Sunday, June 15, 2014

And I smiled.

One of the amazing writing tools I learned from my time in the writing project was to just let your ideas flow…to let your words jump from one topic to the next and that sometimes this jumping would lead to a topic worthy or fleshing out.  Maybe even sharing.  While walking today I realized that letting my mind wander was a great way to pass the time.  Yes, the music was pumping and from time to time the mechanical voice on the Nike app would bust in and talk to me, but for the most part…I spent my walk letting my mind wander.  And I smiled.

With my keys tied tightly in the drawstring of my shorts, I set off down the track.  Red mud rocked my balance as I made my way from the parking lot to the trail.  A beautiful little storm passed through early this morning, and the ground had not yet soaked it all in.  Before I even opened my eyes this morning I heard the rain tapping against the window, the thunder rolling in the distance, and the wind dancing in the trees.  And I smiled.

The first big curve in the trail opened up to reveal the soccer fields.  My thoughts went to my Nike app friends.  One in particular.  Our 100 mile challenge doesn't start until tomorrow, but that’s not why I smiled.  As of yesterday (my first day on the app) I was just over seven miles behind B in miles walked this month.  Never one to back down from a challenge, she would see today's walk as…GET UP AND GO!  I CAN’T LET HER BEAT ME!  Again I smiled…not because I was closing the gap between us but because she would see my total go up and think I was chasing her.  My walk would ensure that she pushed herself a bit so that she remained the leader.  The champion.  Me?  I smiled because I knew that I was out walking on this day because 1) the air was cool after the morning rain, 2) I needed a way to work out the stiffness in my legs from yesterday’s walk, and 3) I’m trying very hard to establish a healthy walking habit.  My walk had nothing to do with catching up to her stats.  My friend, however, would see that I walked and 1) let me know that there was no way I was catching her, and 2) be proud of me for walking and yet push herself harder on her walk today to ensure that I say a safe distance behind her.  I thought of her power walking through her neighborhood to stay just a bit ahead.  And I smiled.

Which led my thoughts back to our challenge…100 miles before we go back on contract.  No problem…except for the week I’ll be at the beach.  Hmmm…beach walking can be fun and the sights are amazing and the wind and waves keep you from getting too hot while walking.  But Ft. Walton Beach isn't made for great walking.  The shoreline is too angled...too steep.  It makes my legs hurt, and not that good hurt that comes from exercising.  But there’s always the road…an early morning walk.  And then I realized that I won’t have to walk on my own.  S will be there.  And she’s in the challenge, too.  We can’t let B get too far ahead of us.  So we’ll walk together even though we will be on vacation.  Because that’s what friends do.  They challenge each other to be better and stronger and healthier.  And yes, we are competing to an extent, but we are friends first.  I thought of my friends, and I smiled.

The top of my head itched a bit so I reached up to scratch it and I felt the part for my two pathetic little pony tails.  My hair is too short for one but too long to not pull back when exercising.  Two teeny pony tails at the back of my head is my only option.  While home for Nana’s funeral and Easter, I asked Haley to get me a couple of pony tail holders.  She came back with two for me…and two already in her hair.  While on my errand she decided to pull her hair back just like she knew I would be pulling mine.  My Haley Girl.  This silly amazing funny sweet sparkling big dreaming little piece of sunshine.  God knew what he was doing when he sent her to us.  She had pulled her hair up like mine.  And I smiled. 

The rain left puddles on the trail.  Some big and some small.  In some places the water still ran in search of a final pond, puddle, creek, or a hidden dry place waiting for a little water to ease its pain.  Water flows into the ditch at the corner of Parnell Road and Carol Street.  When the fire hydrant was opened on that same corner the water flooded both streets before disappearing down the drains and culverts.  As neighborhood kids, we lived for those days.  We stomped and splashed and kicked water at one another until we were kicking the street itself because the flood had finally ceased.  I reached the small puddle on the track and walked through it instead of around it.  The coolness splashed up onto the backs of my legs as I stomped through the puddle and kicked water at the dry-ish space in front of me.  And I smiled.

After ducking under one of my favorite side roads, the path climbed up a bit.  At the top of the hill I realized that Britt Nicole as singing “You’re worth more than gold.”  Such a great phrase.  My sister tells her girls that she loves them “more than a rainbow.”  Aunt Diane’s phrase of choice was always “I love you to the moon and back.”  That simple and yet powerful phrase seemed to belong only to her before she left us.  Now, you can’t walk into a place selling home decorations or a gift shop without those words dancing across a canvas, a pillow, or a painted piece of driftwood.  It’s amazing how much the world changes after a loved one passes.  Sadness is inevitable, but sometimes you get happy little reminders sent straight from heaven.  I thought about her hugs and lipstick-y kisses.  And I smiled.

