A Different Kind of Merry.

Baby Nan and Santa Dad

Baby Nan visiting with the REAL Santa

Christmas. Just saying the word brings a smile to my face. I admit it, I love Christmas.

When I was a kid, my family celebrated in a big, festive, fa-la-la-la manner. We kind of had to because, in case you didn’t realize it, my father, who for 11 months of the year was Dr. John W. Gallimore, Jr., DDS, became Santa Claus during the month of December. I’m talking THE Santa Claus.

Santa Dad revNo, really. He was the real deal. He had the red velvety costume, the big black boots, the white beard, a booming HO-HO-HO, and the hat with the fluffy band. Ask any number of kids who sat on his lap to whisper their wishes in his ear. R-E-A-L.

Ok. The beard may have been fake.

But the twinkle in Dad’s eye? That was the real deal.

And together with his Mrs. Claus (aka: Mom for most of the year), well, our house was filled with shiny, sparkly, bow-festooned Christmas magic.

It’s not that our celebration was unusual, or outside of the box. If anything, our traditions were firmly IN the box. And it was perfect.

It kicked off a week or so after Thanksgiving when we would race around the corner lot to find that one perfect tree that begged to be ours…while also meeting Dad’s exacting expectations.  The tree had to be six feet tall, with still-soft needles, and a very straight trunk. You did NOT want to bring home a tree with a wonky, crooked trunk.

We always found our perfect tree. And sometimes the trunk was crooked. And Dad would grumble a little as he tried to get the tree into the stand, straight and tall. Sorry Dad.

But it was perfect anyway.

My sisters and I would decorate it with Mom’s  guidance. She liked red lights. She liked the ornaments spaced evenly around the tree. She liked the icicles placed carefully, one slender ribbon of silver at a time. No clumps. When she wasn’t looking, I would grab a handful of icicles and toss them into the air, letting them flutter down on the tree in a haphazard  manner.

Mom always said it was the prettiest tree ever.

Christmas Eve was feast time.  Our extended family would gather at our home, in festive holiday attire. I’d always ride in the car with mom to pick up Grandma Daisy and great-Aunt Elva. We’d take the long route home so we could admire all of the best Christmas light displays in town. Then Grandpa and Grandma, Dad’s parents, would arrive and I’d rush outside to help transfer Grandma’s amazing homemade pies from their car to our kitchen, maybe getting a small taste of meringue on my finger in the process.

There was so much food. Mom would worry that the turkey was dry.  There was a running joke about hovering over the gravy on the stove to stir, stir, stir so it wouldn’t be lumpy. There was a kid’s table. There was a lot of laughter. There was excitement and anticipation and lots of hugs.

My sister Terry would play the piano as we sang Christmas carols. We weren’t really a family of singers. It didn’t matter. We sang loudly and passionately. We might have digressed to silly at times. OK, no “might” about it.

My sisters and I did a mad rendition of We Three Kings. We even harmonized. Or at least we tried. If we were slightly off key, and I’m fairly sure we were, no one complained.

It was perfect. Our grandparents always said so.

Before bedtime each kid was allowed to choose and open one gift to whet the pre-Christmas appetite. There were cookies and milk to set out. Then it was off to bed to pretend to sleep while listening carefully as Mom and Dad shuffled around, working their Christmas magic.

Remember, Dad really was Santa Claus and Mom really was the jolly man’s missus.

And finally there was Christmas morning. First, there were filled stockings placed strategically at our bedside, presumably to give us our first little gift of the day, but in reality, I think, to allow the couple Claus just a few more minutes of peace and a first cup of coffee. Their calm before the Christmas storm.

The year I hoped and prayed and hinted for a Mrs. Beasley doll?  She was there, righ under the tree. The year my letter to Santa promised all sorts of good deeds in exchange for a Beautiful Crissy doll? She showed up to share my Christmas morning. The year my obsession with horses was at its peak? A blue cowboy hat and new boots were nestled in tissue inside the box with my name on it.

