Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bits & Pieces of Memorial Weekend

On Friday night, Matt drove two traffic-less hours to spend the weekend with our brother, Kelsay, giving me a couple days alone with the family and the whole air mattress to myself. I decided against locking myself in our room and sought out to get some one on one time with each person. 

Through bird watching, cooking and chasing many tiny dogs around, I enjoyed the company of each family member. One of my favorite moments of the weekend was out on the porch with Grandma. We sat with plates of buttermilk pie on our laps and listened as the backyard came alive with the humming of crickets.   I'm getting use to the quiet moments around here. In my family, the loudest person gets heard and conversation never stops, even through movies. (You can imagine the culture shock this created for Matt and me when we got married.) Sometimes there are three or four minutes of silence with Grandma. She'll lock her fingers together, purse her lips and look quietly around, observing. Then start right in on a story. 

"I've had a hard life", she told me while still looking over the yard. I lowered my fork in anticipation of responding somehow, but she continued. She started in on stories of becoming a single mother of five and continued on, telling about her days working in the cotton fields, hiding from storms and burying her husband and eventually, her son. "I've had a hard life", she repeated, this time with a voice inflection that sounded like she was convincing herself. She sat quietly for just a moment before rising to collect the plates and going inside. I sat outside a bit longer, hoping to spot the flicker of fireflies and soaking in the life of this family. So much sorrow, so much loss and so much pain. As an incredibly fearful person, I spot bravery quickly and admire it greatly. These people are brave. (I, on the other hand, have been asking an 82 year old to stomp on the spiders that I fish out of the pool.) 

On Saturday, Grandma and I sneaked out of house to hit the Memorial Day sales. "Are you going to church with me tomorrow? You need to wear a dress." I nodded as I wondered what she thought I had been wearing the last two Sundays. In the morning, after splitting a pot of coffee on the patio, we drove the two blocks down to her church and parked in her usual spot under a willow tree. " That was for the slaves" she informed me, pointing to a rickety set of stairs winding up the side of the church. "They'd go up there and sit in the balcony." I love the way she looks at me when she's anticipating my reaction to something. 
    Later that day Matt's Aunt Amy pulled me into the kitchen. "Hey", she checked over her shoulder, "I want you to drive me to the mall so I can shop the sales." Browsing the racks at their favorite department store, Amy pulled out a sleeveless, white cotton dress. " Let's buy you some dresses. You can wear 'em to church!" After that, any item of clothing I touched she shoved into the cart. "Your birthday is coming up! You are the only niece we have, let us spoil you." I tucked most of the items back on the rack, but suddenly feeling self-conscious about my church apparel, I gave in to her buying me a couple dresses. "Now, if Matt asks, you tell him you've always had these dresses and he won't know nothin'." 

On Monday night we closed out the weekend by grilling hamburgers and eating plate-loads of warm, peach cobbler Grandma baked.

Welcome, summer! 

Saturday, May 18, 2013


I saw my first bolt of lightening last night.

 As an Oregonian, I am no stranger to rain storms, but I can count on one hand the times I've seen thunder and lightening.

When the clouds gathered over our heads as we were eating dinner on the patio, Grandma asked me if I'd ever seen a storm. "Sure", I said confidently, fondly remembering sitting around the lake at camp with friends to watch a storm that followed a record-breaking heat wave. We all sat on fallen logs and watched the lake light up from lightening that was miles and miles away. Nothing like the power of the infamous southern storms Matt had told me about though.

Later that night, a fuzzy, gray screen and loud beeping interrupted our movie as the words "Severe Thunderstorm Watch" scrolled across the screen. Still in our swim suits from an afternoon in the pool, Matt and I took glasses of sweet tea outside and sat on the steps of the porch, watching dark clouds creep closer to the house. The hype of finally experiencing a southern storm had me imagining zig zag lightening bolts flashing from a pitch black sky, like I'd seen in any cartoon. As the wind picked up, my mind wandered to extremes, questioning the likelihood that we would be able to wheel a portable hospital bed, six people and around ten animals into the closet if this storm turned tornadic.

