your helpful servers that you kept working through everything. Thank you for hanging on through this terrible year. And, thank you for giving me a Friday night with calm air and nothing but normalcy. An evening so perfect, I wanted to write about it.

Butt Dad. But God.

My family has a favorite movie that we watch every holiday season.  It’s about a dad who becomes a snowman after he dies to help his son deal with losing him. It’s called Jack Frost and if you haven’t seen it–it’s worth a watch. Especially now while we are all stuck in our houses. My favorite scene in the movie is when the dad (pre-snowman transition) is talking to his son.  He tells his son something or the other and the boy answers, “But Dad!” To which the dad answers, “Did you just call me Butt Dad?” At this point, everyone watching the scene in our cozy, holiday festooned living room will laugh quietly to themselves and says, “Butt dad.” Then my husband will sometimes add, “It gets me every time.”  It’s one of the things that makes each Christmas our Christmas.  Someday, I hope to hear my little grandson say it.  “Butt Dad.” I can’t wait.

You are probably wondering why I am telling you all of this.  I mean we’re all bored, but is that a reason to rehash lines from a  movie made decades ago? Well, if you have been following my blog for very long, then you know my brain tends to get stuck on certain things. Weird things.  And, this week, it has been stuck on that. That cheesy line.

“Butt Dad.”

I have been turning it around and around trying to figure out why it keeps popping up now.  Yesterday, I finally figured it out.  Or, God figured it out for me.

I was listening to a newscaster give never ending horrible news from behind a clear plastic desk in a studio somewhere.  He was talking about how bad things are.  How bad they are going to be.  How the economy is tanking and nurses are crying and loved ones are slipping away with nothing but a FaceTime goodbye and a medical pronouncement from a doctor loved ones haven’t even met.  That’s important.  The part where you meet the doctor who later tells you you’re going to lose your loved one.  A handshake.  Noticing a spot on his tie.  It all makes it more bearable.  I can’t imagine doing it without it.  Just a voice on a phone.  It’s almost more than I can bear.

It was a lot for the newscaster too.  He was very downcast. He looked pale and without any hope and I, sitting on my couch, felt the same.  My soul was broken.  I wanted more to do.  Stay home?  I’m doing that.  Skipping Easter with my kids and grandkid.  Done. Donate money.  Got it. Clean my groceries before I bring them in the house? Weird, but on that too.  I am doing everything they are asking of us.  Everything.  And, still, I want more to do.  Can someone please give me an American sized to-do list?  I want to affect change in this mess.  I want to save us.  I want to save the doctors and nurses. The old people who are alone and scared. The guy picking up my trash and bagging my groceries. My favorite restaurant.  I want to do all of this, but I can’t.  I just can’t.  I’m not powerful enough. I am a peon with a peon to-do list.

But God,

Thankfully, blessedly, wonderfully He is much more up to the task.  He can do anything.  Everything.  He can get us all through this.  He can break our hearts for those who are suffering. He can call our attention to people who need a little extra help.  A little extra time. A little extra money.  He can grant super-natural wisdom to doctors trying to find a cure and super-natural patience to parents homeschooling. He can help us celebrate Easter this year in a glorious way that is stripped of tradition and rich with meaning.  He can do it all and never break a sweat.

So, the next time you find yourself in front of a television with a newscaster rolling out a list of truly horrible line items that he or she wants you to take note of.  I want you to stop and remember what is being asked of most of us. Not much really.  Small, tiny things in the overall measure of what is happening.   Stay home.  Be kind.  Open your wallet.  Be present.  A peon to-do list.

But God?

He’s doing big things.  God-sized things. Things that will make us marvel later.  The unbelievable timing.  The providence. The amount of dedication and love shown. The compassion and charity given.  How was any of this possible?  How did it all happen? How did a country–a world even– full of peons pull it off?  How was it even possible?  It wasn’t.

But, God…

Why moms do the dishes before they leave.

Several weeks ago, I was at my daughter’s house.  I went because she and her husband are teachers and my grandson was sick.  Again.  For the millionth time.  And, like lots of young couples with toddlers, they were out of sick leave.  So, I loaded up my car with the presents I had been picking up for my little guy along the way and a few fun things for his mom and dad and got ready to make the nine hour drive to where they live.  My husband was headed the opposite direction.  To Mississippi and Louisiana for work.  We kissed goodbye and went on our way.  The trip was uneventful.  Nine hours of James Michener’s Poland and wind and trucks. And, finally, I was there.  Their little white house with the green shutters and three of the people I love most in the world.  I was glad to be there.

