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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Suzanne Crow Haggerty
Hobo
Tubby (?)
dogs
Spring 1977

Growing up near my grandparents’ farm was simply magical. At times, the place was our own little back-country Camelot, with horses, cows, puppies, the tastiest tomatoes, the sweetest watermelons, a barn filled with hay bales perfect for climbing and a creek suitable for wading, splashing and floating.

Small wonder we never ran across a snake (literally) or broke an arm falling out of a tree, a fate that did befall a younger cousin when I was a teenager.

That small farmhouse was the steadiest structure in my life. While my parents tended to move every few years, my grandparents weren’t going anywhere. Even when I grew up and lived in the same spot for about 10 years, then another place for seven, those houses didn’t feel like home in the way that old brick house in South Mississippi did.

The smell of burning firewood will still transport me to the den, where my grandfather’s wood-burning stove steadily burned during the winter months. The taste of a simple yellow cake with chocolate icing puts me right back in the kitchen, licking the beaters as my grandmother put the finishing touch on a birthday cake.

That era has been over for a number of years – my grandfather died in 1999, and my grandmother in 2010. This fact didn’t really hit home for me until a few weeks ago, however, when my uncle and his wife finally sold the house and the rest of the land (my mom had sold her half, located across the highway, several years ago) to move closer to their daughter.

After completing a business trip in New Orleans earlier this month, I rented a car and met my mom to visit the homestead one last time before it was officially under new ownership.

I expected an emotional, memory-filled goodbye. What I faced, instead, was the realization that home wasn’t really home without the people. Without my grandfather sitting in his recliner, the den was just a room full of furniture. Without my grandmother mixing up family favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the tiny kitchen was just another place to store plates and glasses.

Without a pasture filled with cows, or a barn housing a couple of horses, the back pasture was just a hilltop.

It’s gone, but the memories are priceless. I could choose to be sad, or I can choose to remember rolling around in the back yard with a litter of puppies (with only one case of ringworm during my entire childhood, thank you very much). I can share bittersweet memories, or tell everybody about the time I smacked the Shetland pony while my brother was riding to make her go fast for him (YOU’RE WELCOME and I don’t know why you still hold a grudge about this, Rob).

My fondest hope is that my uncle and aunt can create these kinds of memories for their grandchildren on their new place, which features a slightly smaller piece of land, but has all the potential of my childhood stomping grounds. Go forth, and make those kids remember your house with utter delight.

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Carters

Vanessa Vick/The Carter Center

I can’t tell you why I decided to watch Jimmy Carter’s press conference about his cancer diagnosis last week — I guess the marketing presentation I was working on somehow wasn’t enough to make me cry on its own.

I could go on for days (and several friends and family members will insist that I already have) about former President Carter’s awesome attitude, his straightforward, just-the-facts speaking style, his willingness to accept his condition and its possible (some would say likely) outcome.

In short, the man has had 90 great years, he’s done some exceptional things, and his love for his family, friends, neighbors and the world is without boundary.

What struck me most, however, was Carter’s absolute adoration of his wife, Rosalynn.

He noted that marrying her was the best decision he ever made, and whenever he mentioned her, he did it with a spark of joy in his eyes and in his voice.

They’ve been married for 69 years.

69 years. And he’s still so very much in love.

We hear a lot of spousal rhetoric from politicians (not that Carter is a politician anymore — he’s well into his elder statesman/superhero stage), but a lot of it rings hollow.

I’m reminded of an extensive conversation I had with a couple of Huntsville bloggers a few years ago during which we discussed the overwhelming tendency of married folks to complain non-stop about their spouses at work and when out and about sans spouse.

Our conclusion? If you’re married to someone about whom you have nothing nice to say, why are you married to that person? And if you do have something nice to say about them, why aren’t you saying it?

A lot of us grew up thinking that spouses sniping at and about each other was the norm. Many of the more popular TV shows in the ’70s and ’80s depicted footloose singles (Three’s Company), single moms (One Day at a Time), or functional (at the end of the day) married couples who spent their non-functional moments engaging in ugly banter (All in the Family).

Now that I think of it, there were an awful lot of single folks and divorced/widowed parents on TV during the ’70s and ’80s. Marriage is THAT hard, guys.

