Merry Birthday

Some of you have read my earlier stories about my aunt and uncle and the debacle that last year’s white Christmas created. Long story short, my elderly uncle thought I uninvited him and my aunt to dinner last year for better plans, when truth was the snow made dangerous driving conditions. I didn’t think it would be a good idea for them to be on the Atlanta highways in icy conditions. What followed was a year-long game of hide and seek starring me in the role of the bad guy. Never giving up, each month I continued phoning them to refused calls or ignored messages until finally in early December my uncle began to soften. Or maybe forget. Whatever you call it, he was changing.

I had one of those days last week when God plunged them down on my heart with a jackhammer. I called and had a conversation with my aunt. Though somewhat scattered, she told me Uncle W was going to have a root canal. Now with Alzheimer’s affecting her, it was likely she was remembering an event from a long time ago, but I wanted to believe that she was indeed about to ride with him to the dentist for the procedure.

The jackhammer began pounding again. I knew I had to go see them in person. The night before I had cooked a huge pot of vegetable soup, and before breakfast I found myself baking an unexplained fresh pone of cornbread. Through my kids’ odd glances at my unusual morning choice, I packaged up whatever leftovers I could scrounge and reported that I was headed off to my aunt and uncle’s house. I didn’t call ahead. I wanted to deliver my olive branch in person at best or leave it by their door if they weren’t home. The soup would be easy for him to eat, I thought.

I’m one of those drivers who would rather take a country road than the fast-paced multi-lane expressways in Atlanta, but theirs is one of those “you can’t get there from here” kind of destinations otherwise. As luck would have it, the gray day turned to liquid sunshine while I was on the expressway. It poured down so hard I could barely see. As I exited the ramp, the deep, fast-fallen water splashed up on the windshield and sprayed out like a motorboat on a lake. I just prayed that no one was near me and that my car would drive forward rather than hydroplaning off the bank. Of all days for me to decide to make the trek. I knew it was God pushing me there. At his age, my uncle did not need to be driving in this mess to go get food for themselves. “Yes, Lord, I feel your speaking to me.” I paddled onward.

The rain had come down so fast the roads could barely handle all the water as it covered the curbs. An old man used a golf-size orange and white umbrella as a shield as he moved down the sidewalk, when a too-fast-moving car sped down the street and barely missed drenching him with a huge spray. I finally reached their house and saw they were arriving from the opposite direction at the same time. “Here goes,” I said, not knowing what kind of reception would follow. The last time I’d been in this driveway, I’d been snubbed. It had to be different this time.

I went first to my aunt’s car door and wondered if Alzheimer’s would allow her to recognize me. She did. I helped her out of the car. My uncle got out of the car, and the moment was about to happen. Would he be cold and flippant? Would he be callous or snide? My arms full of food, I walked around the front of the car to greet him with a big smile on my face. “What are you doing out in this mess?” he asked me. “I brought you some dinner so you wouldn’t have to be out in this mess, sir. I figured you’d be able to eat it with a sore mouth.” Somehow I maneuvered the food out of the way so that I could be ready if a hug ensued. “You brought us some food? Well, you didn’t have to get out in this mess, Squirt.” Squirt! I was Squirt again. Next came the hug. A big, wrap-your-arms-around-me great big uncle bear hug kind of hug. Rejoice! I’d waited all year for this moment. “Let’s get in out of this rain.”

We went inside and put the food in the refrigerator. They had gone to the pharmacy to get Epsom salts at his dentist’s recommendations. Ah, my aunt had been right. I visited with them for about an hour, hearing the same stories I’d heard a hundred times before but with the interest as if it were the first. Again, I invited them to our house for Christmas Day. Uncle W’s 88th birthday. “Well, I don’t know”, he told me. “We may want to go visit my sister and brother-in-law. They’re 95 and 92, and they’re getting on up there.” I’ll say. I reiterated the invitation was open, and I’d set the table for them if they’d like to come to our house.

