0

A Love of Poetry

Robert Louise Stevenson illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith

* Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith *

I have always loved classic poetry. I am sure it is because my mother read poems to us as children. When my own children were born, I read the same poems to them in hopes they would remember and in some way bridge the generations to a grandmother they were never blessed to meet.

Today I came across one of my simple favorites from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses – a book every child should have – entitled ‘Auntie’s Skirts’.

My aunts did not wear skirts. They grew up during WWII when many women left the home and went to work to support the war efforts. I am sure the beautiful illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith helped turn Stevenson’s words into a magical world for me.

I hope there is a new generation of writers who love poetry and celebrate the beauty and grace of the poets that made my childhood so magical. I close my eyes and imagine a the simple observations of every day life detailed with words spun of gold.

If you are a writer, I challenge you to write today. If you are a poet, I challenge you to pen beautiful prose that will inspire the imagination of readers and illustrators alike. We need you both for our future generation of dreamers and lovers of the written word.

Auntie’s Skirts

Whenever Auntie moves around,
Her dresses make a curious sound,
They trail behind her up the floor,
And trundle after through the door.

(Many thanks to Project Gutenberg for making literature readily accessible to millions.)

Advertisements
2

Too Many Hurricanes

img_6784Today I am sitting in the calm watching the wrath of Hurricane Florence bear down on the coast of North Carolina. This is my state and it is gutting to watch another disaster unfurl before my eyes. Especially knowing I have someone I care so much for sitting in Wilmington weathering the storm alone.

I despise hurricanes. I never knew anything about them until my husband and I started dating in 1995.

I was living in Maine at the time and he came up to do some ‘leaf peeping’ in October – prime for autumnal color. We stopped for a late lunch at the Black Pearl in Rockland – a cozy seaside restaurant. The deck was closed in with heavy plastic and the waves were whipping over the seawall. Everyone was busy securing boats and anything capable of being blown around. After asking a few questions, we realized these waves were remnants of Hurricane Opal, an extremely devastating hurricane that had made its way all the way from the Gulf Coast to Canada.

Fast forward almost a year, we planned an amazing wedding in Charleston, SC with a honeymoon to follow in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. That was before Hurricane Fran was predicted to hit Charleston. I will not go into the details of the havoc that caused on our preparations – another post for another day – but anything non-essential like wedding plans came to a screeching halt. Suddenly, the storm made a turn and eventually made landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina. We dodged a bullet on that one but with hurricanes, not everyone is spared. North Carolina was hit hard.

Things were pretty calm for us personally until 1999 when Hurricane Floyd was threatening Florida. That was the first and last time we fell for the suggestion of duct taping your windows. It does nothing for you and it is a mess to clean up. The storm again turned, hit the Bahamas and up the east coast of the states before making landfall in Cape Fear, North Carolina. Eastern North Carolina had been hit just weeks earlier by Hurricane Dennis.

Fast forward to 2004. We purchased a house in the beautiful community of Winter Park, Florida. The house was very modern with a flat roof and windows everywhere. We knew the roof would need to be replaced soon but we were so much in love with this house! It was our dream home.

August rolled around and Hurricane Charley came into the picture. Unfortunately, the track changed rather quickly and we had less than half a day to prepare. There was barely time to get water, gas and food before the storm was on its way. The eye of the storm passed directly over us. It was surreal. We were without power for 7 days. Destruction was everywhere. All the roads to our neighborhood were completely blocked.

After going through Charley weeks earlier, we were concerned when Hurricane Frances came on the horizon. We were fortunate enough to find some blue board to put on the big windows in the house. It was dark and depressing and we paced the floor worrying about the roof that needed to be replaced. Thank the Lord, we made it through with no roof damage.

But Mother Nature wasn’t done yet. Hurricane Jeanne also came through that year. We left the house boarded up for two months. We had some minor damage with fencing and trees and of course loss of power during those three storms that year, but we had come out unscathed. It was a frightening time. A lot of people moved out of Florida that year.

