One week out of the summer, the grandtwins come to visit. Just me and them. I put all work aside and devote all time to them. This year they are seven, out of first grade, going into second—boy and girl. Therein lies kind of a problem, because it’s hard to be with each one as an individual, hard to play LEGOs and Barbies at the same time. But as I observed last week, they are two children, but they are not two children. They are one child. They are always hanging on to each other, moving like the Blob, playing together, telling each other what to do, looking out for each other.
Especially Jillian. She rides Hardy like a hard-working mule in the field. I picked them up at the Natchez Trace headquarters in Tupelo, and as she and I headed for the ladies’ restroom, she looked at Hardy and in front of all the visitors indoors, she said loudly, “Go to the bathroom, Hardy.” I remembered last summer when she said, “Hardy, I am not putting that commode seat down after you one more time. You’ve got to learn to do it!” At one point during this week, she strode through the living room with her long legs and a boy’s shirt in her hand. “What are you doing” I asked. “I’m laying out Hardy’s clothes for tomorrow.” She even packed his suitcase for him. At another point during the week, I heard him ask her where his new socks were, and I told him, “Hardy, if you and all the other men cannot take care of yourselves, you’ve just got to take what comes to you.” And then he could absolutely not find his new flip flops one day. “They’re in your bedroom, on the floor. Look under the starlight stuffed animal.” He answered, “I didn’t see them anywhere.” And I just had to say it: “That’s because you are a boy, and men and boys never look under anything for their stuff. If it’s not on top, y’all can’t find it. And that goes for ALL men.”
Hardy, in all his brother sweetness, when he is not poking, slapping, and putting his feet on Jillie and making her squeal, can be protective. We were stopped at a Shell station to use the restroom, and while Jillie was inside the bathroom, I walked an aisle or two away to remotely lock my car because I had forgotten to, and Hardy started to follow, but then said, “No, I’ve got to stay with Jillie,” and went back to stand beside her door.
I always plan a bustle of activity when they come, and this year was no exception. We went to Glow Galaxy, the pool, Sky Zone, Adventure Science Center where we saw the featured exhibit Wolf to Wolf and watched Stars in the planetarium, Homestead Manor and Farmer’s Market, where we bought bread and peach jam for toast, picked blackberries, made cookies, had a tea party, watched Lady and the Tramp, watched 19 episodes of the Hardy Boys’ Applegate treasure show on DVD, read from Hardy Boys book #1 on which the movie was based, read from Ivy and Bean, saw Finding Dory at Carmike Cinema, watched E.T., played ball and bubbles with the puppy, did street chalk art, drew designs on flat, smooth pebbles, and played LEGOs and Barbies.
One thing I didn’t think through when naming the puppy—Heidi—was the difficulty of calling out names when the kids are here, and so Hardy was Heidi and Heidi was Hardy. And sometimes, though, Heidi was Chaeli, her predecessor. And sometimes I went through all four names before I got the right one!
Hey! He’s double-jointed like me!
For the first time, I don’t think I called Jillie JillieBean the whole week.
And so, JillieBean, Hardy, and Heidi—what a week! Come back, and we’ll go canoeing!
On this patriotic day, this 4th of July…I am for some reason bothered by the Facebook posts that say PRAY FOR AMERICA. I don’t understand the concept. It seems very shallow, when you really think about it. Of course, yes, I would agree, on a very basic, immature, and baby-Christian level, pray for America. It’s a start, even if we don’t have the awareness of what we’re saying and praying for. America needs our prayers. But…
We ARE America. So who and what are we praying for when we pray for America?
Are we expecting to say a two-minute prayer for our country and our leaders and then sit back and grill our steaks and eat our homemade ice cream and wait on God to “come down here” and fix everything the particular way we want it? Are we expecting God to do the work while we whack open a watermelon? Are we expecting God to intervene in our national processes?
God doesn’t always intervene. (I think we can all agree on that.)
Maybe we should grow up a bit, mature, apply some of the wisdom we were equipped with. Perhaps we should pray for ourselves and say GOD BLESS ME AND HELP ME BECOME A GOOD AMERICAN. Because…
We are the mouth, the hands, and the feet of God/Christ in the world. He is counting on us to do the work, to look beyond ourselves, to open our minds and see outside our tiny boxes, to look at the big picture and how we fit into it, to fix ourselves, to understand love and brotherhood, and then to lift up America…to not only pray, but to be the prayer and the answer to the prayer.
All I know is that it can’t be right in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of God to post PRAY FOR AMERICA in one instance and then in the next to spew hatred for Obama or to share an old tired meme about Hillary or to put down Trump.
We’ve got to find a way to help ourselves grow up and act right. If prayer will do this, then I say let’s change the charge to PRAY FOR AMERICANS…
That we might mature on the vine and be the healing and uniting force our democracy so desperately needs. That we might lift up instead of tearing down. That we might know just exactly who we are and who we belong to and what we’re supposed to be about in this world.
