One of my pieces in Serving Up Memory is entitled “Hats and Cornbread,” and it begins by telling of the Thanksgiving after my mother’s passing. My father had predeceased her by two years, and so we were, her children and grandchildren, trying our darnedest to make this holiday festive. By golly, we were not going to let the grim reaper steal our joy.

A number of us, including two of my siblings and I, gathered on Chesnut Street with a  “take-in” meal. I don’t recall the victuals, but I do remember that we ate in the kitchen and not the dining room and that we felt strange and happy at the same time—strange because our parents weren’t there in their own home and happy that we were together. At some point, we rummaged through our parents’ (and grandparents’) hats, and we each selected the one we wanted to wear. My nieces picked up pocketbooks of my mother’s, remembering that she always made sure her purse matched her shoes.

When I submitted that story to the group for critiquing, I wasn’t expecting the feedback that I received. I expected every person to make recommendations for improvement, and I even wondered if a couple of writers might think the story too sappy. Boy was I surprised!

Sure, there were some recommendations, but the consensus was that the events of that Thanksgiving afternoon had universal meaning. Although it was a personal story, “Hats and Cornbread” has implications for every family who has suffered loss or change, whether by death, divorce, remarriage, relocation, or any other reason. People leave us, and we are left to rebuild the structure of not just holidays, but of everyday life.

Back to that Thanksgiving afternoon, here’s the passage about it from Serving Up Memory:

We wore our hats hoping to keep that holiday spirit alive. Did it work? Not really. The picture snapped by my son-in-law late that afternoon looks like everyone is having a good old time, but looks can be deceiving. Despite our fake smiles, we were all still heartbroken, our psyches raw with fresh grief.

It probably hit me for the first time that evening: My family holidays with kith and kin in the manner I had known all of my life were over. Sure, I’d share turkey and dressing, red velvet cake, and other seasonal fare with various relatives each year, but my mother’s passing on October 20, 2000, marked the end of gatherings in the family home. Marjorie Ann was the heart of it all. It was never the same after her passing.

As the season creeps nearer each day, thoughts of earlier gatherings and traditions fill my mind. John and Margie’s children have all moved on, yet we hold those memories of love and good cheer in our hearts. I have other families on my mind today, and I hope that they’ll all find their way into and through the holidays without stumbling or experiencing crippling heartache.

The death of a loved one, regardless of age or status, changes everything. You can’t ignore the loss, the empty place at the dining room table. And yet you must not succumb to grief. As I write this, I’m thinking of dozens of people whose holiday season has been unalterably changed, some just within the last few days. I’m hoping they’ll all find a way to feel peace.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to get all-religious and start spouting off (or writng down) pious phrases. I just want to share a few thoughts I’ve had the last few days without coming across like a zealot.

Quick story. Nearly three decades ago, my father and another man were engaged in a conversation when my dad noticed the man looking at me with what seemed (to my father) to be curiosity. When Daddy looked at him inquiringly as if to say, “Why are you staring at Jayne?” the man  said, “Is she the sister that’s a Mormon?”

Daddy said he turned back and looked at me again and said, “Yep, she’s the one. But don’t worry. She’s not fanatical about it.” I wasn’t offended when my dad shared this story. I knew what he meant. I’m not going to knock someone over the head with my beliefs, especially when I’ve always known that talk is cheap. Some of the most Bible-quoting, holier than thou folks that I know are the scariest. But that’s a story for another day.

That said, I’ve been thinking of the phrase “tender mercies” and some associated incidents that I’ve observed lately.

My husband has a heartache. It’s been nearly a year since his son died of melanoma and each day is a struggle. Although he has three other wonderful children and seven precious grandchildren, that almost unbearable pain is still there. Sometimes it’s a dull ache, like a muscle that you’ve overused, and then for no apparent reason, the ache become a sharp pain that nearly cripples him.

BUT every day of his life, good things are going on. I like to call them “tender mercies.” One recent day, he got a message from his son’s first cousin letting him know that he (my husband) was in his thoughts. “Hey man, just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you. I know this time of year is rough.” A tender mercy, one that conveyed, “I care about you, and I haven’t forgotten Chris. Never will.”

