My grandfather was born and raised on his family’s farm in south central Georgia.  I imagine in his early years he lived similarly to my children, in that he probably spent a great deal of time outdoors.  He developed a fascination with reptiles – turtles and snakes specifically.  It was a lifelong enthusiasm that knew few boundaries (there are some stories to tell here).

He remembered for us a story of a playmate from his neighborhood who moved to Florida.  When she returned for a visit, he asked her what it was like down there.  She remarked on the abundance of snakes and turtles, and it planted a seed in his mind that Florida was a place he would like to live someday.

So, years later, when he was in medical school at Emery University and met my grandmother with her sweet way of saying “yeah-yuh” and family in south Florida, he knew he had found his path to paradise.  When she agreed to his engagement proposal one winter’s day, he ran outside in his shorts and bare feet and celebrated in the snow, so the story goes.

aren't they lovely?

aren’t they lovely?

He and my Nana went AWOL while they were serving as medics (he was a doctor, she a nurse) in WW2.  They took off for some beautiful spot in France and got married.  And they stayed that way (not in France, or AWOL, but married for sure) for more than 65 years – the rest of their long lives.

My grandfather really loved life.  He liked to explore.  He drove fast.  He learned to fly an airplane, and flew regularly.  He rowed and sailed on little Lake Isis, where he and Nana lived in central Florida, and took an annual Christmas day dip in the lake, always emerging refreshed, saying he “felt better already”.

flying themselves out to Wyoming to visit their son...

flying themselves out to Wyoming to visit their son…

He also loved to serve.  He was a family physician in the small Florida town where they lived – and that was his entire career.  Each and every time I visited my grandparents in their “home town”, we would go out to eat or make a shopping excursion around town.  It was unavoidable that at least one person, and probably more than one, would walk up to me and pat me on the shoulder with a statement such as… “Well, hunny, you must be Sally Beth’s little girl!  Your grandfather delivered ALL my babies!”.  There’s an official number somewhere on record, no doubt, but I have been told by reliable sources that my grandfather assisted the births of over 2,000 babies over the years.  He probably attended to the final illnesses of many of the townspeople as well.  He was a family doctor, the way that family doctors used to be.

In his final days, he continued, in his dreamy, drifting way, to sew stitches and do the occasional surgery, asking my mother to find someone’s file for him, years and miles away.

And he loved his family. He was a generous and loving grandfather.  Even though we sometimes fumbled in our understanding of each others’ worlds, there was never a doubt that he loved us all faithfully, so much.

this is a funny picture - but look at his smile!

i can’t stand my fuzzy hair – but look at his smile!

As a child, my grandparents’ Florida home was a magical place.  The house was large and full of dusty, fascinating family relics, and the grounds were a jungle of flower and fruit, with the lake sparkling, beckoning in the background.  I remember getting lost in the tangerine tree branches, eating so many tart and sweet fruits, the tremendous variety of texture and flavor, and the amazement of finding my first ripe mulberry.  It felt like Eden sometimes.  Until I met some fire ants, anyway.sam and pat in yard

Nana and Grandpa left their personal paradise nearly ten years ago, when it became clear that they could not maintain their house and grounds, themselves, without assistance.  I’m sure it was difficult for them.  But they made the most of it, and I am grateful that they came here, close to us.  It was precious, to have four generations, together.  They became GG (Great Grandpa) and Big Nana (which is funny cause she was a tiny little old lady) to Lulah.  Nana passed away when Levon was a tiny babe.  It has been difficult, since then especially, to watch my Grandpa slowly fade.11-21-10 002

My mother has tended to him faithfully, beautifully, and I have learned so much from watching her about graceful change in the course of life.  The approach of death is as trans-formative a process as the approach of birth.  The energetic charge of it is different, but no less powerful.  With birth, we make room for this new person in the fabric of our family.  With death, we absorb the memories, the life story, of our elder into us, then bind ourselves closer to those we love, to close the hole that they make with their departure.