And the year I really, really, really just wanted a hamster? I named him Kris Kringle.

Santa didn’t disappoint. And, in the eyes of young Nancy, Christmas was pure magic.

Family christmas revAs I grew older, as our family grew to include grandkids,  and as I started to really watch, I realized the magic wasn’t in the gifts, but rather in watching my parents’ excitement as they helped the holiday unfold. The true joy of the season, I grew to understand, was behind the flying tissue paper and oooos and ahhhhs. It was right back to that twinkle in Santa’s eye.

Now, with the passing of time, a lot of things have changed. My family has changed. Those grandkids, my nieces and nephews, are all grown up and have families of their own. My grandparents are gone, and my sister Terry now answers to the name Grandma. I am great-Aunt Nan.

My oldest sister is gone.

My parents are gone.

Christmas looks very different now. Celebrations have shifted and rearranged. Family members come together some years, and go different directions on others. Some are near to us, some are near in our hearts.

Christmas is smaller. It is quieter. We create new traditions. Sometimes it’s just me and Jim surrounded by the dogs that are our family. And, you know, that’s perfect too.

The magic may have a different sparkle, but even with a softer glow, it still shines so beautifully.

This year we’ll celebrate a lovely Christmas Eve at home. Just two people and a herd of dogs. Maybe we’ll start the evening by taking some apples and carrots out to the animals in the barn. I think I’ll ask Santa for a clear, crisp night with a sky sparkling with stars and a bright, full moon.

Then maybe we’ll fix our own little Christmas Eve dinner with all of the trimmings. We’ll light a fire, we’ll turn out all of the lights leaving just the Christmas tree to glow–you know, the tree with the crooked trunk that begged to be mine. There will be classic Christmas movies; maybe we’ll watch White Christmas, or we might give the night a dose of laughter with a Chevy Chase twist. And we’ll each open just one small gift.

On Christmas morning, we’ll get up extra early to head downtown to help a different Santa hand out small gifts we have prepared for children gathering with their families to enjoy a warm, free breakfast. I think we might sing carols. I think we will sing loudly and passionately.

SANTA & NANCY rev

Our own little Christmas. Santa Jim!

And, like my dear Santa once did, I will have a twinkle in my eye that just might escape to trace down my cheek as I remember, as I honor, and as I embrace my new traditions. Different, yes, but still merry. Still wonderful. Still filled with magic.

Thank you, Santa, for this one lasting gift. You taught me well. It’s just what I always wanted.

And it’s absolutely perfect.

I Was A Mom For One Hour, 45 Minutes

Vegas flight

Early morning flight heading into Las Vegas

Last Wednesday I headed out at dark:30 for a quick business trip to Las Vegas. Yes it was business. Really.

The flight was scheduled to depart at 6:15. That’s am. In the morning. Ugh.

What a 6:15 am flight means to me: 1. Need to be at the airport at least an hour in advance of the flight to allow time to clear security, and get to the gate. 2. Need to allow a minimum of 45 minutes to drive from our farm to the airport and find parking. 3. Need to allow 15 minutes to feed dogs and refresh their water. 4. Need to allow 10 minutes to give hugs and kisses to Jim and each and every dog.

Oh yeah. And I need to allow time to shower, dress, and attempt to look human.

My late night math on Tuesday evening before the flight determined that I had to set my alarm for 3:30 a.m.

A 3:30 a.m. wake-up? Inhumane to woman and beast.

I did pull it all off by promising myself that I would get on the plane and immediately fall back into slumber, well aware that my drifting-off head bobs and “sleeping face” (all slack and yes, I’m a mouth breather. Nose doesn’t work well), would provide good fodder for a few strangers’ Facebook feeds. Fine. The promise of extra sleep trumps all vanity.

I was on Southwest airlines, so no assigned seat, and I was in boarding group “C” on a full flight. The dream of prime snooze-worthy seating (toward the front, by the window) was unrealistic, so the next task was to choose seatmates who would be as equally committed to ignoring me as I would be to shutting them out.