I’m not saying you have to be Jimmy Carter, head-over-heels-in-love every second of every day. But if you can’t brag on something about your spouse at least every once in a while, you’ve got problems.

Try saying something nice about your spouse. Now try saying it again, to someone else. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself believing it. Because it’s true. And it’s more important than anything you’re tempted to complain about.

One of my favorite quotes is credited to Robert Anderson: “In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage.”

President Carter has been finding grounds for 69 years. I would say that the rest of us should be so lucky, but instead I’m going to say that the rest of us should try harder. It costs us nothing to be nice, and we might just find ourselves falling in love — yet again — every last day.

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I had the run of my grandparents’ home since before I could even run. I miss that sort of familiarity with a living space.

A few years ago, I realized that our house in Huntsville didn’t feel like home and never would.

Is it weird that a two-bedroom condo in the heart of Midtown Atlanta feels more like home than anywhere I’ve ever spent significant amounts of time, save my grandparents’ house?

After every major family visit, I lament the lack of a comfortable secondary family space. My grandparents’ house was like a second home for my family — we knew where everything was and how to operate the TV and other essentials. We felt free to graze in the kitchen, grabbing leftover biscuits from their stovetop perch throughout the day or snagging Little Debbie snack cakes from the stash that was inevitably residing on top of the fridge.

The house is still there, and I could still go there if I wanted, but my uncle and aunt live in it now so it’s their house. Different stuff, different people, different vibe.

I’m convinced that no one ever feels 100% comfortable in their in-laws’ house, nor do you feel like you have a refrigerator-privilege kind of relationship when there’s a step-parent on board, even when they’re beyond awesome.

This not-being-able-to-go-home-again notion? Totally a thing.

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So … it’s been awhile. I’m back in Atlanta, this time with the husband and the cat, and I’ve returned to the job that I loved but had to leave last year to return to Alabama.

Everything is pretty awesome, overall.

We’re renting a two-bedroom condo in a very walkable part of the city. I can’t walk to work, mind you, but I can walk to a huge park in addition to several grocery stores, museums and restaurants. We have so many entertainment options that I barely know where to begin.

It’s the life-changing adventure that I wanted last year, but I guess I was too early.

Best news: Yang, pictured above, settled right into his city digs. I was afraid he would be too high up to really see anything, but it turns out that he likes to watch the cars driving around below. At night, he perches on his cat condo and watches the city lights, near and far.

Snowmageddon arrived on the third day I was here; like any survivor of multiple hurricanes, however, I was prepared. I stocked up on groceries well before the snow started falling and kicked back to watch the traffic build (I didn’t start work until this week). The husband faced a two-hour commute instead of his usual half hour, but once he was home we unpacked, caught up on “Justified” episodes and drank a lot of coffee (me)/hot chocolate (him). We attempted a romantic walk in the snow, but our trek was foiled when the snow quickly turned to slippery ice. That’s just how snow rolls in the South.

I feel like I’ve finally found  my home planet — not Atlanta itself, per se, but an escape from Suburbia.

This is huge. This is FUN.

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This announcement is more serious than it should be: I’m giving up artificial sweetener.

For the better part of two decades, I’ve stirred the blue stuff or the yellow stuff into my coffee, tea and oatmeal with utter abandon. (As for the pink stuff, seriously, how does that bitter mess still even exist?)

I took up the habit in college during frequent visits to my grandparents. My grandfather, despite never gaining all that much weight, had recently been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and my grandmother immediately traded out the sugar bowl for the blue stuff.

I quickly got used to sweetening my coffee and tea with chemicals. It seemed like the ultimate freebie: sweet beverages without bothersome calories.

I can’t tell you if the blue stuff had any ill effects on my grandfather or not. He died from advanced heart disease before the diabetes could get him outright, although I’m sure the two conditions didn’t co-exist peacefully.

Long story short, the increasing amounts of chatter about artificial sweeteners not being free of consequence have finally sunk in. It just makes sense that tricking your taste buds into thinking that they’re enjoying sugar might just be tricking your body that it’s about to have to process some sugar, too. Given my family history of adult-onset diabetes (my uncle developed it in his late 40s), I don’t need to play fast and loose with my pancreas.

