Something and Nothing

Most companies offer three days off for grief.

[The Tennessean. Oct. 26, 2011] “Bill Would Give Grieving Parents Unpaid Leave.” Some people deserve the right to stay home and grieve. Those who have lost children need time off work, up to 12 weeks, without the fear of losing their jobs. About two percent of US annual deaths involve babies, children, and teens. In 2007, that number was 53,000.

Yes, I agree that these people need time to process reality and loss, to plod through shock and into a new normal without that loved one. I’ve heard losing a child is the most anguishing experience one will ever bear. It’s kind and considerate when these parents are provided with a safety net so they can begin to heal from crippling loss, because in loss, one cannot focus, one cannot think, one cannot remember what happened a minute ago.

Our lawmakers are now giving of their time and energy to consider a bill that would expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to allow grieving parents of children eighteen and younger to take unpaid leave for twelve weeks without having to worry about losing their jobs. They are doing this for SOME AMERICANS. Not all.

It only applies to people who work for a company that has fifty or more employees.

What about all those who have jobs with smaller firms? They are S-O-L. I trust you know what that means.

I learned about this a few years ago. I worked with my husband in a small company he owned. He died, the income was gone instantly, the office rent was due in two days, the home mortgage was due in five, and there were a hundred small businesses depending on him to keep their computer networks up and running. With his death, I lost my job and there was no time to grieve, not even the standard three days. Before his funeral I was taking care of customers and interviewing companies to merge our business with. Then I cleaned and moved out of the office within four weeks, all the while looking for another job. I went to work six weeks after his death.

I went to work for a company that had twenty employees. So one year later when my mother was ill and I needed time off desperately to go take care of her, I didn’t have it because my company didn’t fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act. I was told I could use all my sick days and vacation days and then I wouldn’t get paid and if too many days went by, well, then, they might have to bring someone else in to do my job, but they would try to give me something when I came back. I was a single wage-earner in my household. So I delayed going to my mother and had to put her in a nursing home that pushed enough morphine into her to kill an elephant, though I didn’t realize it at the time, and in less than a month she was at the point of death. My sister and I took her home and stayed with her and I used up all my days off at work. I drove the six hours home after her funeral and went to work the next day.

I wonder how many other Americans are in this category.

The government does things that are good sometimes, but they don’t always benefit all Americans. Just some. My heart goes out to all those Americans who don’t work for companies of fifty employees or more because I know a little bit of what you’ll go through when it happens to you, and it is an anguishing experience and one you never get over.

Southern Festival of Books 2011

Another downtown Nashville Southern Festival of Books – and two new T-shirts from the Atlanta “Book Slut” girls’ cute shirt booth – gotta love ‘em: “Lit Happens” and “Lover of the Written Word.” It was the most beautiful weekend that ever was, and it was great to spend it in an Authors Circle booth with Bill Peach and others of the writing community, talking about writing, selling books. It was great to see those I don’t get to see except on special occasions: Charles (and Ann) from my hometown, the sweet gentleman who has given me Eudora Welty and Willie Morris tapes and Helen Hanff books, River Jordan, Jolina, Diana, the TWA bunch, Cindy, Randy, William Gay, and so many others. It was good to visit with Nancy Allen and Grace Swift – love them both! It was great to meet Scott and wonderful to spend an afternoon with my friend Julie Gillen, that fabulous Maury County columnist! And Chance, the noted poet. And Mary Ann, who’s getting her memoir ready to go. Thanks to Benetta and Lynn for stopping by the booth, and thanks to you all who bought my books! Now, some pictures to preserve the days…

Apple Cider Time

It’s fall. Time for apple cider, caramel corn, pumpkin pie, and that rum-apple cake I so love.  Yellow mums and a few pumpkins are on the front porch, and the fire pits in the back have already blazed a time or two.

I hosted my writers group last week and built a fire in the pit on the patio, as well as one in the built-in pit beside the abelia and red tips. We ate crackers and cheese and grapes and pumpkin bread and drank a little wine. We read our stories and talked about them under the night sky.

Yellow leaves are falling like coins. There should be a jingle, but there’s not, for the leaves are silent. The Japanese maple in front of the living room windows is beginning to turn red. What a beautiful season that shows this tree in all its blazing glory! I love this time of year — when my yard puts on a colorful show before it slows down and sleeps in winter.

I love this house. I love it in the fall, I love it in winter’s cold, I love it when my yard is reborn in spring. I can barely think of leaving it, but I am thinking of that, and if I’m not here in the spring to see it all come alive and beautiful again, well, here’s to you 2348, a sip of cider! A toast to the house I’ve lived in almost as long as I lived in my childhood home! You are a place of peace and comfort and beauty, and I do so love you.

Steve Jobs Goes, But Leaves a Legacy

These words…drink them in. To my sons, to myself, to people I don’t even know…let them meet your soul, let them fill your being, let them guide and inspire you:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Jobs said these words in a 2005 Stanford commencement speech. They have value to us all.

Wail, um, Whale of a Summer

Hard to believe it’s over. Summer. In the hell of over 100 for a month running, I couldn’t even dream of feeling cold, wearing a jacket, seeing frost on the rooftops ever again. I’ve done all three in the past 24 hours. The temp dropped to 40, and I rode, leather jacket and gloves, on the back of a motorcycle to Lawrenceburg to Amish country. Even in leather, I was cold. This morning there was patchy white stuff on my roof. I’m in heaven.

Summer started with a wail. I was fighting chipmunks. They were tunneling around my little backyard pond and dumping dirt in it. I emptied it three times, cleaned, and re-filled it, hired a Chipmunk Man to make my yard critter-free, lost the battle, ripped that pond out, and hauled it to the street for the trashmen to pick up, all the while whining and wailing about it. I put a fire pit in its place, or my son did.

In full wail-mode about not being able to take care of ponds and fire pits and flowerbeds, I put my house up for sale. Which means I had to clean it first. Those who know me know I don’t spend a lot of time cleaning, updating, and buying new furniture or accessories. So my work was cut out for me. After pretty much working myself to death, I concluded I’d lost my mind, as well as the battle with the chipmunks and the backyard.

Mixed in with all the bad was all the good. There was Oregon. Driving down the coastal highway 101 with a friend, my sister, and her husband. Riding dune buggies. Whale watching. Soaking up sunsets. Taking in lighthouses.

There was the trip home, to Cleveland, Mississippi, and reuniting with old high school friends…or former high school friends…or maybe old and former. What beautiful girls they were back in the 60s in the Delta, and what lovely and extraordinary women they are now! And can I just be lovely and extraordinary along with them, even for a day? Or think I am.

And September ends with other remarkable things, like the Bluegrass Festival in Summertown and a ride in an Amish buggy in Etheridge. And the Grand Ole Opry.

All in all, well, it was a whale of a summer.

Now, welcome October!