He has seven healthy, beautiful, energetic, and funny grandchildren. One of them spent some time with her grandfather in a deer stand last week, just chillin’ and enjoying Mother Nature. Little Cooper, the youngest one in town, always warms his granddad’s heart when he says, “Hey PaPa” as he runs into his arms. This past weekend, my youngest grandson Ethan cried when we left Atlanta, not for me but for Otis. To me, all of these are tender mercies bestowed by a loving Heavenly Father. Some cynics might say, “If He’s so loving, why did He take Otis’ son?” I don’t know the answer to that. I’m Jayne; He’s God.

Last week as I was leaving church, a former bishop told me of the sudden death of one of his brothers-in-law. He was hit by a speeding 17-year-old and died immediately. As we talked, the grieving bishop  said, “But he wouldn’t come back even if he could.” I needed to hear that. What a true statement. Knowing what Chris is currently experiencing, I don’t think he’d want to come back now even if he could. I told his dad that, hoping to offer some solace. Was it helpful? I don’t know. I, however, see that chance conversation as a tender mercy.

This post is longer than I intended it to be so I’ll wrap it up. My thoughts on this beautiful Monday morning are not fanatical or preachy. At least I hope not. I just wanted to share my belief that there are always tender mercies around us, but we can’t always see them when we’re focusing on the sad, evil, vile, sordid, heartbreaking stuff.

As a final note, I can’t recall the moment of my sweet mother’s death without also recalling the love that surrounded her at that moment of passing. I’ll always remember the soft hymn playing in the background (at her request) and the sun dappled radiance in the room. My sibs were all there, and I know they felt those tender mercies too.

books

Before I moved back to Camden, I fretted about a number of things, the primary one being whether I’d adjust, whether there would be people I could relate to and become friends with. I need not have worried. Work, work, work, and more work kept me busy for the first ten years, and I was very fortunate to have worked with people who were (still are) smart, funny, and a pleasure to be around.

Believing that all work and no play would make Jayne a dull girl, I soon found additional endeavors and friends that have aided in my adjustment. Before I moved back to the midlands, I asked my husband if he thought there would be a book club I could join. “Sure,” he said, probably only half listening and hoping I’d stop talking so that he could get back to his ball game or tennis match.

The reading group/book club didn’t materialize right away, but one September evening several years ago a few of us started one at church. Although our initial “let’s do this” conversation took place at church, we agreed on two rules right away: no religious books and no nonfiction books. It’s not that we were opposed to reading books of those genres; it’s just that we read them already.

We wanted to read fiction, both old and classic and newly hot off the press. We wanted to feel, to be transported to other times and places, to get lost in story. For the most part, we’ve stuck to our rules, but last year we veered away a bit when we read Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave. We’ve read quite a bit of historical fiction, and one novel that touched all of us is Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill.

In one of our early months, we read The Loop by Nicholas Evans, and a couple of members stopped coming after that. They declared that they weren’t going to “read trash.” What could we say? Do? While I wouldn’t classify The Loop as trash, I will admit there was a couple who became intimately involved without exchanging wedding rings. However, the book itself was about wolves and rangers and naturalists, and most of us (as I recall) found it captivating.

Did the angry departure of two members mean that we needed to carefully screen all future books in case there were a hint of, well, you know? None of us are into pornographic, violent, or crude writing, and none of us would knowingly choose anything inappropriate. While we were unhappy and perplexed about the two members’ exit, we learned a lesson: it’s hard, perhaps impossible, that everyone in a group is going to like the same kinds of books.

We also learned that the mix of people has to be just right. Their personalities have to jibe with one another. Who wants to be in a reading group with a know-it-all or someone who’s belligerent, stuffy, or arrogant (about reading tastes and literature)? After a while, our group slowly shrank to a unit of flexible, agreeable, courteous women who respect and genuinely care for one another.