For the first three days, I sat and rocked my sick little grand baby and let him watch every version of Hickory Dickory Dock that exists on the internet.  French. German. Disco -style.  We watched them all.  Repeatedly.  I would have done anything to make that little guy feel better.  He was feverish and croupy and miserable.  And, I was glad to be there. Glad I could take some of the pressure off of his mom and dad and let them get a week of work in without a dreaded phone call to their boss to say they would be out for the whole week. Glad to just “mom” them all for a minute.  The plan was for me to stay for two weeks and then for them to come back home with me for spring break.  We were excited about the thought of a whole week together with Pa-paw.  There would be trips to the park and dinners out and fun.  It would be family time and a way to keep my grandson out of day care for three weeks to get good and well before school started back.

During that entire two weeks, I was also watching the news.  The Covid-19 situation was ramping up.  Everyday was news about its’ spread and the tragedy that was starting to unfold.  Phone calls would go out to my husband every night.  This is scary.  I don’t think the kids should come back to Houston.  Maybe, I should come home early?  Surely this isn’t going to get as bad as they think? But it was and it did.  Finally, I made the decision to leave early.  I have Lupus and I have to give it just enough deference to keep myself healthy enough for emergency nine hour trips and grandsons who need me.  Other than that, I flip it the bird everyday. That last sentence made me smile. It’s really how I feel about the whole subject.

So, I broke the news to my kids.  I was leaving and they weren’t.  We were going to have to save our spring break for another time.  Maybe Easter. Maybe a glorious Easter by the lake–like last year.  We could hope.

Nobody was happy.  Well, maybe my son–in-law wasn’t as sad as my daughter.  Either way, I got up that last morning and saw them all off to work. I hugged my little guy’s warm little self and told him how much I loved him.  I hugged my son-in-law and admonished him to take care of everyone and I squeezed my daughter until she pulled away–much as she has been her whole life.  I waved from their front door, smiled and blew a million kisses while they backed out and until they were gone.

And then I cried.

I cried for the entire hour it took for me to pick up their house.  I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher and swept the floors.  I made the beds and picked up Everett’s toys.  I scrubbed the counters with bleach and straightened the chairs around the dining tables. It wasn’t that it was that messy–it was just that it was the last way I could “mom” them before I left.  Before I got in my car and drove away–finally acknowledging that a pandemic had come to America.  That the future was uncertain.  That there was no way to know how life was going to change.  When they came in that day, I wanted them to know a mom had been there.  Someone whose job it is to make things better.  Make the house smell good.  Sweep away dust and crumbs and mess.  Someone you can lean on.

Finally, everything was done.  I left them a little mad money where they would find it the next morning when they made coffee and a note that said “I love you so much!” and then it was time to go.  I drove the nine hours home with Poland and wind and trucks and then I was there.  With my sweet guy.  Hugging in the garage.  So glad to be together and safe.

Since then, it’s been our own little house and each other and the news.  We are self-quarantined and I have spent most of the time watching the coverage.  My heart has been shattered watching the news from Italy.  I’ve prayed for all of the truckers I saw on those two trips and resolved to do so from now on.  I’ve made all of the mixes I bought at the craft shows last Fall and I’ve watched too much dumb television.

And, through it all, I’ve wished I could make it go away.  I don’t want my friends to be scared or for doctors and nurses to be overwhelmed with what is being asked of them. I don’t want the nice man I met in the ESL class I taught to lose his restaurant.  I want everyone to be ok.  Unfortunately, I can’t fix any of it.  I can’t make any of this go away.  All I can do is the same thing I did in my daughter’s kitchen that morning while I bawled.

I can try to make things a little better.

I can mom.

So, I’ll put a teddy bear in my window for the neighborhood kids to find on their bear hunt.  I’ll call people I’m worried about.  I’ll reach for my husband’s hand while we watch TV and make him his favorites for dinner. I will make sure the underwear and socks get washed and I will remember to laugh.  I will watch for opportunities to be a helper in the world and, more than anything else,  I will pray.

Pray that the Good Lord is gearing up to mom us all.  To sweep away the mess and restore order.  To straighten what has been knocked over and to allow us to come home one day and find our little corner of the world has been put to rights.  That maybe He has a beautiful Easter planned for us.  And, that if that is not the case, that it will be ok anyway. That, throughout this chaos, we will feel gathered up and protected and restored. That we will continually find little gifts hidden in our lives straight from Him to say I love you so much.  A little mad money for the future.

The future when we have come through this.  When stores are open and I can go buy a pizza and joke with my waiter.  A future when I am, once again, in my church with my hands raised praising God for his blessings.  A future when Easter baskets are being planned for.  A future when my kids ring my doorbell and come through that door in a rush of luggage, and noise and excited dogs.  A future where I am squeezing my daughter until she pulls away.  When that day comes, my house will be ready.  There will be something that smells good cooking and maybe a puzzle ready for the kids.  There will be clean underwear and socks and toys placed in my grandson’s cabinet.  I will be there too.  In the middle of it all.  Making a grocery list and ready to mom.  And, I will be glad to be there.

I love you world.  There is a lady in Houston praying for all of you and ready to mom if you need me.