We eventually retired to our beloved North Carolina and were finally away from hurricanes or so we thought. Last year Hurricane Irma was looming and our children and new granddaughter were in the path of the storm. So many people were being evacuated that roads were clogged and gas was hard to come by. People who tried to evacuate often turned around and returned to Florida. They made the very hard decision to stay. The fear of being stranded on the highway with a newborn and two cats will make you consider all options.

We stayed on the phone with them all night. These storms that come in the dark of night take a toll on your nerves. But God watched over them through the storm. They were blessed. We were blessed. They made it through the most frightening night of their lives with no damage and no loss of power. We all went to bed around 5:00 am when the worst of the storm had passed.

Now we watch and wait for the remnants of Hurricane Florence to arrive here. The waiting is so hard, but we are not in the worst of it. So many people are already experiencing the wrath of such a storm. We have good friends and family scattered throughout the Carolinas. It is hard to wait, knowing the power is out and will likely be out for weeks. We just pray and pray and pray that everyone makes it through okay.

I joke with my husband that had I not met him I am not sure I would have this on-again off-again relationships with hurricanes. They have become a big part of the story of our lives. We have been fortunate through it all and we always have a tale to tell. And truthfully, I don’t blame him totally! 🙂

I am constantly praying for everyone’s safety and that the storm will soon pass for all of us. Stay safe. Stay diligent.

0

My Mother’s Daughter – Becoming Me

My nickname is MagCindy.

It’s one of two names my mother called me. I think I have held onto this for over sixty years because it makes me feel closer to my mom. I was 19 years old, one year out of high school and already in the Air Force when she died. It was a devastating loss which I have explored many times, but not today. Today is about a woman I wish I had known as a woman myself. I think we would have learned a lot from each other.

MyMomI was never a risk taker. Mom always was. She was fearless. I was fearFULL. Earlier today I heard someone say that you are never safe in life. But in death, you’re safe. Let that sink in. Since my mother died, I’ve gradually learned to be more like her, but boy has that taken a lot of effort. But I don’t want to be safe. I want to FEEL, even if it’s risky.

Freida Mae Swift Shortt was a tough cookie. Being her daughter meant you had expectations. It wasn’t enough to be something to someone else, you had to be something on your own. It did not matter one iota what that was – but there has to be something. She supported everything I ever did. Civil Air Patrol nerd – check. Struggling artist – check. Waitress – check. Air Force airman – check. She was proud of her kids – each and every one of us – with every accomplishment, big or small – she was beaming with pride.

Mom was also a jokester, embarrassing to a young girl at times, but her intentions were always positive. My friends all loved her. Every kid in the neighborhood was welcome at our house. Whatever we had, she lovingly shared. When we moved from Virginia to Ohio, it was a hoot. We were quite the ‘country come to town’. Mom fried chicken, made biscuits and milk gravy, and made banana salad (banana sliced length wise, smeared with Miracle Whip and covered with chopped peanuts) for dinner. My friends loved to come to our house to eat – she was a great cook. Country all the way, though.

MyMom2Don’t get me wrong, Mom was not domestic-centric. She wanted to be outside and housework was the last thing she ever wanted to do. That was all left to us. We had a wringer washer and no drier. Clothes were hung outside on the line or in the basement. She didn’t have time to waste waiting on wash cycles and spin cycles. Wash, rinse, get out. No, not crazy about being inside, but outside – she was a force to be reckoned with. She played tag football in the front yard with us and loved being around all our friends. She was very much a people person – another way I wish I could have been more like her. She also enjoyed her quiet time, weeding her portulaca or pruning her bleeding heart.

MyMom3In the forty plus years since she passed away, I have learned more about her as a person. I have letters from friends in high school and her sense of humor was always evident. Pictures that have surfaced show her in a way I never imagined. I always knew she was full of life, but seeing her as a young woman with dreams of her own makes me wish so much we had been given the gift of an adult friendship to share. I know we would have been best friends.

