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.

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.

Beauty will be a boy.

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Once, many years ago, a quiet doctor who always wore her hair in a bun helped me bring a little girl into this world.  It was a big job.  It was a big job because it was me.  I’m nervous.  I worry about everything.  I try to manage everything.  I vocalize everything.  I think I wore her out–that quiet little doctor with round glasses, a soft voice, and her hair in a bun. She had to work hard to get that little girl here.  The hours were long and there was no extra money for any extra thing.  I told her very passionately, “I have to have this baby on my due date and I have to do it without any pain meds.  She’s pre-paid and I can’t leave with a bill.  There’s no money for another bill.  It has to happen just so.”  My little bird-like doctor smiled her lost little smile and probably went home to complain to her husband.  She probably said, “This job is too much.  These women are crazy.  They think they can control everything.  This job is just too, too much.”  But, because she was a good doctor, she showed up on the day I needed her to.  It was my due date and I was in pain with no money for any extras and somehow she got me through the whole thing.  The seconds, the minutes, the hours until she laid my little girl on my stomach.  I cried.  I touched her little head. I looked around the room for this tiny treasure’s real Mommy.  I said over and over, “I can’t believe I have a baby. I can’t believe I have a baby.”  I sincerely, after nine months of pregnancy and approximately three-hundred peanut butter sandwiches whose only job it was to make my girl move in my tummy, could not believe I was a mommy.  So, my fading, nervous, ready to leave doctor shook her head at me.  “Where did you think this was headed if not to a baby?”  I knew she was right, but I simply could not make my heart believe that this little person was my daughter.  My girl.  My Boona.  I was a mommy.  How was that possible?  But, I bundled her up and took her home that December morning in the snow and pointed out Christmas lights along the way and the magic began in earnest.  I never saw my shy, reserved, slightly unapproachable doctor again.  This miracle was to be my only one, but it was ok because she was everything.  Her soul was sweet and her humor was wicked.  She grew up wonderful, and in the moments of the years to come, I would see her walking across a parking lot, or a stage or simply down the stairs and I would catch my breath.  I would look around for my friend the doctor so she could see the wonderful thing she had helped me bring into the world, but she was never there.  I was the witness to my beautiful girl.  My best thing.  My miracle.  And, now, all these years later, she is also scheduling weekly appointments with a doctor.  A bespectacled, close-talking, blunt doctor. I bet he doesn’t know that there is someone special waiting to be born. Another mommy waiting for that switch to flip. Another magnificent miracle.  Probably with a stubborn will and a wicked sense of humor.  Most likely, so tall I will have to reach up for hugs someday. Arriving in June.  Driving home in the early summer when people are packing for vacations and school-kids are watching cartoons.  The worries about money are the same. The demand for things to go easily are the same.  But this time, her time, it will be a boy.  My daughter’s son. My daughter’s miracle.  Her chance to ride the ride.  To feel the love.  To catch her breath as he walks across a stage or ambles down the stairs.  I hope she’s ready.  I hope she knows all of this ends in a baby.  I hope her doctor understands her like mine understood me.  I hope he gets that she’s scared and unsure and ready to bolt, but if he will just show up when she needs him to they will make it happen. She will rise to the occasion and fight hard. And, in the end, my own little girl will be this precious little boy’s mommy. She will love him fiercely and protect him and teach him to read great books. She will laugh with him and discipline him and pelt him with pillows when needed.  It will be magic. I will watch and cheer and love them both fiercely.  I like this passing of the torch.  I know where this is headed and I am ready.  This time, beauty will be a boy.