About three-fourths of the way back in the plane, I spotted an aisle seat open, with what I thought was a young couple sitting in the middle and window seats. Score.

If I had been a tad more awake, this configuration would have been a red flag. On Southwest, savvy travelers, whether traveling together or solo, fill the window and the aisle seats first, hoping to dissuade people from filling in the dreaded middle seat. But hey, this was, by all appearances, a young couple and the flight was full. They wanted to sit together, right? And they probably wanted to sleep too, right?

Oh, so wrong. So very, very wrong. They were anything but sleepy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I generally enjoy meeting and engaging with people on flights. It’s a fun, speed relationship and I find that people often reveal amazing things about themselves during this brief and temporary bonding time. I swear I’m the bartender of the skies. But at dark:30, no one really wants to forge a temporary relationship. No one, but my row-mates, that is.

Judging by my quick sideways assessments, I guessed the young man next to me to be about 21 and the young lady by the window to be about 18 or so. He was lanky and clean-cut, she was a bit goth in appearance with dyed hair, dark clothing, black nail polish, and heavy black eyeliner – not over the top, but definitely on the moody side.

I initially thought they were boyfriend/girlfriend. And then I stopped thinking about them, closing my eyes in the universal flight language for “I’m not interested in interacting.”

Oh but wait. There was an announcement about a sweatshirt found at the gate. The young couple next to me stirred in excitement. It belonged to her and she was about to vault over me to get to the flight attendant holding it aloft in the aisle.

“They said to just push the call button,” I explained, “They’ll bring it to you.”

After showing them the location of said call button, my first “uh-oh” moment, the sweatshirt was delivered and we settled back in.

Ahhhh. Sleep.

Not.

“This is only our second time to fly.”

Huh? Oh…he was talking to me.

“Really? Well, enjoy the flight.”

My eyes remained squeezed shut.

My determined row-mates apparently did not speak airplane-ese.

He: “Have you flown more than twice?”

Me: “I have. Lots more.”

He: “How many times?”

Me: “I really don’t know.”

He: “Where have you flown?”

Me: “Oh, lots of places.”

He: “Like where?”

So I rattled off a few of the more interesting places on my travel list, and settled back in to obvious nap mode once again.

He: “What was it like in Africa?”

Shoot. In hindsight, I should not have shared the more interesting places on my travel list. I should have said Detroit and Burbank. I politely gave some details so we could return to sweet, sweet silence.

He: “Are you getting off the plane in Denver?”

No, I explained. I was traveling to Las Vegas. I learned that he and his girlfriend(?) would be getting off in Denver. I clung to that promise.

The question and answer session continued…where do you live…I learned where they lived. Why are you going to Vegas…I learned why they were going to Denver. I learned again that it was only their second flight.

My brain was fighting consciousness; fighting to not become engaged.

Then it happened. He asked THE question. He found my kryptonite.

He: Do you have any animals?

So yeah, I have animals and I can’t NOT talk about them. It’s physically impossible. Let the airplane relationship begin and get ready to see photos of my very cute animals.

My new, temporary, too-early-in-the-morning best friends were Zach and Heather (I might have made these names up. It’s not to protect the innocent, it’s that I don’t remember names easily with a wide-awake, first-dose-of-caffeine-on-board brain, so a dark:30 brain doesn’t have a prayer).

I was asked to guess their ages. I said I had no idea but tossed out my 21/18 estimate. I learned that he was 16 and she was 12. So much for any subconscious dreams of joining a carnival as the “guess your weight/age” person.

Wait, thought sleepy brain. TWELVE? Who lets their 12-year-old wear make-up like that? Did you put that on in the airport bathroom after your mom left you at the terminal? And please tell me you are brother and sister, not underage boyfriend running off with way underage girlfriend.

Whew. Brother and sister.