Mom never got to see me as a wife, a mother or a grandmother. There would have been some tough talks along the way had she been there. When I made my stupid mistakes – she would not have shied away from those conversations. Mom wasn’t about hiding her feelings. All in all, however, I think she would have been proud of me. Especially today’s me. I hope she would realize that I attribute a lot of who I am to her and the lessons she taught me in those 19 short years we were together.

So how did this woman who seems to be my polar opposite impact who I am? This is a question I pondered for years and years for we are very different. Mom was a ‘you made your bed now you lie in it’ kind of mom on the surface. In actuality, she understood more than she ever let on. She taught me about honesty and speaking your truth, and doing what’s right. She taught me about being prepared to take care of myself should the need ever arise. She taught me how to exist in moments of silence and look my demons dead in the eye. She taught me about sacrifice. Most of all, she taught me about staying above the fray. That was a hard one and I admit I was not always successful at it, but her lessons are still engrained deep in my brain.

IMAG4468-1Moms never stop mothering – at least the good ones. I wish she had been there when my children were born. I wish I could have seen her rock my babies and sing to them. She taught me to sing the songs that would stay with them forever. The simple, easy songs. The ones that you never forget.

Down in the meadow in an itty bitty pool
Swam three little fishies and a Mama fish too
The Mama fish cried ‘now swim if you can’
And the ‘fam and they fam’ all over the dam.

I love you, Mom.

3

The Making of Me – My Grandmothers

On this Mother’s Day, I began to think – Just how did I get here? It’s a very long story, genealogically, but for me, personally it started in the late 1800’s when my grandmothers were born.

I knew my paternal Grandmother as Mam-Maw, but her name was Bertha Rosetta Blevins Short. She had long gray hair that she always rolled into a bun at the back of her neck. Her home meant everything to her. She cared for it lovingly. She was a very meticulous woman and a staunch Christian. She was an amazing cook, loving grandmother and furiously loyal to her family;

My Grandmother ShortIt wasn’t until I started to dabble in photography that I discovered an old faded negative of her. Suddenly I saw her differently. She had rolled up jeans and her long hair was dark and cascading down around her shoulders. She looked fierce and fearless and oh so young! I realized that this woman I called Mam-Maw must have had a life before me that I would never know or understand. It would be one of the first photographs I would hand-color and one that I cherish the most.

We lived with our grandparents for a time and she was an amazing woman. She loved her family fiercely and her four noisy, rambunctious grandchildren were no exception. We were part of her tribe.

Country women work hard – gardening, canning, cleaning and weathering the storms of every day life. I learned so much about life and the importance of making a way for yourself that I will never forget. She sang when she worked and always had a way of producing some sort of delectable treat from literally nothing. She made an amazing one-egg cake with a black walnut, butter and brown sugar glaze that I would love to have ‘just one more time’.

Even with all the challenges she had in her life, she stayed a dedicated and honest Christian woman. Every day she read her Bible. I remember watching her underline meaningful passages – I have a Bible with which I tried to emulate her behavior – I think I underlined the entire New Testament!

Even now I can hear her playing a ukulele singing The Little Mohee or washing dishes singing Peace in the Valley. She wore platform heels, and a single strand of imitation pearls. She had hats with netted veils and was always immaculately dressed. It was from her I learned to always stay true to myself – a lesson I would forget at times but somehow I would always find my way back to those deep principles.

My Grandmother Swift

Granny was a different grandmother altogether. She grew up in Tennessee and was also a hard-working woman. She married my grandfather and joined him in the Philippines. There she would have her first child and carry back stories that I loved to hear over and over again. She was tough in my mind and I imagine she was always strong. My cousin recently shared this picture of her holding a monkey in the Philippines – it has also become one of my favorites because it allows me to see her differently.

Granny, Leita Effie Cole Swift, was a firecracker. She was strong and able and wise. She, too, was a strong Christian woman, but she carried it differently somehow – more matter-of-factly. Granny and Granddaddy lived on a farm and she, too, worked hard. She milked cows, raised tobacco, raised a garden and canned food for the winter months. She made the prettiest apple jelly I have ever seen – it was as clear as glass. She taught me to piece a ‘Gentleman’s Bow’ quilt because she said I was smart enough and capable enough to make my own quilt.

