Tag Archives: Family

Honoring Mothers, Even My Own

11 May

I usually don’t write about my mother.  As a “Daddy’s Girl,” I’ve dedicated three or four blogs over the years to my father, flawed as he was, but I steer clear of Mom. Perhaps I do this because some aspects of our relationship still need healing, yet they never will heal completely because she’s been gone for nearly 10 years.

Most of my more recent memories of my mother involve whiskey and tears. My mom raised nine children (well, the youngest four pretty much raised each other, but that’s another story) and she carried two girls to full-term, losing them in childbirth. I cannot deny she led a tough life, but a part of me still resents that she turned to the bottle for solace.

The most poignant words I ever heard her utter were, “I’ve been pregnant 99 months of my life and all I have to show for it are varicose veins and a mountain of laundry.”

On some levels that’s a bit funny, however, because she believed it, those words pierce my heart to this day. If she could see us now, and I think she can—certainly more clearly than she could here on Earth—I know she’d be proud of her children. We’re not wealthy doctors and lawyers, but we’re all good-hearted people who work hard, and who believe in doing right and helping others. Among us you’ll find a teacher, a fisherman, a carpenter, a deacon, a store manager, a truck driver, and three very-small-business owners.

You’ll also find varying degrees of anger and resentment toward Mom. The variation comes with differences in birth order, proximity to the problem over the years, and depth of understanding regarding our Dad’s role in her demise. (Yes, there’s a book here—working on it!)

My personal struggle is with wondering how much of my childhood experiences were necessary to make me who I am today? How much of that gave my oldest brother such a compassionate heart that he relentlessly collects food and money for regular relief trips to an impoverished area of West Virginia? How much of that imbued my youngest sister with the stubbornness to pursue her college degree, one and two classes at a time over many years, after the world told her she would never be a teacher? (Today, she’s pretty much Teacher of the Year every year in my book—take THAT world!) How much of what we went through as children drives each of us to pursue dreams instead of merely money?

And mostly, I wonder how much of what we went through is Mom’s fault? She did what she thought she had to do. She made good and bad decisions, like all of us. She became trapped by some of those decisions, and it affected us. To an extent, it defines us today, but it does not define our futures. We each have a say in how much we will allow our childhoods to drive our adulthoods.

Why do I bring this up now? Lately, it’s become trendy for people who don’t celebrate Mothers’ Day, for varied and quite appropriate reasons, to assert those reasons into the conversation as if to lessen the joy of the day. In some circles, people are becoming cautious about wishing each other Happy Mother’s Day for fear of offending. I’ll admit, although I have two wonderful boys, Mother’s Day always brings a twinge of sadness for me. And I cannot imagine what the day is like for someone who has lost a child. Whoever you are, please know that my heart aches for you, not just this Sunday, but every day. For you, and for me, this is just not our day.

Taking offense is a decision, however, and I choose not to.

Because Mothers’ Day IS a sweet and special day for others. I’ve learned to appreciate a beautiful story about a wonderful mother and not feel envy, but gratefulness, because that mother created a fantastic person. I celebrate with you, mothers everywhere, for the job you’re doing. I honor you, whether you’re making good decisions or fumbling the ball right now, whether your house is spotless or a cluttered disaster, whether your kids eat Pop-Tarts or home-baked bread for breakfast. My prayer for each of you is that your children absorb your good examples with sponge-like efficiency, and learn from (but see past) your failures and short-comings. I want to encourage you to keep trying, to push forward, and to be awed and inspired by this task you’ve been given—to influence young minds and create good adults.

young mom

“And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
 That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.”

(Emily Dickenson, Hope is the thing with feathers)

Happy Mothers’ Day. May each of us find something about mothers to take joy in this Sunday.

And to my own mom, I honor you as well, for all it cost you to be my mother, our mother. I’m glad you’re no longer suffering. I want you to know we didn’t break. I’ll never understand, this side of Heaven, what that was all about, but I kinda’ like how we all turned out. We’re a tough, stubborn, witty, resilient people. Thank you for my life and for each of my siblings.

I miss you.