Here’s how we operate. Each person selects a book and a month. That month, she’s in charge of the setting, discussion, and refreshments. The latter, by the way, usually aligns with the book. A few years ago, one of my choices was Elie Wiesel’s Night, and we had bread and water. True, the bread was chewy and fresh, and the water was bottled, but the “treat” complemented the book .One month we read The Chronicles of Narnia, and Connie provided Turkish delights to sample during our discussion.

The group met last night and decided on a list of must-reads for the year. Carol is up first, and she selected The Rent Collector by Cameron Wright. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of this writer until last night, and when I logged on to Amazon to order the book for my Kindle, I was delighted to see so many wonderful reviews…hundreds of them. If not for my membership in the reading group, I might never have known of this book.

Admittedly, being a part of a book club is partly a social thing. But it’s also educational, mind expanding, and mentally stimulating. If you have a desire to be a part of such a group, you might consider joining ours… or maybe I can suggest one to you.

In the meantime, it’s time to begin reading The Rent Collector. What’s on your must-read list?

Teaching at two of South Carolina’s technical/community lessons taught me lots of lessons and shaped much of my behavior. I learned to multi-task, prioritize, manage stress, work with a variety of different people, and change with the times. Because of the experiences of those decades, I know which battles to fight, how to form alliances, and how to sidestep negative energy. And that was even before stepping into a classroom! I learned those lessons in the hallways, offices, and off-campus when struggling with different issues.

Sometimes I wonder if my experiences honed me or whether it was just a good person/environment fit from Day One. Over the years, I saw many people come and go, and sometimes it was clearly because they didn’t understand the magnitude of the task at hand. I don’t think magnitude is too powerful a word here. As someone near and dear to me recently said, “Teaching is hard.” He was right. It is hard, and it’s not for everyone

For about a dozen years I served as department chair for the social sciences and humanities department, and one fall semester I hired an adjunct faculty member to teach economics. He looked so promising! Poised, confident, and knowledgeable, he appeared to be the part-time teacher sent from above.

All was well for the first week. Monday of the next week, however, he was a no-show.  One little class did him in. All those students (25), all that preparation, so many details like financial aid forms to sign, attendance to keep up with, names to learn, questions to answer. He had misjudged the nature of the work involved, and I truly feel confident in saying that he has never taught in any academic setting again.

I took to the profession like a moth to a flame. Sorry about the cliché (sort of). I had to work like the dickens (oops, another one), but I thoroughly enjoyed most of the experiences I had and the people I met. Most of my co-workers were fine people whose hearts and minds and energy were directed towards helping their students. As in any profession, there were a few who were arrogant and dismissive (to students), but they didn’t last long.

Time to bring this to an end and get on with my day. I’ll have to mull over the person/environment fit a little more. I do think it’s incredibly important in career choice. I also think that the profession and all that it entails continue to hone and shape the person.

I’m not complaining one iota. I am saying that even in “semi-retirement” I still have a hard time relaxing. I still prioritize, multi-task, rub shoulders with fascinating people, and sidestep negative energy whenever possible.

Comments from anyone about teaching or about the person/environment fit and its importance? Any advice or experiences to share about your profession?

 

 

While walking yesterday morning, I listened to a podcast in which J.R. Havlan, a former writer for The Daily Show, shared some advice for storytellers. Whether writing comedy, a short story, a journal entry, or a blog about traveling, the writer would do well to take Havlan’s advice seriously.  If I hadn’t heard that podcast, I too might be wondering, “Why  am I writing about our Girls’ Trip to TN?”

Havlan says that a writer should always look beyond the facts. What’s important are the emotions and the feelings beneath the facts and not the facts themselves. ASK: What does this piece of writing mean? What does the story mean to you? What’s the reason you’re writing about it? Make it about something. Otherwise, why bring it up?

I’ve been writing a chronicle of our three days in the mountains that happened a couple of weeks ago but why? Do I have aspirations of becoming a travel writer? Not at all. Then why?