It was a white night last night.
For some reason, I thought of ice cold milk and couldn’t get the picture of it out of my mind. It was really a day for water, and lots of it, with a heat index of 103 and humidity so high I could barely breathe. It was too hot to go to the Blackberry Jam music festival and sit outside by the Harpeth all day. It was too hot to stand outside and talk to a neighbor; it was too hot to walk the dog very far. And I thought of ice cold milk. I had to have some.
When I was a little girl and spent a week each summer on my grandparents’ farm in Kemper County, Mississippi, I drank their milk straight from a cow. My grandfather was the first one up every morning to go milk the cows, and he always brought a pail back to the house. It was not homogenized, it was not pasteurized, it was not like city milk from a carton. My grandmother put ice in a glass and poured the milk over it. We never did that at home.
I remember the look of it. The milk seemed a little thin and yellow against the white ice, blocky parts of which floated above the surface, coated with cream.
So last night I stuck my glass under the ice dispenser, filled it, then poured milk over it. I shook it and let the ice hit the glass and make noise. I grabbed a few M&Ms and went outside on the front porch to sit under a cobalt sky headed to darkness. Clouds darker than cobalt were furiously building and boiling upward from the day’s heat, and lightning was flashing behind their tops and among them.
I chewed my chocolate and drank my ice cold rattly milk and watched the storm move closer, the sky flashing white all around me and sending bolts downward. It was coming at me from all directions, white everywhere. It was all show for an hour—no rain, no wind—just white lightning, a natural fireworks display. When it was on me, the heavens and the air all around me flashed white. And I sat there and rattled the cubes in my glass and drank my ice cold milk and remembered storm traditions of my little girl days.
At my grandparents’ house, when a storm would roll in, my grandfather would go get the car and drive it right up on the grass by the front porch. He’d make the five grandchildren sit in the car with him. The rubber tires would ground us and protect us from getting struck by the lightning. I don’t remember my grandmother ever being in the car with us. I think she took her chances and got a little peace and quiet inside the house. When I was playing at my friend Mary Sue’s and a storm came up, her mother brought us each a foam rubber pillow to sit on as we played paper dolls or drew and colored pictures because it would ground us and keep us safe. We didn’t do any of this at home. The storms came, the lightning came, the thunder came, and we kept right on doing what we were doing.
And so I sat on the front porch and drank my ice cold milk and watched the lightning.
This is my eleventh year without a father on Father’s Day. I remember all the life in Wallace Ray Hardy, my father, all the sacrifices, the dedication to family, work, and church, the happy and fun times, the laughter, and it’s so hard to get used to the idea that someone so alive and strong can be gone. It was the same for his father, my grandfather, Thomas Tyre Hardy. He was here, he was a big figure in my life, and then he was gone. It’s like the pillars of life crumble and fall when the old men go.
Now, there is no Hardy patriarch, no one to hold up the family and see to it that we’re all okay. My family has no wise old-man leadership, and we need it sometimes. Now, I talk in tears to thin air when I try to talk to my dad and ask for guidance, or I may see dragonflies or butterflies that come back to tell me things. You may think I’m crazy, but it has happened, and I have now learned that if a dragonfly or butterfly comes and lingers a little too long, in the following day or two, all hell is going to break loose and I better prepare myself to stand firm. Sometimes, that’s all you get. A warning from a bug. And Father’s Day is just another day, and I will mow my yard, and I will look at the red roses against the fence because I used to wear one every Father’s Day to Sunday School when I had a father, and I will cry and go on, and then it will be Monday, and everything will be normal again.
The men in my father and grandfather’s generations did not show emotion very often. They didn’t hug much, they didn’t express love openly, they just worked and did what they were supposed to do to take care of their family. We knew they loved us because they were always there, at the dinner table, in bed by eight or nine, and they were stable, they could be counted on, they did right by God. But I remember one time when my grandfather shot all this to bits and intensely and openly expressed emotion. It was on a summer Sunday when I was about fourteen.
Every summer I spent a week with grandparents on the farm in Kemper County, Mississippi, that had been in Hardy hands for three generations at the time, since 1850. My sister would go, too, and our three cousins from Meridian were always there. We were all over those hills and streams and gullies and ponds and woods—no boundaries, no restrictions. We’d watch our grandmother make biscuits and work the garden, and we’d watch our grandfather poison the cotton and bring the cows in, and at night we’d play Rook on the porch. In the bedroom where I slept there was a verse hanging on the wall: “Every good and perfect gift is from above.”
When Sunday rolled around, my grandpa asked who wanted to go to church with him. Like the others in his line, he was a deacon at West Kemper Baptist. His Hardy great-great grandmother and great grandfather were founding members of this church in 1850, and his Abercrombie ancestors were also charter members. They, and all the family, were buried in the cemetery beside the church.