When I close my eyes, I see her sitting in a rocking chair by the window. Her gray hair is slipping out of its confines around her face. She is barefoot and reading a book – a definite Swift trait! She saw me through some tough times and always had a way of spinning a difficult situation into a positive viewpoint. For that I am forever grateful. She sat with me when my mother was in the last months of her life and helped me see my mother in a completely different light. I never once thought how hard it was for her to watch her own daughter suffer so much – because she was there for me.

But these two women are just a fraction of who I am – there is much more to come. Next up – my beloved mother.

0

Multiple Facets of Mother’s Day

I have been blessed with the best mother anyone could ask for. She was tough and smart and matter-of-fact. I watched as she sacrificed and understood early what it meant to be a good mother. Watching her succumb to cancer was a different lesson all-together, and one unfortunately, many children have witnessed. My strong-willed mother became weak as she fought with everything she had to give. It would take years before I could handle Mother’s Day. I remember my first one without her and it was beyond painful. I was 20 years old, away from home in the Air Force and devastated. It had only been 8 months and coming to terms with her being gone was more than I could bear. Somehow, in some way, we find the ‘thing’ that pulls us forward in life. I think for me it was becoming a mother myself. I still cried for many Mother’s Days and birthdays that followed, but I was on my way to healing the wound that losing my mother left behind.

I am now a grandmother. I have been blessed with years that my mother never got to experience. I am reminded with every call, text, email and FB message how lucky I am. My sister, Rosie, passed away almost 7 years ago, and my sister, BJ, just last year. We talked almost every day when they were alive and in many ways, they were my mothers as well as my sisters. I know the heartache and the healing that lies ahead for their children and grandchildren, and I only pray they realize how fortunate they are to have had them for their mothers.

For the next generation of mothers in our family, I hope you learn things that it sometimes took me too long to master. The things like unconditional love for your children are easy. But I also hope you learn to step back when you should and step up even when you haven’t been asked. I hope you look hard in the mirror and understand your responsibility to try and heal what is broken. We all play a part in family and loving and forgiving are the fibers that weave motherhood together. I hope you always laugh hard at the things that could normally stress you out. I hope you learn to wipe the tears that you yourself have cried. I hope you lean on someone’s shoulder when you need to and lean in when your child loses their way. Most of all, remember you do not need to be superwoman. Rather, it’s much more important to be there. If you’re ‘too busy’ or ‘too stressed’ or ‘too tired’ your children will look elsewhere for what they do not get from you. I hope you are always, always proud of every accomplishment and of every lesson that losing teaches. We don’t always win and we don’t always lose. Mom always told me to look around – there is always someone who has more and there is always someone that has less than we do. When we feel that we are on the top or on the bottom, trouble lurks just around the corner.

My family is so beautifully diverse and blended. I am SO PROUD of each and every person in my family. We all come from different places with different experiences but we blend together beautifully. I hope it is always that way. Acceptance and understanding are huge parts of being a family. Maybe some of the most important parts.

I also hope you remember and honor from whence you came. Our family made sacrifices for generations just to get us all to this place. There were long hard lives and battles fought and tribulations overcome. But time is fleeting. What is today will not be tomorrow. Enjoy every moment and talk about where you come from. Give your children and your grandchildren the foundation of knowing where they come from. We all only live on if we are remembered. I hope I am remembered with kindness and forgiveness for the things I did not know and the mistakes I made. One thing I promise you, is that through it all, I loved you with everything I had to give. I hope you can do the same.

For those suffering loss today, I hope you find comfort in your memories. I hope you find the path to healing and reach out when it becomes too much to bear. We were never intended to walk through this life alone – and I guarantee that no mother in our family ever wanted to see their children sad or in pain.