  • Time is fleeting and we need to just do it. It’s a big beautiful world out there and yet too often we stay securely in our own narrow little worlds.
  • Also, traveling is a huge memory-making thing. I’ve known my fellow travelers all of their lives, and now we have some extra special memories outside of our regular environment. When’s the last time you rode with someone on a chair lift up and down the side of a mountain, sang in a diner at 10:30 at night, or laughed so much that your stomach hurt?

Back to my story. Since this was our third and final day of our mountain Girls’ Trip, we wanted to make hay while the sun shone. Up early, we packed the car, checked out, and headed towards the downtown area.

After locating the sky lift, we parked the car, and my sis and I plunked down our $15 and headed up the side of the mountain oohing and ahing over the majestic beauty of it all. While we steadily rose up, up, up for a better view of the surrounding mountains, including Clingman’s Dome, our daughters explored some shops along the “Tourist Strip.”

By now everyone had done something on her bucket list except for my niece, and Katherine really wanted to visit the Apple Barn in Sevierville. I’m so glad we stopped there. There are a number of enticing shops where one could buy food, wine, and all manner of apple-related products. Lunch was nice, and although the meal itself was tasty, I have to admit that I most enjoyed the fruit julep and the soup.

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I can’t recount all of the fun things we did and saw, but here are a few:

  • We took turns taking pictures with fellow travelers. Cars careened off of the road onto the overlooks and people sprang out of the car for a quick look and photo op before heading off to continue their mountain adventure. Most of the time, they volunteered to take our picture if we would agree to reciprocate, but sometimes one of us approached them first. Our favorite group was a couple with a young child who stopped for the sole purpose of taking our picture. From about an hour away, they said they made the trip every month or two and gave us some tips for our next visit.
  • We survived the parking nightmare at Tanger, a shopping mecca so crowded that traffic cops were there to direct traffic, both automobile and pedestrian.
  • We found a Bible that had been left at a church in Cades Cove; the owner had written a special passage about his fervent desire to marry someone and his concern over whether she would say yes.
  • We tasted fried pickles, ate the most decadent chocolate brownies ever, and shared a huge banana split to honor my other daughter’s 39th birthday.
  • I watched an adorable Chinese child crumble her saltines in a small plate and eat them with a spoon.
  • I learned that my sister wants to change the spelling of her name to Ayan and that my niece has developed an interesting accent. According to her mom, Katherine now adds an “a” to the end of many of her words, and soon we were all doing it.

The story beneath these facts is that road trips are worth every dime and every minute of time that you spend. I know without a doubt that there are three other South Carolina gals who are still singing Mickey’s “Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggidy dog” and remembering one last hurrah before heading back to school.

 

 

 

 

On the second day of our mountain excursion, the girls and I ate a deliciously sweet and ridiculously fattening breakfast on the condo balcony. Huge muffins! Fortified with sugar and a good night’s sleep, we headed to Smoky Mountain National Park a few miles away.

Before watching an excellent educational 10-minute film, we spent some time in the gift shop and fell in love with the stuffed bears. We marveled at the variety of books, hats, shirts, magnets, and coffee mugs and somehow managed to restrain ourselves from buying a souvenir. While taking a picture of the girls posing with Smokey, I sensed that someone was watching me, and when I turned around, I saw a spry, smiling woman looking at me.

“You from around here?” she asked.

“No. South Carolina.”

“I’m from Ohio,” she said. “I’m here with my family.” And then, after appraising me and finding me a suitable recipient, she gave me an angel pin created from tiny pearls and safety pins.” I LOVED it!

“It takes me about six minutes to make one of these, and every day I find someone to give one to, someone who would understand that angels are looking over us.”

“Thank you so much. Am I pinning it on right?” I asked as I struggled with the pin.

“That looks fine,” she replied, checking out the angel now affixed to my denim shirt.

Before we went our separate ways, she told me she was 74 years old and walked five miles every day. Her generosity and spunkiness impressed me so much that I hugged her as we parted company. Ah, the kindness of strangers.