I didn’t hear from them the rest of the week. Family members asked if they were coming for dinner, but I didn’t know the answer. Finally, Christmas morning my family of four gathered around the phone to call Uncle W to sing a glorious rendition of Happy Birthday to him. Not half bad, really, and it brought a chuckle and the question, “Do you still want us to come up for dinner?”

Oh yes, the table was already set for six people.

They arrived. A rainy Christmas Day this time, my uncle declared, “You wouldn’t believe those drivers on the expressway. Horrible. They were driving 70 mph in this rain. I almost turned around three times to go back home.” My husband and I looked at each other and choked back our “SEE?”

We visited, laughed, ate, talked, heard the same stories again for the hundred and first time as if it were the first. It was as if this last year had never happened—the proverbial hatchet buried and forgotten. That statement is probably truer than I realize at this moment. And as they raced daylight, my uncle resumed his tried and true words as he gave me that giant uncle-bear-hug that only he can do, “You’re my baby. You’re my little baby. I love you, kid.” I felt safe, loved, always his child on Christmas Day. “I’m not going to let you go,” I answered back.

“You have to; This old man has to get home before it gets dark.” He kissed me and looked right in my eyes. His were glistening. My precious aunt hugged me and said, “I love you more than anything.” My heart almost exploded.

“I appreciate your invitation up here,” my uncle said as they walked towards their car.

“Happy Birthday!” we shouted to him.

We watched from the front door as they backed down the driveway. And up the driveway. And down the driveway. My husband said, “I’m not sure he didn’t just tear up the yard.”  We shrugged our shoulders and knew if any damage were done to the yard, it would be worth every inch of it.

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The Nutcracker Worked or Not Dreaming of a White Christmas

Progress! Breakthrough! Hooray!

Is it the spirit of the season? Maybe. Whatever it is I feel like rejoicing today. HOORAY!

Some of you may remember my post from September called “I Wish it Were Fiction” when I told you about the phone conversation when my uncle denied me. I never explained, and many people read it as though he had memory lapses. That was not the case. What he had was a stubborn streak of grand proportion capped off with an unforgiving spirit all based on a misunderstanding.

Here’s the quick background version. He and my aunt were invited over for Christmas dinner last year at my house, which was also his 87th birthday. They live about 40 miles away, but the majority of it is expressway driving. Atlanta expressway driving. If you’re not familiar with Atlanta expressways, let me tell you that they’re training grounds for NASCAR and keep the undertakers in business. Dangerous even on a clear day, but add to it “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” was taken to heart last year as we were blessed with a white snowfall, and we shut down.

It’s not just us; it’s common in our area that when the snow falls, everything closes. That day it came fast, and it came heavy. Our neighborhood is one steep hill after another (appropriately named Heights), and cars simply don’t drive here when snow or ice is prevalent. So with much dismay, I phoned my uncle to tell him the conditions we were facing (along with the constant radio reports compounding the snowy outlook), and I told him that I was afraid for them to drive up here. Though he didn’t seem concerned, I couldn’t have his blood on my hands should anything happen to him along the way. Not that I don’t trust HIS driving, but those other drivers on the unfamiliar frozen roads, yada yada…

Translated to him it sounded like I did not want them at our house on Christmas Day and uninvited them. Add to it the fact that we were having remodeling done in the back hallway which left our home phone line unplugged for the entire month, when he tried to call me back but got no answer, he was convinced we were out doing BETTER things than expecting them for dinner. For the record, my cousin informed me of my uncle’s thoughts.

His feelings were hurt. He was mad. He pouted all year. My phone calls lessened as time went on, because simply it became too painful for me to have the proverbial door slammed in my face each time I phoned down there. But, I didn’t give up. My aunt, who is living with Alzheimer’s, was caught in the middle of it—somewhere between not remembering why her husband was mad at me and telling me he was outside working in the yard, though I could hear him in the background telling her what to say.