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Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice. – Proverbs 23:25

Grandpa’s Laugh

6 Mar

I met Jerry L. Fitzsimmons, Sr. under unusual circumstances. I’d been engaged to his son for less than a week and we’d been driving through Kansas on our way to McCook, Nebraska in our ’66 Mustang to meet his grandparents. From there, we planned to drive to Denver to meet his parents.

We never made it to McCook.

Instead, we hit black ice in Hayes, Kansas and my fiancé was hospitalized in a tiny clinic in nearby Colby. His parents arrived in Colby the next morning, just as young Jerry was being loaded into a plane for emergency transport . . . back to Denver.

So, I got to know my future in-laws by myself, on the drive to Denver. I ended up staying with them at their house for the remainder of my 30-day leave, visiting my fiancé at the hospital every day and bringing home reports for them at night. They visited their son when they could, but the day-to-day pressures of life and raising two small children at the time seemed to tug at their time.

I hit it off with Jerry, Sr. right away, not knowing the extent of his brokenness. His son had never expounded on the depths of the chasm between the two of them, only telling me they’d had a “rough time” in his teens. I called him Grandpa and Old Man from the start, long before we even knew if his son would survive, or if we would, indeed, marry and actually make him a grandpa.

During those 30 days, Grandpa and I bonded. I could make him laugh, and I enjoyed doing so, because his laugh was deep and booming. He never said “yes,” but instead said, “that’s exactly right,” which tickled my ear for some reason. We spent hours each night chatting and laughing. During those 30 days, I never saw him drink to excess. Nor did I see evidence of the bridges he’d burned between himself and his children, or the extent to which they’d continue to burn.

The choices Grandpa made over the next 10-15 years would pull him even further from his “first” family, as he and Grandma divorced. Over those years, my by-then husband still didn’t discuss the chasm, and we rarely seemed to have time to visit. Only recently have the wounds between them begun to heal.

Granpa and the boys3

An old and rare photo of all my boys

In the years to follow, there were a few visits, stops during cross-country treks, “as long as we’re in the area,” but never specific trips to see him. And he came to see us in Virginia at least twice that I recall. All those visits were way too short. From those few moments spread out over 35 years, I must now draw all my memories of him. I already regret that I haven’t more, but we each chose, first through stubbornness and then through inaction, not to be closer. Because of that, his grandsons missed out on what could have been a sweet relationship. So did we.

Now, Grandpa’s laugh has been silenced. I’ll miss it tremendously, and will do everything in my power to remember the way it sounds, because it’s all I have.

Grudges and hurt feelings are tools that the world uses to keep us from enjoying love in its purest form, particularly among family. I think the greatest sadness to that truth is that restored relationships are often even more sweet than those with people we’ve loved freely all along, and so often we miss that. However, it takes tremendous courage to take that first step. While I’m glad, for my husband’s sake that he took that step, I will always mourn the years they lost.

I truly hope Grandpa left this world knowing that we do love him, that although we only understand a small bit of the battle he fought, we hold no grudge, and that, in our hearts, his booming laugh lives on.

Peace to you, Old Man. I pray you’ve found what you were searching for.

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 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. — Ephesians 4:32

Family and the Open Road: Down Home America

28 Jul

Home.

Jerry and I recently journeyed 3,200 miles over ten days, through 12 states and numerous cities from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, following the path of family. We crossed deserts and mountain ranges, skirted farmlands and big cities, and stopped at every roadside curiosity that caught our fancy.

…on our way home.

Funny word, home. For the past 20 years, home to us has been a cozy place in Virginia where we live and love, and where coffee is served in ceramic mugs—not those annoying, plastic lidded paper cups that emit all substance and steam as a single, scalding jet stream through a tiny, razor-sharp puncture hole…but I digress. Sorry, it’s been a long trip.

However, as we drove eastward, the idea of home took on an entirely new meeting.

We sure felt right at home for three nights in Sacramento, staying with Troy and Jodi and their beautiful girls. Jodi put out the Call to Family, and people I haven’t seen in years swooped in like excited chickadees to say hello.