The South Carolina Foursome later motored along the 24 miles to Cades Cove. What a pleasure it was to ride down this mountainous, tree-lined road. A babbling brook was on our right for much of the journey, and we enjoyed watching the swimmers and tubers having fun. Just when we were about to get frustrated with the lloonnnggnng road, there it was: Cades Cove.To me, there’s a reverence about this quiet, restful area. I’ve only been twice, but both times, I got caught up in the beauty of the place as I pondered the lives of the people who once lived there.

On a schedule, we had time to stop at only two buildings, the John Oliver home and the Primitive Baptist Church. We wondered how John and his wife raised a family in that small but lovely log home, we who have inside plumbing, electricity, and wifi. My sister, niece, and I sang “Amazing Grace” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the church, and as I sat in one of the pews, I tried to imagine how it would have felt to sit there 150 years ago, surrounded by believers and neighbors. After our worship service, I took a quick walk around the cemetery out back, holy ground with lots of history.

Since our agreement was that each of the four of us got to do something special of her choosing, we decided to leave so that the others could do their thing. However, almost right away traffic came to a dead stop. We inched along going from 5 – 10 miles per hour for perhaps 40 minutes, halting completely several times. During one of those stops, I got out of the car and started walking along beside the barely moving cars. What was going on? I knew there couldn’t have been a wreck on this beautiful one-way road.

After 30—35 minutes of walking, I came across what was probably the problem: a bear sighting in the woods. Rangers, photographers, and rubberneckers were all looking towards the woods and talking animatedly about his (her?) size, location, and behavior. At that point I realized my vulnerability. If the bear saw me and if he were hungry and if I couldn’t get in anyone’s car….Fortunately, my rescue party of three arrived about that time, and I jumped back in the car with them. All was well.

We left the park for the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, and although my sister and I opted for a visit to the Tanger Outlets instead, the younger set thoroughly enjoyed the museum. The exhibits were authentic and educational, and the girls spent two hours learning and exploring. Afterwards, we took advantage of a photo op outside.

Hungry as bears (couldn’t resist that), we went to Mel’s Diner for a late dinner/supper. My older daughter’s birthday was that day, and we had promised to enjoy a fun meal topped off with a decadent dessert—all in her honor. We didn’t see Flo or Alice, but we did encounter some friendly servers and a fun but loud atmosphere. The food was fine, and the banana split was marvelous. Mel even serves double layer banana splits for those with extra hardy appetites.

 

Back at the condo, we soon settled in for a long summer’s nap. We knew some good restorative sleep was needed for the next and last day’s activities.

It’s hard to believe that  it’s already been a week since my sister and our daughters pulled out of Camden and headed for the hills on a girls’ trip. Gatlnburg was our ultimate destination, but we enjoyed the some sights along the way too. This morning I’m remembering our daughters’ disappointment that the bears in downtown Hendersonville weren’t as”lively” as they imagined they would be. In raving about this delightful mountain community, my sister and I had both mentioned bears being up and down Main Street. Little did we know that our daughters thought they were real, so real in fact that they wondered how we’d possibly be able to dine outside.

I should have told the younger set about Bearfootin’, a project created to raise money for local charities by displaying colorful artwork along the downtown sidewalks. The hand painted fiberglass bears are created and painted by local artists, and every spring there are new bears. I love them! Evidently, so do a lot of other folks because everywhere I turned, people were posing for pictures with their favorite bear.

Recalling their surprise and relief about the bears still brings a smile to my face. So does thinking about our delicious lunch at the Mountain Deli, a place where tourists and locals alike gather for good food and friendly service. Housed in what appears to be an old drug store, the atmosphere is charming, especially with that great view right overlooking Main Street.

Appetites satisfied, we sauntered down to Mast General Store, a favorite shopping site in mountain towns. After browsing at Mast, we strolled in and out of various shops including Kilwin’s Chocolates. Yum. What a sweet array of tempting candy! We stopped to take several pictures of bears, all attired in different types of clothing, and then jumped in the car to continue our trip to Tennessee.