The mechanical app voice told me that I had walked a mile.  She told me how long I had been walking.  Little slower than yesterday, but no reason to feel discouraged.  I knew I was moving slightly slower than yesterday.  I felt it in my calves.  And then Pharrell was singing and telling me to clap along if I felt like a room without a roof.  I didn't want to clap along.  I did, however, want to dance.  I wanted to dance like Kevin Bacon in Footloose.  I wanted jump around with my hands above my head.  I wanted to close my eyes and swing my head and pump my fists in the air.  I didn't do any of those things.  My calves were burning and I was a little winded and I was walking along a stretch of the trail visible to passing cars.  Instead...I felt that song in my head and in my heart.  Eventually I WILL dance and sing while walking the trail and listening to that song.  I thought of the day that I really won't care who sees me because I will be so fit that I actually can jump around like Kevin Bacon and pump my fists in the air because my calves are burning and I'm not winded.  I thought of that day that's coming.  And I smiled.

After turning around on the trail and heading back to the car, I spotted the bench.  M and I once stopped our bike ride at that bench.  We were, sad to say, exhausted after riding our bikes for the first time in months.  We huffed and puffed down the trail believing that we were really covering ground only to reach the bench and discover that we hadn't even completed one mile.  While she sat on the bench, I laid on the ground with my feet propped up.  I was tired.  My feet had gone to sleep.  Little kids and moms pushing strollers and grandpas running…they all passed us by.  In an attempt to hide our lack of physical fitness, we pretended to look for shapes in the clouds.  We laughed at each other.  We laughed at ourselves.  I thought of that ride.  And I smiled. 

The path ran through a small grove of trees.  Just as I entered the shade a happy little breeze passed through the trees.  A lot of people think the “Happy Little Trees” painter coined that phrase, but they are wrong.  “Happy Little…” belongs to Nana.  Especially when it’s a happy little breeze.  Whether sitting on the beach or out on the patio or in the gazebo or just watching a ballgame…the wind would begin to blow and Nana would smile and say, “Oh…that’s a happy little breeze.”  I raised my hands above my head and thanked Nana for sending the breeze to cool me off.  I thought of her wobbly walk and her big booming laugh and her funky sense of style.  I thought of her.  And I smiled.

I was almost back to the car when I thought about today being Father’s Day.  While this wasn't the first time today I thought about it (I was on Facebook this morning…it’s kinda hard to miss), this was the first time along my walk that I thought about the significant role that my dad has played in my life.  He’s a role model.  A coach.  A cheerleader.  A die-hard Razorback fan.  A Pawpaw.  A grill-master.  A puller of skiers.  A fixer.  A beach bum.  A listener.  A giver of expert advice.  A prayer warrior.  A believer.  A tough guy.  A teddy bear.  An ice cream eater.  A cookie thief.  A friend.  A father.  A dad.  I thought of him.  And I smiled.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I like to think...

It was small…red…and had the perfect phrase painted on the side… “Going to Grandma’s”…and I wanted one.  I can remember friends talking about their summer vacations and spring breaks and long weekends. 
“What did you do during your vacation?” teachers would ask.
“I spent a week with my grandma,” the students replied.

As a kid, I felt cheated in a way.  I can remember actually WISHING that my grandparents lived far away just so I could go visit them.  It just didn’t seem right that I was denied what my childhood brain decided was the way life should be.  I should have had at least one grandmother that lived far, far away.  But no.  My grandmothers lived in my town.  Instead of riding for hours and hours in the car, Mawmaw lived (and still lives) half-way across town.  Visiting her was as simple as stopping by Dad’s shop after school.  Nana lived on the same street.  Visiting her was as simple as riding my bike to the other end of the street…a simple bike ride that took no more than five minutes.  And that was only because over half of the trip was uphill.
As kids, we didn’t need a holiday or special occasion to have dinner with the grandparents.  All we needed was dinner time.  It happened all the time.  Weekday…weekend…Saturday lunch…it didn't matter when.  The majority of my childhood memories contain not only my parents and siblings but also grandparents…aunts…uncles…cousins…or some combination of all of the above.  As a child I felt cheated out of some rite of passage because my family all lived in the same town as me.  As an adult, I now know
that I was blessed beyond measure. 

Blessings come in many shapes and sizes.  One such blessing looked like Nana.  Little bit short…little bit round...a slight waddle to her walk.  She could cook like an Italian master…bring a dying plant back to life…and her Christmas tree was a sight to behold.  Light seemed to follow her wherever she went.  She loved to laugh…wore crazy shoes…and believed that faith could cure most ailments. 

In the good old days, Nana spent DAYS AND DAYS decorating her Christmas tree.  She started with a simple, artificial tree decked out in white lights.  The topper came next…always an angel (eventually one that moved) with stiff strings of crystals and greenery adding a glow that seemed to come, not from the lights, but from heaven itself.  Next came the clear or crystal balls that she hung near the trunk of the tree.  “To add an extra sparkle,” she said.  Nana made ornaments out of Styrofoam, sequins, beads, ribbons, and straight pins.  Spheres…cones…boxes…even a small house…she had an eye for all things artistic, sparkly, and shiny.  She finished the tree with a smattering of handmade, store-bought, and gifted ornaments.  Front and center was always an orange, clay cat…T.C. was his name…meant to be a replica of their own fluffy, orange cat.  (Side note…I absolutely blame T.C. for my allergy to cats.  I wasn’t allergic to cats until after he died, and we have the pictures to prove it.  I’m pretty sure he’s haunting me.)  Nana was very particular about her tree, and she would only let us help her decorate when she was almost finished.  She had to have everything “just so.”  And it was always beautiful…gorgeous…inviting.  I like to think I’m a little bit like Nana when it comes to Christmas trees.