Also, the husband, who has been trying to get me to give up artificial sweetener for years, finally emailed me a story on its possible ill effects with the subject line, “Please stop using artificial sweeteners.”

Nothing like a “please” instead of a “you should” to change a girl’s mind.

So, a couple of months ago I promised to taper off as I made my way through my final Costco-sized box of yellow packets. I began by cutting down on the number of packets I was using, adding only one instead of two to a cup of coffee or tea, and sprinkling only half a packet instead of a whole one over my oatmeal.

I soon came to a somewhat surprising conclusion: Artificial sweetener had enabled me to become accustomed to foods that were way sweeter than they should have been. The husband had suggested that I replace the sweetener in my coffee with (gasp) actual sugar, but the amount of sugar required to make it as sweet as I had gotten used to would be obscene. Same with oatmeal: I had been turning a healthy breakfast food into a bowl of candy (albeit candy with few extra sugar calories).

I haven’t used sweetener at work in weeks, which has caused me to cut down on my coffee consumption overall. I can drink unsweetened coffee, but I don’t exactly look forward to it. And I’ve cut sweetener out of my oatmeal completely, meaning I now enjoy the flavors of the cinnamon, walnuts and raisins that are stirred into it.

And now, answers to the top questions that I get regarding this effort:

  • Do I feel better? Meh. I don’t think artificial sweetener was making me feel that bad to begin with. I worried about the long-term effects above everything else.
  • Have I lost any weight? No. I wasn’t trying to lose any weight. I’m reasonably happy where I am. What I am trying to do, however, is avoid the seemingly inevitable post-40 weight gain that accompanies an unexamined diet and slack exercise habits.
  • Have I upped the sugar intake in my diet? Nope. I added maybe a teaspoon of sugar to a cup of tea one evening to accentuate its cinnamon and apple flavors, but overall I’m adapting to eating a diet that just doesn’t feature that many sweet items.
  • Am I turning into some kind of sugar-hating weirdo? Double nope. I love cookies, cake and candy, but I also recognize them as a sometimes food, not a daily treat.

This effort is almost over. There are only a few yellow packets left in the cabinet (I hesitate to take the container down and count). I have to admit, what I’m going to miss most is not the super-sweet coffee and tea (although, man, there’s nothing like a cup of syrupy sweet hot tea on a cold, rainy winter afternoon), but the ritual. You pour your coffee, add a packet or two of sweetener, stir in some milk or half-and-half, and sit down to enjoy the morning paper and/or a nice leisurely chat with your housemates or co-workers.

Only I can’t even get a daily newspaper anymore, at least in Huntsville, Alabama. The husband doesn’t even DRINK coffee, and I haven’t worked anywhere in years where folks truly spent the first 10 minutes of work catching up over a fresh cup of java.

I can’t hold on to the ritual, so I might as well let go of the yellow stuff, too. Adios, sweet chemicals. It hasn’t been real.

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Easter1977

Easter 1977: The year before we blended flowers and plaid.

The year that at least one of us didn’t want his photo taken in suspender shorts.

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Me, dad and Hans.

December marked the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, meaning that I’ve lived a full quarter of my life without him.

I’ve learned that it’s not the big things in life that you really miss talking about when you lose a loved one. I don’t need job advice (OK, I totally need job advice, but from a higher authority than my dad). I don’t need him to answer the Big Questions.

Instead, it’s the funny little topics that make me want to talk to him, the goofy questions that pop into my head with some regularity.

Would his love for horror and sci-fi films from the ’50s and ’60s make him a fan of the current cultural obsession with zombies? (I can tell you with certainty that he would have little tolerance for sparkly vampires.) Just how flawed is the Alien prequel? Why did he like dachshunds so much? Doesn’t he think it’s time for a black actor to play Batman? Doctor Who: Still totally awesome, right? Why are there no Tom Waits albums in his music collection, when it simply BEGS for Tom Waits?

It’s the seemingly forgettable one-off chats that I miss, the perfectly benign conversations over coffee (Diet Pepsi for him), not the big, earth-shattering talks that we all think must be so important.

I also miss the dachshunds.

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