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We came into Gatlinburg on the scenic route, complete with a tunnel and some fabulous overlooks. At first we were frustrated by the long and seemingly interminable winding road, but within a few minutes we all succumbed to its beauty. As my daughter Elizabeth said, “If we’d come another way, we wouldn’t have seen these beautiful sights.” And she was right. With several  gorgeous vistas,  this road afforded the first glimpses of breathtakingly beautiful mountain scenery. The above picture was taken by a friendly stranger at one of the overlooks.

 

We finally arrived at our destination, Oak Leaf at Gatlinburg Chateaus, and checked in. The check in process went smoothly, and the staff was helpful and accommodating. We were pleasantly surprised to see that our condo looked just like the photographs. With two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen, and a living room, the set-up was perfect for the four of us. There was even a balcony for early morning reading, journal writing, and conversing. I found this fabulous deal on flipkey.com in case anyone is considering a mountain getaway.

We freshened up, and within 20 minutes we were heading towards downtown Gatlinburg (two blocks away). What a feast for our eyes. People of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, appearance,  and dress were thronging the streets, and I could readily understand why. There were attractions and restaurants galore, and we gleefully made plans for the next two days. That evening, however, we sailed right through and headed to Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Since some of our bucket list items were in these areas, we wanted to check out the lay of the land.

We soon spotted the Tanger Outlets and the Titanic Museum, and satisfied that we could find our way back the next day, the tired but happy foursome dined at the Texas Roadhouse in Sevierville. Eating at a locally owned and operated restaurant would have been nice, but at this point, we decided to settle for something familiar to all of us. The service and food were great, but the show going on outside of the window was even more enjoyable. We got the giggles watching a woman pick her nose, a little boy killing flies, and a man who kept putting his hands down the back of his britches. Word to the wise: People inside restaurants can see you!

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Stay tuned for more details!

 

That tiny blue cup sitting in the windowsill next to the infant’s picture might look like just another gewgaw to you. It isn’t. It’s fraught with meaning. My grandson Ethan, 20 months old at the time, gave it to me on Thanksgiving morning as I left Lake Lure. I had received word about the passing of my stepson Chris and was battling shock, disbelief, and sadness.

As I prepared to return to Columbia, the precious tot came running up and, with a big smile, held up this miniature plastic chalice. I think he sensed my grief and wanted to cheer me up. I later placed it in a bathroom window beside Ethan’s picture, a reminder of his eagerness in offering it to me at such a low moment. Even in the grimmest of circumstances, there is beauty and love.

Ethan’s father Paul gave me a perfect segue into this post last week when he sent me a link to a Radio Lab podcast about things. I don’t know whether he sent me the link because of the reference to object permanence or because of my proclivity to surround myself with things that have special meaning to me. I have rocks, shells, and jewelry that once belonged to someone dear, were given to me, or were once in a special location.

According to the podcast, things remind us of events, people, locations. They evoke emotions, good and not so good. Some are imbued with the essence and energy of those who touched or owned them, and all could tell a story. Since objects can’t talk, it’s us to us to share their significance.

After listening to the podcast, I walked around my house and snapped these pictures in less than a minute. All are important—to me, that is. You already know about the blue plastic cup. Let’s take a look at the others.

See the sailboat? Paul made it when he was about 10 years old and gave it to my mother. She was delighted with this treasure and displayed it on a bookcase for years. After her death, I claimed it as mine, and I love it for the same reason she did: his little boy hands had created it.

The trio of wooden elephants reminds me of Dr. Peter Ekechukwu, friend and former colleague at Horry Georgetown Technical College. On one of his trips to Nigeria, his homeland, Peter selected the elephants and brought them back to me as a farewell gift. A trustworthy friend, he and I used to commiserate about our many challenges as department chairs, and when I left the college, he and his wife Angela prepared a feast for us, and even now I can smell the delicious bouquet of aromas wafting throughout their home.

The lovely lavender vase belonged to my grandmother, also known as MaMa Padgett. She collected small pitchers and vases and had quite a collection displayed in her china cabinet. A few years ago, her daughter allowed MaMa’s granddaughters to choose a favorite from the collection. I chose this one and two more, one for each of my daughters. Where did this one come from? What was it that caught my grandmother’s eye? I selected it because of its color and shape, and I like thinking that perhaps those were her reasons too. She saw it; she touched it. Now it’s mine to see and touch.