Most Christian homes have a cross or two hanging on the wall.  Most Catholic homes have a crucifix or two hanging on the wall.  My nana’s house always had both…a LOT of both.  She had a few sprinkled around the house in some of the obvious places…bedrooms, kitchen, even in the hallway.  But she also had a lot of crosses gathered on an otherwise blank space.  She was never quite finished with it, either.  There was always a little more room…a beautiful little gem of a thing…some that seemed to be a special reminder of someone or something.  Some, she would say, she bought “just because she wanted a prize.”  While my collection is nothing like hers, there are several crosses decorating the walls in my own home.  I like to think I’m a little bit like Nana when it comes to crosses on the wall.

Nana's canisters live in my kitchen.
Like all truly southern families, food was always present when family and friends gathered together…and my southern family was no exception.  Add Nana’s Italian heritage on top of southern hospitality and you get meals that leave your taste buds in bliss and exhaustion as you roll yourself away from the table.  Nana cooked her spaghetti sauce for days.  Literally.  Yes, she had a quick version that she could whip up in a few hours, but her REAL sauce…sauce planned for in advance…began its journey roughly 36 hours before dinner time.  Her magical concoction of tomatoes and spices brewed and simmered in the massive steel pot. At some point, large pieces of lamb were added to the pot along with the most amazing meatballs ever rolled and browned before taking a swim in the tomato-y goodness.  As family and friends began to gather for the feast, Nana carefully lifted the meat from the spaghetti sauce and separated it into two bowls.  Noodle of choice?  Rotini…also known as “drills” to my baby brother.  Lewis would stab a couple of needles with his fork, pop them into his mouth, and immediately act as if a drill was going mad inside his mouth.  When I go to the grocery store for pasta, I instinctively reach for rotini.  My sauce rarely takes days to cook, but my meatball recipe gets better and better each time I cook them.  I like to think I’m a little bit like Nana when it comes to cooking for family and friends.

Laughter is the best medicine.  Always.  And Nana was no stranger to laughter.  She loved television shows and movies that others considered weird.  “Are You Being Served?” was a ridiculous British comedy that came on at 10:00 on PBS, and it was always one of her favorite shows.  “Don’t you want to watch the news?” people would ask.  After all, most adults watch the news.  Nana didn’t watch the news.  “The news is depressing,” she’d say.  “This makes me laugh.  I’d much rather laugh than be depressed.”  I hate watching the news; the news is depressing.  I’d much rather laugh than be depressed.  I like to think I’m a little bit like Nana when it comes to watching the news.

The addition of the Turner Classic Movies channel was both a blessing and curse for my childhood.  The curse part came first.  Nana was OBSESSED with that silly channel.  More often than not you would find a black and white movie playing on her television when you walked into her house.  Spencer Tracey, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, and, of course, Shirley Temple were regulars in her house.  We spent hours and hours watching movies together.  She taught me to love “The Little Princess” and “Heidi” and “Boys Town” and “National Velvet” and countless others.  “They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore,” she’d say.  At the time I thought, “Yep.  Now they make movies in color.”  Now I think, “They just don’t make movies like that anymore.  Those were the good old days.”  People always ask why “Gone with the Wind” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” are two of my absolute favorite movies.  I like to think I’m a little bit like Nana when it comes to movies.

“Eat your carrots…they are good for your yeyes.”
“I’m going to get you on your goolie!”
“I love you…a bushel and a peck…”
“Miss Lizzie had a baby…”
“Jeepers…creepers…where’d you get those peepers?”
“Round and round a ballie…”
“I’m going to bock ya, bock ya!”
“I love you.  I love you.  I love you.”
Nana had a way with words.  If you didn’t know her, you often had no idea what she was talking about.  She had her own language…some crazy mixture of her Sicilian parents, her Bronx upbringing, and her many years in the south…and her general “Nana-ness.”  The woman knew how to turn a phrase.  But the last quote will always be my favorite.  “I love you.  I love you.  I love you.”  Spoken slow and deliberate…those are the last words my nana said to me.  As I was leaving her house in February, she hugged me close, and ever so softly told me that she loved me.  “I love you, too, Nana,” I told her.  And I meant it.  I still do.  My Nana was an amazing woman.  And she left an amazing legacy.  I can’t garden like she could.  My pasta sauce will never taste like hers.  And my Christmas tree will never shine quite as brightly as hers once did.  But I love to laugh.  And I decorate my house with crosses.  And having old movies in the house is more important than bread and milk when the snow starts to roll in.  Sometimes people tell me that I have a way with words, and I love my family and friends with my whole heart.

I like to think I’m a little bit like Nana.