Rest in peace, Grandpa.  Thank you for your great love.  We love you too.sam and pat on trolley

the first annual susan white memorial picnic

momo n meIt has been one year since my step mother Susan made her sudden departure from this life.  Some friends gathered for a picnic over the weekend, to celebrate her memory.  It was a rainy day, but those of us who attended were grateful to be there, standing around the little native Redbud tree dedicated in her honor at the local park.  We spread some ashes and nicely composted mule manure, and appreciated each others’ company.  I wrote this for the occasion:

It’s been a year now since any of us has seen Susan, in the flesh. I know many of us have looked for her, in the usual places, and wished she would show up. It’s been long enough now to begin to wrestle with the reality that our friend is not returning, not the way she was before.

And its been long enough to really know why we wish she was here. Susan was a beautiful person. She delighted in life’s beauty and took pleasure in contributing to it. She enjoyed making a space fun and inviting, and making an occasion special. We feel her absence in our gatherings and seasonal festivities. We miss her special touch.

Susan also loved the woods. Not just as a concept, but as a HOME. It is a trait that many of us here share and understand in each other, and in the past as, as I have tangled with all the tangential impulses that accompany the loss of a loved one, it has been a comfort for me to know that Susan spent her last few hours at home in the woods, exactly where she wanted to be. In one of our last phone conversations, she was there in the Hollow, and she remarked, “It’s just so beautiful out here.”

She also expressed her gratitude to our good neighbor, Chuck, for mowing the yard. And now I do the same. Every time I pull up Henry Hunter Lane, into the modest clearing where site the house I know so well, I too think that it is so beautiful, and I also thank Chuck for mowing.

I have thought often over the past year about death and dying and how difficult a concept it is for us, the living. There go our friends, our family, away from us, it seems, to someplace we can’t know about. We might hear theories about what goes on. We probably believe some of those theories and disbelieve others. Some of us study on it quite a lot, but we can not experience it, all the way, until we experience it, and after that, it appears fairly difficult to get a message back to the rest of us to let us in on whatever reality exists beyond that veil. So there’s some amazing quality of un-knowing going on when we are put face to face with that reality.

Un-knowing, ignorance, can be frustrating for us big-headed bipeds.

But, I have my own ideas, coping mechanisms perhaps, to bring to the fumbling place of loving and losing that we have been through in the past year.

When we most miss our friend and most wish she were with us to share some moment, what if we summoned the courage to cut through our grieving and our ideas about dying and going away, and we just looked for her instead? We have to look for her differently now. She won’t be laughing with a cup of coffee in her hand on the other side of the table from us. But it may be that she can be found inside each of us, just in the way that we know her so well, enjoying that moment, just the same.

So, when we are appreciating some specially enchanting piece of life, or seeking that beauty inside a struggle, and we wish she was there to share our joy, or add wit or wisdom to our conflicts, perhaps we are summoning her, inside of ourselves, and so in that way the enjoyment is magnified, and the storm is calmed. And all the more, when we share a good space with each other, when we connect the different pieces of memory that each of us carry together, and bring them into the present moment and appreciate who she was to each of us, then, I believe that in some way she is here, as well. Not held back from anywhere else, not restricted by body, politics, or finance, but carried forward with the same love that carries us all.DSCN0888

it ain’t always easy

My week was intense. I felt so much like the warbler that found it’s way into our house and suddenly realized it was trapped. And then spent a bunch of energy flitting around looking for the exit sign while inadvertently bashing it’s head on the windows, attracted to the promise of what lay on the other side, but unable to travel that enticing direct route to get there. Then being chased, pursued, and finally caught and held by something larger. Something that it didn’t fully understand.

Yeah. My week was sort of like that.IMG_7061

I busted my little buns in the garden this week. I wasn’t the only one busting buns; also Eric, sometimes the kids, and more often than not our farm neighbors and devoted helpers, Jesse and Hannah. A tremendous amount of work went down. Sweet potatoes were planted. All varieties of peppers and eggplant were transplanted. Ginger. Watermelons. Muskmelons. Zucchini. We cultivated. We pulled weeds. We got sunburned. By Thursday afternoon, we had accomplished so much and we were all pooped and ready for a break. And blessing of all blessings, in rolled the thunder, lightning, and dark clouds. And then the deluge. (Can you hear the porch swing creaking and long gulp-y swallows of some type of carbonated, fermented beverage?)