So here we are a couple weeks away from what has become a tradition of their spending his and Jesus’ birthday with us. Time to bury the hatchet? Or would I get the same dead-end outcome? I punched the number (they’re on my favorites), and my aunt answered but not before I heard him in the background say something like “if you want to talk to her.” We had a somewhat disjointed conversation, and then I said—not asked this time—“Let me speak to Uncle W.” She lapsed into her story about how she thinks he’s in bed or something, and I said (again, never having been brazen with either of them before), “No, he’s not. He’s right beside you. I hear him.”

Busted! She handed the phone over to him, and we talked. Really for the first time all year. Visually the conversation would look like a cat and mouse chasing each other around a butcher’s block island. I’d say something, and he’d deny it. I decided not to hold back but to get to the root of the issue asking him why he’d avoided me all year long. Again the denial. You see, this man LOVES to quarrel. He’s a scrapper from the get-go. Me, not so much. But enough was enough. I decided it was time to forge through with my infantry taking no prisoners.

He couldn’t deny it any longer. When I threw in his face that I missed my uncle, (no you don’t…yes, I do…no, you don’t…yes, I do) and that I needed a great big uncle bear hug (no, you don’t…yes, I do…no, you don’t…yes, I do) and that I was going to jump up in his lap and comb his hair and put curlers in it (one of his favorite stories of my childhood days), he couldn’t deny it any longer.

I heard his voice change from the disgruntled angry man who you’d expect to hear talking to an annoying telemarketer to my favorite uncle. He even laughed his laugh—twice!

Little did I know that approach is probably what I should have done months ago. Maybe he finally realized that my phone calls were not going to stop. (I often leave messages on their answering machine just checking on them.) But only when I got confrontational with Uncle Scrapper, did the nut crack, and he began to soften.

I invited them to have Christmas Day dinner and to celebrate his 88th birthday with us and hoped we wouldn’t have a white Christmas. He said he’d check with my aunt. As always I told him I loved him. Though he didn’t respond to that, I think that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to set two extra seats at the dining room table in a couple weeks.

Living with Purpose

Our front porch is lit up with white lights for Christmas, nothing unusual—icicle lights hanging from overhead, garland swags on the banister, and two skinny trees beside the door. The trees are a new addition this year I rather like. One neighbor has a reindeer lit up, but other than a street light, that’s all I see from my vantage point. Rain is falling lightly adding a nice soundtrack to this setting. It’s pretty bright out here. In a way I feel like I’ve landed in the middle of a Macy’s parade float, only I’m not moving except for the rocking chair I’m sitting in, and no one is lined up in front of me waiting or hoping I’ll throw them some candy. It’s just me and the CheckerDog, my loyal golden retriever, forever by my side. Quiet, peaceful. Rain. Warm temperatures for December 6. I hear mumbling inside the house; the family is there.

I look to my dear friends next door; their house is dark. It’s been a tough week for them. One of their dearest friends took a sudden turn for the worse in her fight with pancreatic cancer and lost the fight yesterday. A funeral in December is especially tough. I know. I went to my father’s in December one year. Merry Christmas. Right.

The rain is picking up. The volume increases, and the temperature drops. The dog keeps my feet warm. I reflect on the day and wonder what, if anything, I accomplished. Yesterday was easy to workout hard, in honor of the one who’d lost her battle. Today I fell back into the routine that amounts to nothingness. Or does it?

I loved my family. I teared up with emotion when I watched one son sleeping. I bowed up with pride when I got news that my other son was voted Most Athletic of his senior class. I giggled and rejoiced when my husband flirted with me over and over. And I made some delicious soup from organic butternut squash. For all of that I am grateful, yet I still judge myself on my productivity, and for that I didn’t do so well: one load of clothes, a few sentences on my WIP (work in progress), and that’s about it.

I guess it’s a constant struggle, living on purpose, not wasting time, since these days are numbered. I won’t beat myself up over today. It’s done. I’ll just work harder at living on purpose tomorrow, and I’ll start at 8 AM with an intense workout—on purpose.