I’m truly honored to have married in to this Anderson/Perkins/Fitzsimmons tribe, (part of the Mary Oswalt’s Daughters clan). The Oswalts know many secrets about life, inherently or otherwise. They put family first, they love fiercely, and they speak the universal love language: good food. If I wrote about all the wondrous foods I consumed in Sacramento I’d quickly max on word count and make us all hungry again, but I will say that Liz’s carrot cake and Melissa’s banana pudding are worth the price of a plane ticket, should you be so inclined.

…which led to an invite to see the garden—a tamed jungle of nearly all the richness our earth has to offer to anyone like Cousin Liz who can coax it out. Liz is also an artist, although I’m not sure she knows that yet. I cried when she gave me a piece of Sacramento Home that I’ll treasure always: A Liz-made quilt that belonged to Aunt Lois, one of The Sisters.

I could stay here for a while and just love these people, I thought.

Strawberry Reservoir

The Strawberry Reservoir in Utah–looks like home.

All too quickly we hit the road, headed East on Highway 80 through Nevada and Utah, a beautiful route lined with forests and mountain lakes. Such beauty! For days we flew past, (and stopped occasionally to gawk at) glorious evidence of God’s infinite imagination.

We could live here, we said to each other.

NOTE: In another blog post I’ll tell you about the salt and the bugs, Steamboat Springs, doughnuts, and Touchdown Jesus, but this post is about home, so let’s get back on the road.

We paused again in Loveland, Colorado, an amazingly beautiful town just east of the Rocky Mountains, to see my sister Sue and her husband Dan. We stayed long enough to enjoy some brontosaurus steaks and home-made potato salad,(a recipe I aim to acquire soon). Sue and Dan are storytellers, and, after the boys toured Dan’s amazing automotive wonderland, we sat in their back yard well into the night listening appreciatively to their NASCAR-sales tales in the soft glow of garden luminaries, wishing we had more time.

But the next day we were back on the road, driving toward Denver. There we stopped to see Jerry’s dad and Cathy, who, because of a tragedy, are now parents to 9-year-old Precious in what should be their retirement years. There’s a light in Grandpa’s eyes that makes me think that sweet little girl is not a burden at all.

Still meandering eastward, we lingered for a while in Indianola, Nebraska, where Uncle John and Aunt Peggy filled our bellies with home-cooked stew, complete with vegetables freshly harvested from the plot of goodness outside the kitchen door. We lamented together over the butterflies in the peach trees (who knew they could destroy a peach crop?) and the varmints in the garden, and, after pulling up a few new potatoes and admiring the pair of ‘68 Fords John is loving on in his shop, we again had to wrench ourselves away from home to continue the journey.

Life is so simple here. We could get to like this.

We drove through miles and miles of waving cornfields in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, loving the abundance of it all. And the peacefulness. Nearing the end of our journey we traversed Ohio and holed up for the night in Pittsburgh, where we met our oldest son for dinner at a nice, home-style restaurant. Sorry, I experienced no inclination to settle down in Pittsburgh; however, I so enjoyed being with my son that I treasured every minute, even the part where he and Dad just sprawled out on the hotel bed afterward, watching the Nats play ball while I finished some editing work.

I could be happy doing this for a long time.

One blog post isn’t nearly enough for me to record my pining. How much I wanted the time to…get to know Jodi like a sister, particularly in a busy season I recognize oh, so well, and assure her that, despite not getting more than a glimpse of her man over the heads of those two bouncy girls, she and Troy will get time to themselves again…to read Paddington stories to Blake and hang out with Margaret—who I suspect shares my sense of humor…to learn about Sue’s childhood, especially the years before I was  born…to play that perfect practical joke on Doug…just because, well, he’s Doug…to have a real talk with John about more than just the weather…to be there with Uncle John when he turns the key on one of those cars…to—well, again with the word count issue…

In essence, Jerry and I gathered snippets of family across America, and came back to Virginia with a new definition of home. Our home is a bountiful and beautiful nation filled with natural wonders, some harnessed by man and others too magnificent to tame, and we want to see it all. Our home is a 3,000-mile stretch of people gathered around tables in kitchens and backyards across the country, bound by a love that endures across time and distance. Our home is family.

And we love you all. Thank you for your generosity and your love. We miss you already.

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People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. — Luke 13:29