indebted

“I don’t know who my grandfather was;
I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”

Abraham Lincoln

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust


(the cousins circa 1966 )

Family.
A difficult and delightful hodge podge and conundrum all rolled into one.
For good or bad…we all have family….

Do you see the wee awkward one there, the little one in green sitting in the
middle on the couch in this grainy old family photograph?

That would be me.

Little did I realize then that the two cousins, brother and sister, sitting to my immediate right and left would eventually come to be two of the most important people
in my life.

The age difference is 5 and 8 years respectively.
Enough of a deep and wide chasm to keep the young cousin at, what was hoped to
be, a safe distance.
Being just that, I was the little cousin who was to be endured during holidays,
for what was hoped to be only for a day at best.

The only catch was the fact that the two girls were also just that—
the only two girls in a sea of boys with a doting grandmother who had raised
two boys yet always yearned for a girl.
Of which forced these two mismatched girls to spend more time together than either
one particularly cared.

So should it come as any surprise that the older of the two girls tried twice to do
away with the younger one?

How was the fact missed that when these two cousins were once visiting their
grandparent’s farm, deciding to go out for a ride on the horses,
the older one opted not to secure the younger one’s saddle, leaving her dangling precariously between a deep raven or a bed of overgrown brambles…
with the only choice of survival being the brambles….

Or what of the time the older one was told to prepare the younger one something
for supper…and so, what was dubbed a cannibal burger, was quickly served…
simply being a raw hamburger patty that perhaps was hoped served as a last meal….

The teenage boy you ask??
Well he simply had no time for any such foolishness, opting instead to spend
time his own way…away.

And little did any of us know that on that picture day so long ago that
two in the photo would leave us far too soon.

I lived in the family of the younger of the two brothers.

A quiet lazy man who called Atlanta home.
Ours was a small family of four.
The other and older brother lived with his young brood up north in a rural
city in the same state.

The distance often limited the times spent together as “family.”

The oldest cousin in the photo was soon to move states, off to college,
where he would eventually go on to medical school,
marrying and forging his life there, away,
as it is to this very day… so his presence now is of little consequence.

Add also to the photo the fact that two in the picture had been adopted…

And so it was with my having been one of the two adoptees.

Such was that I always had felt a deep void in my heart.
I always felt a disconnect from my cousins…
as if I really wasn’t related and therefore I was always an outsider,
not really related.

We all shared the same last name,
but at some point prior, I actually had had a different last name.
Different family traits, different everything.

Of course today my grown mind knows better and that such a thought never crossed
the minds of my cousins. Simply put, I was just the little cousin…
Yet in my mind I always felt separate from what made the family just that,
a blood bonded family.

As time passed all the cousins went their own separate directions…to school,
careers, marrying and forging lives of their own.
All except for the two youngest boys.

The youngest cousin there on the floor was only 3 years older than me.
We were very close growing up, as our ages dictated that we were the two
relegated to spend the most time together.

We were the best of friends, growing very close over the years as we each dealt
with our own varying family dysfunctions, that was until he was tragically killed
in a car wreck at the age of 23 while at age 20, I was left to pick up our pieces.

My little brother, the youngest of all the cousins would eventually commit suicide
as he could never reconcile himself to having been “given up” and then in
turn adopted…despite the fact that he was always loved and cherished within
this family.

There would always be the occasional wedding or funeral that would bring everyone
back together….
but time, age and distance had placed a divide in the family,
creating a group of strangers rather than bonded relatives.

My family of 4 eventually became a family of 3, then it was down to 2 and
this past March, it became only a family of 1.

Their family of 6 eventually became 5, resting now at an original 4.

But as theirs was the greater in number, it only made sense that their family’s
numbers would grow exponentially…
blossoming to the current total of 31 while mine is up to 4 with a
5th on the way.

But oddly and blessedly enough, time would be kind as it always has a way
of coming around full circle.
It has allowed for the bridging of the chasm of both age and distance…
in turn rendering all of the divides no longer relevant….delightfully
null and void.

Each cousin has lived through, as well as survived, their own life’s tumults…
And the realization and acknowledgement of such has provided a bonding effect.

Those two cousins who sat on either side of me all those many years ago,
along now with their spouses, swooped in to take my small brood of
a family under their care when it was most needed.
And when things became really difficult, they merely intensified their care.
And that care continues as I continue putting the pieces of loss back together again.

No longer was I just the little annoying cousin but I had become more
like the younger sister…
a sister who they each knew would need their love and support.

