I love July driving along the highway, surrounded by fields of corn, feeling as though you are navigating your way through a corn maze. The sun is high and HOT! Car windows down, sunroof open and on the radio, Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” begins to play …. Start background music here Instantly, as if I’ve driven through a vortex surrounded in green, I’m 13 again….
It’s the middle of the summer, literally. The only job the tobacco in the field has to do is Grow. This is the in-between time. A time when my biggest responsibility on the farm is making sure I “hoe” the weeds (mainly “pusley”) from around each plant. Eight rows a day, and then I’m free. Free to get on my bike and spend the rest of the day at the Denby Hill Pool. I can smell the dirt, feel it soft and cool between my toes. The stickiness created from being in the field will soon be erased with the first jump in the pool. The sun beating on my shoulders, my 9volt transistor radio, hanging out of my back pocket of my OP shorts; the same radio I would soon bungee cord to my bike for my mile ride to the pool. I push through it all thinking of each row as an eternity. I could only wish in today’s world that that was my only responsibility each day.
It’s songs like this that bring back some of my fondest memories. It’s amazing how music can transcend you. Simpler times. Times taken for granted. I can almost smell the hot cement and hear the splash of jumping in that pool. No worries, except being home before dark.
I can’t help but smile, thankful for this time. The lessons. The memories. ….. and yes, Joe Walsh, although I may not be riding around in a limo, …….”they say I’m crazy but i have a good time, I’m just looking for clues at the scene of the crime, Life’s been good to me so far…
It’s been three Mother’s Days without my mom. I thought it would get easier as time went on, but it’s only harder. The realization that this is “it.” This is real. She will never come back and it is horrible. I went to bed last night hoping for a visit in my dreams. I wasn’t disappointed, she made an appearance, I wish I could remember the details.
I remember what we “used to do.” Breakfast with mom first, that was the start of our day, and then we would go off on our own to celebrate ourselves, because, after all, I was a Mom, and it was my day too. Mom and Dad would go “antiquing” for the day.
Today. We went to breakfast. Lynn and Sean were there – it’s her regular routine to come to breakfast with Dad on Sunday. Mike and Cari and Emily and Ricky came to breakfast too – this was for “Me.” My Happy Mothers Day. I was able to have a photo of “my kids” and I. I have a new one this year, “officially” … Afterward, everyone went on their way, just like before. Only this time, again,… there was no “Mom.” Just. “This Mom.” It was “my” day to do whatever I wanted. Oh, how I wish it were still “her” day.
Tom and I had bought flowers yesterday so we could plant all day. My first planting was the planter I made for mom’s headstone. We did our dump run, and on the way back stopped by to “give it to her.” We were not alone. There were several others there “visiting mom.” Standing there in the sunlight, being thankful that mom’s rose bush at her grave is about to bloom, knowing that she would really like that, and knowing that once the flowers in the container I placed there today, start to bloom she will smile, because others will see them… I can’t help but be jealous of those who are not standing where I was today.
I would never EVER wish this on you. But I am jealous. Jealous that today, you were able to hug your mom. Jealous that you could be irritated with her because she meddles and is involved in your life when you would rather she mind her own business. I hope you hugged your mom today and told her you love her.
We came home and spent the day planting flowers… something mom would have loved to do and something that I now do. I can’t seem to get enough of the perfect flower bed, and several varieties. I know someday it will become too much to take care of, but right now I plant and plant… and I love every root I put in the ground….
Tomorrow is not promised for anyone. Be thankful for today and grasp every moment of it.
Two years ago I was on the cusp of what I felt was “soaring.”
I was loosing weight. I felt healthy. I was eating right. I was transitioning a business my husband and I built from the ground up over to our son, which in turn was giving me more time to myself to pursue my own life’s passion, photography. Every day that I woke, I felt like a spring bud just ready to burst. After all, great things were happening. Every morning, I began my day with Alicia Keys, “This girl is on fire.” It was my motivational. My attitude adjustment. My way to begin.
Saturday morning, April 13, 2013, the windows were open, the birds were literally screaming with delight, the sun bore down with what promised to be an awesome spring day and a day of “getting things done.” I had been to a yard sale early that morning and bought a chair for mom to sit in for our upcoming family portrait on May 5. All of mom’s children were going to be in town at the same time and we wanted to get a really nice family portrait.
I hung up the phone from a lawnmower parts supplier after confirming they had the part we needed and prepared to get ready to leave. The first phone call came from my cousins phone and I missed it. The second came from my sister, Gail’s in the Outer Banks. Knowing that my parents were visiting, this gave cause for concern. As I stood there looking out my kitchen window at the cherry blossoms in full reveille, the words that came through my phone from my niece were incomprehensible to me. I had to ask her to repeat, and even then they were indistinguishable, yet I knew exactly what she had said. “Grandma has had a stroke, they are flying her to Norfolk General, we are driving there.”