Cher as "dead weight" on the harrow. You see why I might need a beer...

Cher as “dead weight” on the harrow. You see why I might need a beer…

It rained hard. By evening, when the rain subsided, enough rain had fallen to bring the small creeks up in a flash flood. My wool sheep happened to be on the other side of a raging “branch”, so including them in the evening rounds wasn’t an option. But I just figured all was well and instead went with Eric to lend a hand with his chores: moving the big flock/herd of sheep and cows, collecting eggs, loving on the dog, feeding the chicks and goslings. All the critters in that circuit were peaceful and glistening following the storm. IMG_7048IMG_7055So we do the chores and head to the house and call it a day. Friday morning, also known as “harvest day”, rolls around. Before heading up to the gardens, and since the raging torrents had subsided, I went over to check on my sweet little wool sheep. My most skittish ewe, presumably from the fear of the intense storm, had likely spooked and had gotten herself tangled in our electrified net fencing,,, and was dead. Not at all what I was expecting to find waiting for me on that otherwise beautiful morning. (Here the little bird begins bashing it’s head on the window, trying to understand why it can’t get out.)

But (not to sound cold), there’s a business to run and a harvest to execute. So I untangle the ewe, remove her from the paddock, and in a haze, move on with my day. Fortunately, the harvest is relatively quick which allows me to return my thoughts to the dead ewe. I couldn’t bear the thought of her being “wasted”, but at this point her meat was dogfood. Her fleece was gorgeous, though. Shorn just long enough ago to hide all of the wobbles left from my inexperienced shearers hand. And she was my only brown ewe. Here, I would like to interject what a damn fine husband I have. For I voiced my desire to skin the ewe so that I could tan her hide and Eric didn’t think I was crazy (well, not too much anyways) for wanting to tackle such a project on a harvest day. He dutifully helped me, amid a swarm of flies and stench, and patiently taught me some new skills. Bless him. (I put the hide in the freezer for later tanning, so expect some future progress report on this project another day.)

I hope this hasn’t left you readers longing for the story to be over. It’s not over. There’s more.

Saturday morning Ira and I (along with Hannah), head to Nashville for market in the pre-dawn hours of the morning. With so many chores on the farm right now, Eric or I, and a child or two, has to stay home from market to tend it all. Well. When Eric made the chore rounds that morning, and went to check the little flock, he was thunderstruck. Another ewe, this time one of Ira’s, had found the same fate. Tangled and dead in the fence. The very next day. We have no idea what happened. Maybe the mineral feeder was too close to the fence? Maybe with the dark of the moon, the ewes just couldn’t see the fence during the night? (But we have used this type of fencing for years with minimal drama.) While I am a fairly upbeat and positive person most of the time, this series of events left me feeling cursed. And to see Ira’s face when he saw his dead sheep. A sheep that he had bottle-raised, cared for, and loved for an entire year. It’s enough to leave a mama with her heart in her hands, wringing and squeezing, at the sight of that forlorn boy. And he had just lost a baby duckling to (we assume) a big black snake, his favorite newly hatched chick from a broody hen suddenly died, and he ran over one of his pullets when moving his chicken coop… all just days before. Mercy. To quote Ira: “Boy, things just aren’t going very good.”IMG_7088

I know these stories seem depressing and sorrowful. I know I could have just kept my mouth shut and instead focused on all the fine and good things that happen each day. I could have kept it sugar-coated. Full of rainbows and butterflies. That kind of thing. But I also want to be sincere. I want to be true and real and honest. Shadows pass. We all know that. We just never know for sure when, or what the light quality will be like when they do. I’m learning that it ain’t always easy… but it’s real.IMG_7068