The huge shell belonged to my mother. Although she wasn’t much of a beachcomber, I think she felt a reverence for the sea and its bounty. This huge shell sat atop a bathroom cabinet and held fragment soap balls. I keep it on my dresser and display pearls in it. They’re pretty, and they serve as reminders that friction can create beauty.

What about you? Do you have a special letter? A piece of jewelry that reminds you of a loved one? What about a movie or theatre ticket? Some people even hang on to articles of clothing that they were wearing at a special event or during a time that they enjoyed.

Why the edginess? This was Carrie’s sixth child, and it had been nearly a decade since her stillborn baby boy had briefly entered our lives. Between then and now, there had been four live births, perfect babies. Still, there it was, a feeling I couldn’t shake.

“The doctor’s probably going to do a C-section,” Carrie had said a few days earlier. I sensed the apprehension in her voice and assured her that I would be there, not just for the delivery but also to help out with the other children afterwards.

As my daughter Elizabeth and I sped down I-95 that July morning, it was already muggy outside. Another scorcher! Neither of us knew what to expect or even how to think about the upcoming birth, so we mostly rode in silence.

“Want to stop at Cracker Barrel?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said.

“Me either. Let’s just get there.

“K.”

Arriving in Savannah a couple of hours later, we squeezed into a skinny parking spot in the hospital’s parking garage, and darted over to the hospital. After getting our stickers allowing entrance to the maternity ward, we hustled down the hall looking for Carrie. But where was she? By now, she should be getting prepped for surgery, but where?

We soon found our way to her room, and there she sat looking a little anxious and preoccupied, almost fragile.

“Whew. Glad we got here before they took you to the OR. I’d have been upset if I’d missed you,” I said, giving her a fierce hug.

“No danger of that,” she replied with a wry smile.

“Why? Are they backed up in the operating room?”

“No, nothing like that. The doctor came in, and since he was able to turn the baby, he thinks I should try a vaginal birth.”

“So that’s good, isn’t it?”

“Well, yeah…unless Seth decides to move again before we can get the ball rolling.”

“We’ll just have to trust the doctor, Sweetie.”

“I know, I know. I just wish someone would come and start the Pitocin.”

Carrie had barely spoken when someone came in and whisked her away to another room. Small, the room had a huge window on the far side and a bed square in the middle of the tiled floor. For hours, we took turns waltzing in and out of Carrie’s room, chatting and waiting, waiting, waiting.

Finally, the moment of birth approached, and the doctor shooed everyone out of the room except for Seth’s parents and a nurse.

“Gee, I hate to leave. I’ve never really seen a live birth,” I said for the third or fourth time that day.

No invitation was forthcoming so I joined Seth’s granddaddy and aunt right outside of the room. The granddaddy chuckled and said, “Did you really think that hint was going to help?”

“I was hoping,” I said.

Just then, the door cracked open and Rich said, “Hey Jayne, Want to come inside?”

“You mean it?”

“Sure. Come on in.”

The atmosphere in the room was electric, tense, serious. The nurse counted, and the doctor said, “Push.” Many times.

“I see the head! One more push ought to do it,” the doctor said.

I took a peek and nearly gasped. I could see Seth’s head, but something was wrong. His head was blue. His little blue, limp body followed moments later.

The doctor called for the NICU nurses, and within seconds there were two or three extra nurses in the room with us. Two or three? I truly can’t recall. The atmosphere was charged with tension as the capable nurses worked with the baby and the machines.

I leaned over the tiny, still body on the table and began whispering to him as one of the nurses worked with him.

In the most calm, gentle voice I could muster, I said something like, “Hello Sweet Boy. I’m so glad to see you. I already love you so much. We’ve been waiting for you a long time and came all the way down here this morning just to see you. Wake up, now. I want you to look at me when I tell you how precious you are, how lucky you are to be born to parents who love you so much.”