Just writing those words causes me to stop and have to find my own breath. We weren’t certain of the severity – after
all, she had been talking to the rescue personnel as they were helping her. Within a half hour, Tom, my husband, and I had packed a bag and began what would take us four hours to drive to Norfolk.
Two hours into our trip, I began texting my sister for updates. Surely they had heard something by then. When the caller ID showed Gail’s number I answered immediately. The words “it’s not good” and “she’s on life support” to this day, echo in my head.
We were about an hour away at this point in our travel. As I put my phone down, Tom asked for the update. As I could feel the cars speed increase even more, it would be another 20 minutes before any words could be formed.
Arriving at the hospital we began the descent from the upper level of the parking garage. The warmth of the day and the newness of the season had not had the opportunity to spill into the concrete structure which held darkness, wet and cold as hidden speakers belted out “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive by Travis Tritt. Soaking it all in I paused at the bottom of the stairs listening, only to look up with aggravation and say “Seriously God?”
Like walking through the Soul Train dance along (I’m telling my age), I passed through the sea of on lookers to get into Mom’s room. From care givers to family members who had already arrived, the numbers were growing. And there she was, sleeping. Sleeping as I have seen her sleep my entire life. Only this time, she would never wake up. My dad sat holding her hand not saying a word. A position he would hold for the next 17 hours.
As family began arriving during these next 17 hours we began to see and feel the impact of the inevitable. Our mother was dying. The glue that had so feverishly held our unit together was chipping, cracking and ultimately fading away. Upon giving mom her last rights, the local priest simply said, “the vigil is the hardest.” Sleeping on floors, chairs, gurneys; against walls, in hallways, upright in a chair holding her hand, night began to give way to morning and the last family member to arrive, did. Bittersweet knowing now the moment had come. All that could be done — had — and now it was time.
As the birds outside began to wake and start a new day, as they had just the day before, my mother of 48 years, quietly slipped away. And in the gentleness of that I could hear the metallic squeak and squeal – like that of a train breaking – the sound of the world coming to a stop.
In the days, weeks, months that followed,change was the keyword. Life events and holidays, although on the outside were reflected, within – were no comparison. The dynamics of family and friendships changed like the ebb and tide of a body of water. What was there one minute was gone the next and new relationships were formed. Rocks that had been a solid foundation of the shoreline were now gone and other anchors had taken their place. Previous sources of comfort resurfacing. Old friends now new again.
Death has no mercy and grief no timetable.
When one mourns the death of a loved one there are no rules, and there is no timeframe in which you need to “get it done and over with.” You never “get over” having loved someone “SO much.”
When my mother died – the very first few hours I simply looked at Tom and said the best thing you can give me is patience. Please be patient with me.
When one looses someone who has had such a huge impact on their life, it’s not only the person you grieve. It’s your lifestyle. Your way of thinking. It’s your wake up. It’s your go to bed. It’s how you fold laundry. It’s the meals you cook. It’s their habits that have been passed to you. It’s new traditions, and honoring old. It’s in how other’s treat you now that someone else is not watching them. You grieve not only the loss of their life – you grieve the loss of the life you had with them in it.
Some of the worst things said when one has lost a loved one is “give it time,” “time heals all,” “in time you will feel better.”
All of these statements are in fact true. The wounds of my mother’s death and the storm of emotion that followed it are healing and the wind is subsiding. It’s taken TWO years and there are still times, moments when.. when… well, you just want your mom and no matter what – that is pretty much the only thing that will make it better. The friendships that disintegrated, or merely faded away have made way for new. Old friendships, once thought forgotten, renewed, and “family” has taken on a new meaning with my own rules of commitment.
Death changes us all.
Death has lessons that when you pause and listen, can give you a multitude of answers and open a whole host of
This life we are all living, none of us will get out of it alive. While here, we need to focus on the good. BE the love and light you wish to receive. Reflect outward what you hope to gain.
As I sit here watching the sway of the newly budding branches I eagerly await their explosion.
Life ! Beauty !
Just like April 12th, 2013. The last time I heard my mom’s voice. The day I simply sat in my backyard photographing cherry blossoms exploding and bee’s humming with delight. Just like that day, hearing the birds sing and feeling the warmth of the sun.
It’s time to get this train back on the tracks. It’s suffered the effects of derailment for far too long. I love my mom. I miss her profusely. I remind myself – I am a mother, and my children did not loose theirs, no more than I lost my own mother when my Grandmother passed away. I have reminded myself for the past two years that being “present” is of the utmost importance. And, Tom, that rock that never left the shoreline, no matter how high the tide, …. I am the luckiest woman I know to have the support and love he has shared and showed.