Nobody wanted to go to church, but me. My church at home was a big part of my life, and so I’d packed my Sunday dress and high heels. I went to church with my grandfather. He introduced me to everyone: “This is my grand-young’un, Wallace Ray’s daughter, from over in the Delta.” We sat on a pew together, shared a hymnal, listened to the sermon, then drove home over the dirt road in his old Studebaker.
He wore a white shirt, tan slacks, and a straw hat to church. He was a tall man and filled up the front seat to the top of the car. With an earnest look on his farm-tanned face, the words came strongly and sincerely: “I have never in my life been so proud than to have one of my grand-young’uns want to go to church with me and to show her around and have her sit there with me. It means a lot to me, and I have never been so proud.” He kept repeating himself to the point that I was somewhat uncomfortable because men didn’t show emotion and he was.
But years upon years later, I remember that moment and those words, and it means a lot to me, too. And I am thankful for a good and faithful grandfather and father and glad to have a day set aside amidst all the other days of the year to remember these special men who stand under me.
In April of 1967, my biggest worry was the wrinkle in my stockings in my Senior Favorite picture for the Delta Daze, the school yearbook. I was sitting beside A. B. Cox in a glider in someone’s flower garden for the photo session. He had his arm behind me on the back of the swing and appeared cool, casual, and sexy. I was poised — back straight, chin up, hands folded in my lap, wearing a flower print dress with a white Peter Pan collar and white patent shoes with a double strap. I must’ve twisted my stocking when I put it on that morning, because in the final shot, there was that wrinkle running diagonally down the side of my left calf to my ankle, where it would remain forever, stuck to the page of time.
That day, I drove my green 1960 Ford Fairlane 500 to the photo shoot, and Anna Margaret rode with me. In the Superlatives, I’d won Class Favorite, and she was Miss CHS, Sophisticated Senior, and a Beauty. I rolled my window down an inch and let hot wind blow in, as we drove out Highway 8 East, chatting and listening to WHBQ on the radio. It was one of those steamy mornings that could melt the make-up right off your face. Instead of worrying about my Cover Girl, I should’ve paid more attention to my Hanes.
“We should’ve caught that,” the editor of the annual later said, “and stopped it.”
“Maybe no one will see it,” I said, hoping people would pay heed to my cute shoes, the arch of my eyebrows, or the pearl and diamond ring my parents had just given me for graduation.
But people always notice wrinkles.
Other than that wrinkle, and maybe trying to dog paddle out of senior math — a friendly term for trigonometry — with my head above water, it was a jubilant time. It was the season for senior parties, Cotillion, senior prom, Class Day, and graduation gifts. It was a time for bonding with friends before closing the high school chapter of my life and moving on to college and all the world had to offer.
Yet there was one more wrinkle in the elation of the season. Halfway around the world, half a million boys just a year or two out of high school were fighting a bloody war, getting shot, getting maimed, getting blown up. They waded through flooded rice paddies full of leeches that stuck to them and had to be burned off with cigarettes, or they trudged through jungles, encountering mines, mortar shells rigged to tripwires, booby traps, pits with poison-tipped bamboo stakes, spears lashed to bent saplings, and the enemy darting from hidden tunnels in ambush, raging to kill.
The debacle of war in Vietnam had been going on since I was a baby, when President Truman sent military aid and soldier-advisers. The Soviet leader Kruschev told us, “We will bury you.” Communism was an evil menace that had swept over Vietnam, and if that tiny country fell, it was likely the whole world would go. President Eisenhower said, “You have a row of dominoes set up. You knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is a certainty that it will go over very quickly.”
In April of 1967 the biggest military offensive of the war was taking place — a surge of troops sent to Operation Junction City, an 82-day search and destroy operation, that turned out to be successful, but when the troops left, the enemy covered it up again.
The war took place in my living room. The evening news played it — clips of soldiers running with big guns, orange smoke and the fire of bomb blasts, flag-draped coffins coming home instead of live boys, and those infernal helicopters playing the sound of war. Medevacs dropping in to unload fresh soldiers and load up the wounded made deep haunting blade sounds, a whir mixed with rapid beats moving faster than a knife cutting celery on a chopping block. The sound of the blades echoed through my living room, into the kitchen where Mama was cooking supper, into the bedroom where my sister and I were doing homework and listening to records — “The Beat Goes On” and “There’s a Kind of a Hush-sh-sh.”
Thousands of boys were dying in a fury and firestorm, while I slept in my own bed at night beside a picture of my boyfriend in his basketball uniform, ate Mama’s roast beef and mashed potatoes with gravy and two-layer chocolate cake, and worried about wrinkles in my stocking.