Family, as we most all know, is a complicated affair.
Never perfect, never what we hold in our minds.
However we are blessed when we realize that our adversities can actually provide
a unifying factor.

Despite having known these people my entire life, I don’t think
we actually got to truly know one another until we became adults.
And since neither of them read this blog I don’t think they’d mind
me telling you how very lucky I consider myself having been “stuck” in the
middle on that couch so very long ago…

Family, for good or bad, we usually all have one….
and how so appreciative I am that this adopted child was blessed by one
with such a tenacious zeal.


(both of my cousins with their mother, my aunt, my now 92 year old aunt,
almost 3.5 years ago in Savannah at my son’s wedding / Julie Cook / 2014)

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their
own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

the sippy spoons

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in
and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep,
leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can.
Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better
hour because it is dead.
Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones,
while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

Beryl Markham


(my grandmother’s silver sippy spoons / Julie Cook /2017)

Our trip to West Palm Beach was long, short, sad and wrenching.
653 miles spent driving down on a Friday…
only to then turn around and drive it all back again on a Monday.

It took about 10 hours, with only one quick stop for gas.
Coupled by a constant flow of bumper to bumper traffic hurling itself,
as if lemmings on some odd unknown mission, to an unforeseen southward destination.

We drove and we drove to what seemed to be the ends of the earth…
but that would have been Key West and that would have required more time with
more stops than our backsides would allow.

The color of the sky changes when one is traveling so far south—
It goes from the more familiar north Georgia’s typical hazy blue sky,
to a faint veiled gauzy cloudy azure blue…
Maybe it’s because the land lays so flat, punctuated only by pencil thin palms
as the soil is more white sand than dirt…
and with the sun so intense, light easily reflects back upon itself.

The heat of day does not dissipate with the waning of a day as it does at home.
It doesn’t back off when the sun finally sets, providing that long awaited
respite of comfort.
There is actually a tremendous heaviness that engulfs one’s whole being…
this being due to the overtly high humidity which makes breathing nearly
impossible.
And I thought our humidity was bad.

Moving from air conditioned buildings, which is essential to survival,
out to the oppressive heat and unrelenting sun leaves glasses fogged over
and skin and clothing feeling sticky and oddly wet even before one has had
proper chance to sufficiently break a true sweat.

This is the place Martha called home for the past 30 years.
A far cry from the years spent in Alexandria, Virginia during the early years of
her marriage.

I now understood why…for despite the apparently tropical beauty,
Martha would always protest…
“no no, let me just come up there”…
And because of that one fact, of her always wanting to come to us as she
would always prefer to venture north,
this was our first visit to West Palm Beach.

Martha would drive or fly up several times during the
year, staying for a couple of weeks at a time,
back to state she still considered home…
or more specifically near the city of her birth and raising….
Atlanta.

I can’t really say all that I should or would like to at this point
about all of this…not yet.
Having lost three of the most important people in my life in the past six months
has simply taken its toll…
As processing the emotions, memories and feelings of such emptiness
will take some time.

One by one… the supports and shorings are now gone…
Those that helped to hold up the life I had always known…
This is part of the transition where I become the shoring to others…
a transition that denotes change, loss, growth and new…
all rolled uncomfortably into one.

My cousin, Martha’s adopted daughter,
had asked that I come to the house the day following the funeral
to see what if anything I would like to carry back home with me.

Martha was an avid antique collector…
and her collections were eclectic at best…
old antique Papier-mâché halloween decorations with a proclivity for pumpkins.
North Carolina’s famous family of folk art pottery, the Meader’s ugly jugs,
along with the primitive pottery of Georgia’s Marie Rogers.
The Ohio Longaberger baskets numbering in the hundreds…
to early vintage RCA radio dogs..
all the way down to antique turkeys of every size and shape.

I was really overwhelmed when we walked into the house and actually saw
the level to which some of the “collecting” had spiraled.
Her house not equipped for the excessive spillover.

My cousin immediately asked if I would like Martha’s sterling silver
flatware set.

Once was a time, long long ago, when every young bride
looked to building her proper entertaining set of silverware.
Receiving the coveted wedding gifts of silver pieces was as common
as the throwing of rice…
That being a particular pattern of sterling silver complete with
utensils and serving pieces.
Everything from teaspoons to seafood forks to butter knives….
As that now all seems to be for a time that was more civilized than
our own today.

But already having my mother’s and great aunt’s sets…and truth be told,
as my world shrinks, entertaining and cooking is now not nearly what it once was,
I tried to instill the importance of her keeping the monogramed set for both her
and her own daughter.