From the bed, “Mama, what’s wrong? Why isn’t he crying? Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” I said. “He’s just being a lazy little guy.”

“When can I see him?”

“In just a minute. I have to talk to him some more first.”

As I continued to speak to Seth in the soothing tones used by women in all corners of the world when comforting a child, his skin gradually became rosy. My throat tightened. I gulped before speaking again.

“Come on, Buddy. I want to see your pretty eyes.”

I was down on his level, inches from his small pink face.

Seth opened his eyes and stared straight into mine. We held the mutual gaze for several moments, and I heard the nurse tell the doctor that all was well. Amazingly, his APGAR score at birth had been 2 on a scale of 1-10.

I laughed and cried with joy. Seth was alive and well, and I was the first human he had seen on this earth.

When I told a friend of mine about the experience later, she looked into my eyes and said, “You communicated spirit to spirit. He knew who you were.”

That was three years ago. This amazing, precocious, adorable little boy doesn’t remember his grandmother coaxing him into life. But she does. It’s something she’ll never forget.

 

I’m looking forward to going to church today. Boy, do I need it! Whoever said it was a hospital for sinners and not a museum for saints nailed it. I go, not because I’m a Miss Goody Two Shoes, but because I need help remembering and applying all the things I need to do to feel peace…and to live a happy and effective life. There’s often a difference between what He says for us to do and what I actually do, and attending church with like-minded individuals helps me to try a little harder.

He says to love one another. We love those who are most like us, those of a similar social class, religious affiliation, race, and ethnicity. If someone is a Hindu, Jew, or Greek Orthodox, and we are Christians, well, you know what I’m saying. Woe unto those people for being so ill informed and heathen. I seriously do not have a problem with this one, but I have seen it over and over and over again in other Christians. If anyone reading this ever sees me demonstrating (by word or deed) intolerance or prejudice, please call me out on it.

And about that love thing, we often find it easier to love those who love us. If someone ignores us, hurts our feelings, or fails to appreciate us, then that person must have a problem! He or she is therefore unworthy of our love. To take that a step further, some people are so busy loving one another outside of their own homes that they have very little left to offer their own families. I’ve been guilty of this.

He also says to forgive one another. Seventy times seven and all that. But that’s hard to do. In fact, it’s evidently so hard that a member of our bishopric in Camden gave a talk about it last Sunday. Brother Adams reminded us to be humble, meek, and lowly of heart, and among several other scriptures, read Matthew 6: 14-15:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

That’s scary stuff! If we don’t forgive, then neither will He.

And how can anyone who knows anything at all about Christ remember His betrayal in the garden and his words from the cross? “Father forgive them.” If I had been in His position, I definitely would not have been so benevolent. But I’m trying. Just about anyone who knows me has heard me say that the combination of religion and psychology have saved my life (figuratively) many times.

I’m reminded of David A. Bednar’s statement that we choose to be offended. It’s a personal choice. As a person who loves cognitive psychology, I can see the truth in that. For my own mental and emotional health, I choose to turn the other cheek, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and not to take things personally. Not doing so is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Crazy, huh? And yet, I’ve been there, done that. It’s no fun.

I’m wondering how many stories there are in the scriptures about love and forgiveness. Christ and his mistreatment and suffering top the list. Then there are the prodigal son, Joseph and his brothers, and Jacob and Esau. And yet, sometimes we look right over these and other stories and think they are for OTHER PEOPLE. As most intro psychology students can tell you, we just don’t see ourselves the way we really are. It’s a protective mechanism.

No rat poison for this gal. I refuse to be offended and plan to look for the good in everyone I meet–and to try to love them in the best way I can. That doesn’t mean taking them in to raise. It means “in the best way I can.”

 

 

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about.me

Jayne Bowers

Jayne Bowers

I’m Jayne (a.k.a. Mom, Grandmama, and Mrs. Bowers). A native of the American South, I’m a teacher, writer, sister,and friend who loves the beach, the color turquoise, and words (like stellar and mesmerizing). I try to find joy in everyday experiences and believe that even lousy days possess hidden wonder.

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