The storm was still miles away, so we couldn't see more than a dull flash now and then, not much brighter than a changing TV screen. I started losing interest once the sky cleared up above our heads; the storm had stopped moving forward. The muggy, hot air at 10pm had melted the ice in my drink and just as I rose to go inside, I saw a scribble of yellow light tear across the sky. I sat back down on the brick, giving the storm my undivided attention. It was still about twenty miles away so we couldn't hear the deafening thunder Matt promised, but the clouds lit up frequently. 

Not more than a minute went by and my jaw dropped open as lightening spread across the sky in the brightest flash of the night. It spread out quickly and resembled roots of a tree. It seemed like it took up the entire sky. Every branch of it so vivid, so defined. 

Matt holds back laughter every time I gush about my love for the south. Compared to the trailer park in rural northern Alabama he grew up in, visiting the middle class, suburban city his family moved to recently is practically tourism to him. But to me, the south is the south. And no matter what part of the south you live in, a storm is a storm.

 We hadn't spoken for a few minutes after that last flash, but the rain was moving in so we stood up to head back inside. My eyebrows were still raised from the epic and powerful sight we'd seen. Without taking his eyes off the sky, Matt folded his arms across his chest, leaned towards me and with a smirk said, "that-was nothin'". 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Back down south.

After a very long two weeks of double shifts, late night packing and constant worrying, we made it. We cleaned out our house, packed almost everything into storage, parked my car into a lot and sat on our front porch, waiting for our landlord to arrive and hand her the keys. Reeking of cleaning product, we leaned against each other, looking over our yard and trying to muster up some emotions about leaving the house we love so much. But we couldn't. Mostly because all of this still feels surreal. But also because after four moves in our 1.5 years of marriage, finding a new place to live has become an endearing adventure and feels sort of normal.

After three plane rides, two over-priced dinners and three mindless magazines later, we made it to Alabama. We wheeled our suitcases and bags into the office of his aunt's house, stacked them on the houndstooth couch and collapsed onto a twin size air mattress.

Despite the circumstances of why we hurried out here, we are loving being here. I feel more at home when we're in the south than I ever have in California. Maybe it's because Matt's accent comes out a little bit. Maybe it's because we're always on vacation when we're here. But I love it. I still get a little wide-eyed when we're pushing a cart through Walmart and I see a Dad with his kids, a hand gun strapped to his hip. (To be honest I'm a little wide-eyed just being in Walmart.) I'm impatient at the post office, while the woman behind the counter shares her secret for sunburnt shoulders with a customer as the line grows longer. But I love it here. I love the open fields filled with livestock in between streetlights, I love the neighborhoods lined with brick houses and I love seeing all the things I don't understand about Matt fall into place in his natural habitat.

It feels a little bit like vacation so far, only filled with heavy hearts and hospital beds. The days are long and slow and different, depending on how chemo treats her body that day.

There are seven of us at the house, all fumbling around trying to help out. I've found my spot next to Grandma's side. We drink coffee until noon, working on her crossword puzzles. She makes a batch of sweet tea after lunch so it's cool enough to drink with dinner. At 82 years old, she can remember every detail of her life and the lives of her children, but leaves the stove on. She tells me story after story about Matt's dad, as I mentally line up their similarities. Her sweet, southern voice softens when she talks about God or to her cats. My heart melts hearing Matt say "yes ma'am" to every question she poses.

Last night, while sausage was sizzling in the skillet, we rolled up our sleeves and I watched Grandma make her famous biscuits. Laughing and clapping flour into her hands, she admitted that there's no recipe and to "keep watch". Two scoops of flour, three spoonfuls of Crisco and a splash of milk later, the most beautiful, flaky golden-brown biscuits were rising in the oven. She stirred in flour and water into the leftover sausage grease and whipped up creamy gravy that we all heaped onto the warm biscuits and ate on the backyard patio.

We're still adjusting. Still taking in everything that's in front of us. Still processing everything we left. But in the meanwhile, I am so, so glad we're here.