But when she opened the dusty old silver chest, my eyes locked immediately on the
well tarnished bundle of silver drink spoons / straws…
or what we had always referred to as sippy straws or spoons, depending on who
was using them.

While growing up, whenever we visited my grandmother,
we were always served a tall glass of icy cold
Coca Cola complete with a silver sippy straw.

Coke never tasted so good as when sipped through an elegant silver straw.
It provided a seemingly civilized air of savoring verses gulping and quaffing.
Probably Mimi’s way of getting us to slow down, enjoying and not wasting…
as she was a woman who lived during a time when waste was indeed considered sinful.

The straws were always kept in a certain drawer in my grandmother’s kitchen…
inside the 1920s small Atlanta Buckhead home.
A pale wooden light green kitchen cabinet, I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye,
was where the straws, always shiny and polished to perfection, were stored.

In 1989, when my grandmother passed away, Martha and I were the only two left to
the task of sorting and emptying the house for market.
She got the straws.
I had always wanted just one…
just one to remember.

Over the years I’d see other straws at various antique markets and silver stores,
always thinking I’d buy myself just one,
but in the end deciding it just wouldn’t be the same…

It wouldn’t be one of the straws I’d gleefully
retrieve out of the pale green drawer, delightfully anticipating plunging
it into my frosty glass of brown fizzy liquid…
as I’d gently clench the straw between my front teeth,
feeling the cold drawn liquid being pulled up into a parched waiting mouth…
So refreshing because Mimi’s house, back in those days, was not air conditioned…
an icy cold Coke, on a hot Georgia summer’s afternoon,
seemed like the greatest treat a child could have been given…

I asked my cousin if I could have the straws.

She was 10 years younger than I was and did not have the same fond memories
from time spent with our grandmother.
Being so much younger and living so far away, never afforded her much time to
bond with the long widowed woman with the poodles there in Atlanta as I had.

I had been the only grandchild for many years and we only lived 10 minutes away.
Plus Mimi was not a warm and fuzzy grandmother like others and what warmness
there was, faded with her mind as the dementia grew more and more.

My grandmother had lived a hard life.
A life that she had forged alone for herself and her two daughters during
a depression and a World War as a widowed woman…
long before it was common for women to own a business and work outside of
the home.
Both of which she did very successfully for most of her adult life.

My cousin was more than happy to give me the straws and seemed almost
sad that I really didn’t want to take much more as her task is now daunting
as she figures out what to do with years of accumulated treasured stuff.

This as I still have my own years of stuff to sort through at Dad’s.
As both cousins are now left to the task of picking through,
as well as picking up, the pieces—
all of what stays and all of what goes.

My cousin tells me that she wants to sell the house, eventually moving northward
where there are actually seasons, hills and trees…
verses living where the sky meets the ocean coupled by the
oppressive heat, humidity, and an azure blue sky….

I think I’ll polish my straws and then do something I haven’t done in years…
I’ll pour myself a Coke, a real Coke…bottle only mind you,
over a tall glass of ice…and I’ll plunge a straw deep down into the glass of
cold fizzy liquid as I draw up the memories of lives once known but always loved.

Head cast down

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed;
we are perplexed, but not in despair;
Persecuted, but not forsaken;
cast down, but not destroyed

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

Psalm 37:24

DSCN8613
(a tiny volunteer pansy pops up between the driveway and the brick walk / Julie Cook / 2014)

Perhaps it is the unseasonable weather.
Perhaps it is the grey sky.
Perhaps it is the stressful holidays.
Perhaps it is the burdens of life
Perhaps it is the numerous funerals of late.
Perhaps it is the recent news of loss and death.
Perhaps it is the sudden transitions of life
Perhaps it is the news. . .

Head cast down, eyes now dimmed, starring blankly at nothing
As a heavy invisible weight pushes shoulders ever more downward and bent
The usual quick and brisk gait now laboriously hindered.
Gone are the lush colors of the vibrant growth of life.
The greyness of melancholy wraps its spindly arms around any and all
While joy and hope seem to have vanished with the sun.

And just as the bleakness seems to swallow up any remaining sense of purpose,
Out of a tiny crack, wedged tightly between pavement and walkway, a tiny ray of Love raises its head for all to see.
A small yet powerful and potent reminder of a never-ending love constantly present yet often times forgotten and overlooked between a Father and His child.

“Remember, I am with you always. . .” whispers the tiny bloom.