Thursday, August 14, 2008

Things I've Learned This Summer

This summer has been bittersweet for me. I lost my dad. I didn't get home before he passed away but I talked to him every day and not about being sick, or dying, but about the silly things I called him frequently about. Like, didn't we used to have one of those coffee pots that plugged into the cigarette lighter of the car?

Knitting Iris: Ford Treasury of Station Wagon Living(I want this set of books so bad)

The conversations were normal, not sad, just father and daughter discussing everyday things, every single day. I learned that despite what I thought my dad and I were close. We spent years learning to accept each other's flaws and shortcomings and realizing that they didn't matter. We were able to get past all the crap of the growing up years and just love each other.

I cried listening to Jackson Browne's Daddy's Tune. Those lyrics always touched me, especially the line about "unkind things I said to you" and "I guess my anger pulled me through" but the words had more power now, a deeper meaning. I connected with them like never before. Fortunately I have no regrets, my dad and me, we were friends when he died.

The biggest shock this summer was learning that between my uncle and myself we know very little family history. After my grandmother died, I was going through an envelope that she shoved in my hand one day when I was heading home, I never really looked at the contents too closely. There was a picture of my Aunt Marie, my Papaw's sister, there was a picture of Mamaw and Papaw and my dad as a three yr old, and then there was this bundle of yellowed paper, that I couldn't make out one word on. I put them away in my picture bucket to explore at a later time. What I didn't know was that bundle of yellowed pages was a love letter from my great grandfather, Mr. Gibson as my dad and uncle called him, never grandpa, never gramps, or papaw, just Mr Gibson, he wasn't big on personality from what I understand so I guess they called him what my Mamaw called him. Anyway he wrote a twelve page love letter to Mary Lee. These words couldn't have come from a mean man, he adored her, he loved her beyond life itself. He referenced maybe dying before seeing her. I thought he wrote it from some war zone in WWI but apparently it was because of something else, something I may never be able to figure out. I know that there are those people in my family that ran moonshine back in the day. I remember those stories, vaguely. Was he concerned about the government showing up, looking for him, as far as we can tell he was a farmer or farm hand. It's vexing to say the least.

When I went home for my dad's memorial service I showed my uncle the letter and he wanted to know why Mamaw gave something like this to me. I said, "You know, I thought about that and then I remembered, she said Mrs. Gibson and I would have loved each other because we both loved embroidery, handwork, pretty stuff, not necessarily functional embroidery but stitching the stuff that served no more purpose than adding a little beauty to the world. I guess she wanted me to have it because maybe Mrs. Gibson and I were soul sisters over all these many years."

It breaks my heart that I didn't discuss the letter with Mamaw. That I didn't read it immediately, but I had no clue at the time what it was.

I learned this summer that I'm ok with the boys being almost grown. I spent so much of the last five years being upset that I wasn't getting pregnant, that I was missing something, that my family wasn't complete but it's ok. I have had my kids and sometimes you have to turn the page and move on to the next chapter.

I learned that artistically, I can take rejection, and that I have to write. I learned that it is ok to put the words out there, let them go, face the music and start over again. It's all good. I just can't not write. I tried to ignore the stories running around my brain, I quit blogging for a while, but one day sitting in Panera, waiting, and waiting, the endless waiting on other people that my summer and life had become, I couldn't read, I couldn't stitch, I pulled out a bill, took the mailing envelope and started writing a novel. It felt right. It was me coming back home. Pen, paper, sitting somewhere writing. It was the most right I have felt in three months. As selfish as it sounds I'm looking forward to days spent alone, just me and the computer or me, pen and paper. Hours and hours to write the stories I need to tell, that have been burning through my heart, my soul. Maybe no one will ever see them but me, but I have to write, and so I learned this summer, that I am a writer. I've always said to myself, "You are a writer" but I never believed it, now I know it.

My grandmother's oldest sister died only a few days after my dad's memorial service. Talk about broken hearted. My Aunt Lila was one of those really great women, she embraced life with all it had to offer. I don't think she ever let anything get her down and really lived. I understood how very lucky I was that growing up I was surrounded by family. We lived next door to my mamaw's middle sister for years and her son and DIL and my cousin lived up the road and next door to them was my papaw's sister Marie and her husband and then when we moved out to the county, I lived across the road from my mamaw and Aunt Lila lived next door to her. I grew up knowing cousins, not just seeing them in passing but going to school with them, babysitting them, I grew up knowing amazing women, women who made a difference in people's lives.

A week or so ago my best friend's mother passed away. Mrs. Hubbard was one of the most creative people I have ever known. She was always making something, learning something new. High school was great, she took up baking. Every day we'd come home from school and have petit fours or birthday cake or even wedding cake because she was just learning how to make this or that. Her bread baking period was a lot of fun, she made stuffed animals, teddy bears, she did cross stitch, crewel and all kinds of needlework. She sketched, she painted, she was always inspiring and I was lucky to call her my friend and my second mom.

This is the summer that I accepted that every time you see someone it might be the last time. It's the summer that I learned you have to let people know you love them, every single time you see them, talk to them, write them. It's the summer that I learned that even if you live to be 80, time here on earth is short and we have to make these moments, this time here matter.

This summer has been one of reflection, sadness, and yeah, some joy. I have learned that as much as I loathe football, I can sit at my youngest son's practices and support him and his goals and dreams and maybe even like it, a little.

This past week some of the best family moments were spent when watching the Olympics at 2 a.m. because the youngest son is addicted to Club Penguin and awake, and my insomnia has made tv watching in the wee hours of the morning a very common occurance, and the spousal unit couldn't sleep for whatever reason, so here we are, 2 a.m. watching swimming and gymnastics and discussing these great athletes and how they got where they are now. Good times.


Erica said...

What a thoughtful, kind and loving post.

Thank you for sharing.

Nic said...

Great post.

Perhaps with your writing, you can explore the story of your great grandparents?

Anonymous said...

well I say you have learned a VERY lot of things this summer....and it's definitely made you a better contented person! and thats GOOD!

wish I had learned some lessons before I turned 55...I think things might have turned out different!

Enjoy !

Anonymous said...

Yes, what a great post! Very thoughtful. You're so lucky to have grown up with lots of family nearby. It's true that having loved ones in your life is the most important thing.

Michele said...

Melissa, thank you for this post, opening up a part of you and your life to us. Your post touched me in so many ways. I'm sorry your summer has been bittersweet for you. It tough to grow older and have other around you growing even older .. loss is hard on everyone.

I love your early morning family bonding .. we do that quite often, not necessarily in the early morning, but watching tv has always brought out great conversations with us .. I don't know why, it's kinda funny, you'd think that tv would make a family more quiet.. must be that we all have lots ot say, about lots of things! lol

Anonymous said...

I waited until I had a quiet moment to read this post because I wanted to be able to absorb each word. I really love you, not in the weird, icky kind of way, but in the really deep friends kind of way. This post has really touched me. You are so open, vulnerable, and feeling. Thank you for sharing that part of yourself.