On this Mother’s Day I am filled with joy. I come from strong examples of motherhood and mothering. I know those that came before me are honored to see their legacy in action. I do not worry about any of my grandchildren and granddaughter-on-the-way – for they have the BEST mothers. For my nieces and nephews who lost their moms, I know we never have enough time. Your moms want you immersed in JOY and loving your children fully just as they loved you. For my great-nieces and great-nephews, I love you to the moon and back again. For we are all one. One family, one heritage, one blood.

I AM SO PROUD OF ALL OF YOU!

Happy Mother’s Day.

0

A Year Changes Everything

imageToday is my sister’s birthday. It still takes my breath away knowing she is no longer with us. She was all about living, loving and just being. Last year was the first time since our move to the Carolinas that we were able to spend her birthday together. Our brother and his wife joined us for a simple day of just hanging out, talking and sitting in the rocking chairs on her porch. None of us had any idea it would be the last birthday we would spend with her.

This year, we are celebrating her birthday by spending it with her granddaughter, Joelle. We started the day with pancakes and blueberries and now we are watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It is just the kind of morning she would love. Later we will make chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles and have an Angel Birthday party to celebrate her grandmother….my sister. We will laugh and have tiny adventures in the mountains – just the kind of birthday my sister would enjoy – loving and laughing and staying in the moment.

Life really is precious and fleeting. There are no promises of time so it is so important to enjoy every tiny spectacular moment. the tiniest moments really are the biggest gifts.

Happy Birthday, Sis. I miss you every day. I guess I will always feel like there were not enough days, not enough hugs, not enough ‘I love you’s’. But today, I will stay in the moment, enjoy the little miracles and you will be with me in every thought, every smile and every little miracle.

 I love and miss you SO much.

 

 

0

A Baby for Valentine’s Day

We’re going to be grandparents again!

revealWhat a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Of course we have known for quite some time, but there is something magical in the day you see it announced to the world. We are so happy and cannot wait to hold that new life in our arms and see the universe in her eyes.

Life is so magical – so ethereal. As we follow along in our granddaughter’s development, the miracle of life is demonstrated in every tiny moment. We are blessed to be close to our daughter and her wife so that we get to share in all the microscopic changes as they occur.

This granddaughter comes to us by the miracle of IVF – another miracle! Being a believer in the balance between God and science, I believe nothing much happens without the other. We are so blessed and have witnessed God’s hand in this process. The love surrounding our children as they have fought for the miracle of this child is nothing short of miraculous in itself.

I am so touched with the love my daughter and her wife have for each other. This journey has been a long roller-coaster of a ride for them, but they never lost their sense of humor or their determination to share the love they have for each other with a child. They are a strong couple and have what it takes to be in a life-long marriage which makes me so happy and so proud. Our little girl will be loved and cared for beyond belief – and that makes me an even prouder mama!

Last night I spoke with my brother and he was beside himself with joy – just like we are. He is all too familiar with miracles and let’s just say this one was a ‘top of the heap’ kind of miracle – one that we all live for. I am so grateful he was there for me to gush over the news of a new child coming into our lives.

I thought a lot about my sisters today and the conversations we would have had about how exciting this time will be. We would have planned and schemed and just shared the joy with each other. I know they are aware and in some ways have already blessed us, but I still miss them at times like this.

Our co-grandparents are our good friends and we just could not ask for better people to share in our Village. It feels amazing to have a family so filled with joy and love. If only the world could see what we have found by just loving each other.

I do not want to look too far ahead, though – too much to enjoy in these next six months. This will be our sixth grandchild but as it has been with every grandchild – she feels like the first! We are ecstatic and cannot wait to hold her, but I do not want to miss anything in-between. So, I am exercising patience and just staying in the moment.

Hubby and I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day other than maybe sharing some wine, having a good home-cooked meal and just spending time together. That’s the way we like it. But today? Today we both got the best Valentine’s gift ever – Mia!

I love you, my girls!  All ‘three’ of you!

I hope your Valentine’s Day was just as spectacular.