The one thing I can tell you though. If you have the opportunity to take those family photos. Take them. Everytime I photograph a family it brings me great JOY to know that I have been able to preserve this moment for this family. That they will have this precious heirloom.
With great anticipation, I watch the trees, waiting for rebirth and renewal. For the sounds of moving train wheels. I think I can, I know I can — Afterall. It’s a great day to be alive.
I can remember the simplicity of those days. When the only worry was getting to class on time, a poem that needed written, (and was often already done because I just loved to do it) and trying to stay awake in class. In my senior year of english, my seat sat against the wall, closest row to the door, 4th back, safe from being in the front row. Easy in, easy out. My friend, David sat in the next row over. I don’t remember much about the lesson plans as much as I remember just knowing it was a good class.
I have nothing but fond memories of Mr. Bottorf’s class. A gentle man always dressed in English teacher style, pressed pants, shirt, thick glasses, tie, a stern look, with or without pursed lips or a thin crooked smile, and poised pen – red. The man who insisted you be on time, not waste time and somedays, seemed to come from another time as he recited words from Shakespeare. These moments typically came when the temperature was the hottest and there was no a/c in the school. The afternoon sun would come in those tall windows where the venetian blinds wouldn’t close nor did all of the windows open.We were reminded our school sat in the middle of working farms fully stocked with cattle and pigs. Cowpie High didn’t get it’s nickname without reason. Those warm spring days, when it was time to clean out stalls, were “ripe” to say the very least.
A note about Jack, Jack Bottorf. And I say it that way because after all characteristically, he was kin to James, James Bond. Often during my high school english class, he would be referred to as simply Jack B. or Jack. or Bottorf. One thing is for certain. He was always referred to with respect. The lessons learned here were just as much about life as it was literature.
Don’t be late, or suffer the consequences.
There were no do-overs in Jack’s class.
You received the grade you earned.
You were expected to show up for class. If you didn’t, you were still expected to know the material and you better have a good reason why you weren’t there. Class began with the announcement of referral slips for those who had not been in class the day before and weren’t on the master absentee list from the school. Remember those days? So if you had planned on skipping class, you had better have a backup plan. David was mine. If you had reason to be absent, you were excused and the referral slip was torn in half and thrown away. All I had to do was raise my camera and the slip was gone from memory. After a time, there were no more slips, just a glance from above his glasses and a Ms. McWilliams, where were you?
Above all, Mr. Bottorf was fair. In my senior year, my class was not required to do a research paper. Our final exams were coming up and as we had thoughts of graduation, spring and an endless summer at age 17, we were given the option to either take the final exam or do a research paper. The grade we received – would be our final grade. I opted for the research paper. I felt the odds for a good grade were better with the paper; do it well and receive a good grade. When that final paper came back with a grade one point away from an A, I went straight to his desk to argue my case. What seemed like hours later, he still wouldn’t budge. I graduated from high school english class with a final grade of a B.
Last summer as I was visiting my son, Mike, at his business in Hollywood, MD. I was pleased to see Mr. Pence come through the door. Another previous high school english teacher; actually, the teacher that introduced Tom and I when we were freshmen. As I caught up with him, he mentioned that Jack, Jack Bottorf, was sitting in the car waiting and he needed to go. Literary buddies from my high school days and before that I am sure, they often went out together as old friends do. I was excited to know ole’ Jack Bottorf was there and followed Pence out to the car. He was just as I remembered him, thick glasses, neatly dressed and a crooked smile. Standing there in that warm summer day, sun bearing down, talking and hearing his voice, the only thing missing was the fragrance from a neighboring cow pasture. I could have been 17 again, with forgotten memories of high school flooding back. Before leaving him we argued again about that one point he refused to give up 30 years prior, and how it cost me an A. I was reminded that I hadn’t earned it. And it made me smile to know I was pushed, and wasn’t given something that I hadn’t earned. One point. One point…
The two of them drove away that day with a smile and a wave. As I walked back into my own adult world, I was reminded of so many little things forgotten. And for so long in my youth, and now adulthood, my memory of Jack, Jack Bottorf, was in relation to the point he wouldn’t give me. I now realize that the point he didn’t give – has been THE point well made for the last thirty years of my life. Working hard for what you are given. You are only given, that for which you have earned.
If only the world had more teachers like Jack, Jack Bottorf. God speed Mr. Bottorf, may your hall pass take you straight through Heaven’s Gate.
Mr. Bottorf’s full obituary can be seen by going to the link below.