It all came home to rest one Saturday afternoon my second year of college when I saw a black car without whitewalls on its tires drive up in front of the house across the street. The boy who lived there was my age, had dropped out of high school, joined up, went to Vietnam. I watched as two soldiers in dress uniforms, pressed to perfection, got out of the car, stopped at the end of the sidewalk, straightened their jackets, straightened their shoulders, then took the first step together and walked in cadence to the front door. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, but I later realized, after word got out and Mama took food over. Terry Tharp was killed in war.
A wrinkle, in the name of freedom, in the name of peace, in the name of democracy….
I grew up a little bit that day.
“ . . . Gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime . . . ” [General John Logan, 1868]
The day lilies come back to stay. Honeysuckle and morning glories climb fences and trellises. Impatiens and begonias border sidewalks. Cannas are on the rise. Clover, wild onions, and dandelions spangle the yard.
It’s Memorial Day, the unofficial kick-off of summer. It’s a long weekend, a day off work.
Schools are out, pools are open, and it’s time to clean the patio. It’s time for the first watermelon cutting, time to crank out the first bucket of homemade ice cream. It’s time for cookouts. Time to roll out the grill and slap on some burgers. It’s time for my husband to try out that new steak injector he got for Christmas.
By Memorial Day, my yard is usually in tip-top shape—beds neatly mulched, annuals planted, and pots of geraniums placed on the porch and patio.
Not so this year. Weeds cover the beds like heavy blankets.
Weeds also fill my mind, getting in the way of things I want to do. I can only think about one thing. Dad. He’s ill. In the hospital. Gone from us. I sleep, I cry some, I don’t care about the weeds.
I hate thistle. It spreads everywhere—along roadways, in pastures. It’s a tall and gangly weed, crooked and awkward. It’s repulsive. It reminds me of a fibroid growing unwanted somewhere.
A thistle is growing in the gravel parking lot behind my office building in Cool Springs. I cut a stalk and lay it on my desk because I feel like looking at something ugly.
It is spiny and coarse with thorns all up and down it. It has jagged prickly leaves, and on top of rows of prickly bracts, sits a purple flower.
The plant is hard to handle; thorns stick in my flesh and hurt. But the flower is what surprises me. It’s purple, soft, delicate. And it doesn’t belong on that awful stalk.
Shades of purple filaments stick up, ordered in a circle around a center of tiny white seeds in a swirl pattern. The seeds seem protected by the outer hairs that curl gently around them.
I touch the flower to my face. It feels like the big round make-up brush I apply powdered blush with. It leaves inky marks on my cheek.
The flower is quite lovely, its fragrance sweeter than I ever imagined.
More than four million Americans, ten percent of the population over age sixty-five, have dementia, an ugly disease causing a severe loss of thinking and reasoning abilities. The families of those four million people face anguish, frustration, and grief, watching a loved one slowly slip away, even while continuing to live.
Live, meaning to breathe in, breathe out, walk or pace or shuffle, and talk even if it’s only to someone who doesn’t exist. Live, without a shred of quality or an ounce of dignity. Live in the same old body with an altered personality and a new behavior. Live, eventually, some place other than their own home.
Delusions and hallucinations are common, such as believing money has been stolen, a spouse has been unfaithful, or unwelcome guests are living in the house. Those with dementia see and hear people who aren’t really there, and the fantasies are realities that slowly take over their lives.
Having a loved one with dementia is like having a death in the family with no funeral.
Memorial Day is for honoring our nation’s war dead. It’s a day to put flowers on soldiers’ graves and hang the flag in remembrance of those who gave their lives in service to our country.
I have two fourth great-grandfathers and a third great-grandfather who fought in the Revolution. I have a piece of the original tombstone of one of them, placed in a mulched bed in front of a Burning Bush. Maybe I’ll put a flower on it.
Dad served in World War II. He rode with the Great Third Army and General George Patton. Dad was a sergeant, a frontline medic, and got a Bronze Star with Valor.
“War is hell,” Dad said.
“He has terrible memories he will never forget,” Mama said. “When he came home from the war, I listened to him talk day after day until he could sleep and stop shaking.”
“War is a bloody, killing business. You’ve got to spill their blood, or they will spill yours. Rip them up the belly. Shoot them in the guts. When shells are hitting all around you and you wipe the dirt off your face and realize that instead of dirt it’s the blood and guts of what once was your best friend beside you, you’ll know what to do!” Patton said to his troops.
No soldier is ever one hundred percent sane after the initial indoctrination of war. No soldier is ever free from emotional scars related to perpetual exposure to imminent danger.
Dad’s dementia has somehow pulled out the war experiences he spent sixty years trying to forget, and they are tormenting him.
War is hell. Soldiers die. Soldiers come home from the battlefront to live among innocents who stick SUPPORT OUR TROOPS ribbons on their cars, and they try to resume normal lives after what they’ve seen and where they’ve been and what they’ve done.