Let’s see…it was their second flight, but their first flight without an adult along for the trip. They were going to see their uncle who lived in Colorado Springs. They were going to climb a mountain, but they weren’t sure which one.

Zach was in ROTC in high school. Heather liked music and staring at her tablet and/or phone. Zach was excited about climbing a mountain. Heather did not like to be outside. They lived with their mom and stepdad and two step-siblings.

The family had two chihuahuas, a dachshund, and a Rottweiler, but Zach really wanted a dog that was his own dog.

Zach worked at the Taco Bell. His father and grandmother had worked there once as well. Heather liked to make (and wear!) lots of bracelets. She did not yet have a job because 18-year-old-in-appearance Heather was really only 12.

And somehow, through all of this back and forth, I became their surrogate mom.

They: “Do the drinks cost anything? What do they have? Can you ask for us? Can I have two drinks? Will they charge for the extra drink? What should I do with my gum? How much longer do we have before we get there? Can you hold my sweatshirt? How high do you think we’re flying right now? Can I have your peanuts? Can we get more peanuts? Can I get another drink? Will you ask for me?”

kid on planeI took care of my adopted kids and exchanged weary, knowing glances with the frazzled dad across the isle who was trying to wrangle two wide-awake young boys. This was a first for me. Having never had kids of my own, until Zach and Heather, I was never inducted into the Paternal Order of Bone-Tired Moms and Dads.

But now I had a little taste. A tiny little 105 minute taste.

We landed in Denver and I helped my kids gather their belongings, I told them to check the seat-back pockets, I asked if they knew where to meet their uncle.

While I stayed put for the next leg to Las Vegas, I sent “my” kids on their way with well wishes, while playfully admonishing Heather to turn off her phone and enjoy her hike up the mountain. Oh yeah, I was in mom mode, though I did stop short of telling Heather to immediately wash that crap off her pretty face.

As it turns out, when I set my dreams of a nap-time flight free, I actually enjoyed my gregarious temporary kids. They don’t live too far away from me, and sometime in the near future I may wander into the Taco Bell where Zack works to see if I can say hello.

Or maybe not. That might be a tad stalkerish. In the real world, he is not really my kid at all.

Not having kids was not so much a conscious choice on my part as much as it was a never-got-around-to-it thing. During my married years, well, it just wasn’t something that interested us. Had I met Jim during my childbearing years, I suspect we might have decided to have a kid or two, but who knows. When I had anything that resembled a nesting instinct, I got a puppy.

I have honestly rarely, if ever, regretted my decision to remain childless.

I am an aunt and a GRRRRREAT aunt (I do require you say that in Tony the Tiger style) now that my nieces and nephews are starting families. I have wonderful, beautiful kids in my world. I do not have to pay for their college education, I do get to enjoy them and spoil them. Eventually, I think they’ll be willing to look in on me now and then when I grow old.

Have I missed out on a huge life experience? Obviously, yes, but I have had other experiences that mommies and daddies don’t get to have. We all walk our own path.

One thing I do know, if I did have kids of my own – the permanent kind, not the flight-to-Denver-kind – my son would absolutely have a puppy, or three, of his very own and my 12-year-old daughter would not be allowed to wear heavy black eyeliner, but I would cave to allow a bit of light lip gloss and maybe a touch of mascara from time to time.

Hope you had a great trip, Zach and Heather. I hope you climbed the heck out of that mountain. I hope your temporary mom or dad on the return flight learn a lot from you too. You probably won’t remember our 105 minute relationship, but I sure will.

My Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

Christmas treeWhen I look out into my back pasture right now, I struggle to see anything that is particularly beautiful. The landscape is dormant and basically monochromatic. The days have been gray and devoid of the sunlight that I desperately crave. I think the weatherman reported that we have seen only three sunny days since Thanksgiving. ACK!

This is the landscape that ushered in the holidays. A bunch of blah. Add to this the fact that everything I have ever really know to be “the holidays” has changed. Of course it has changed. My family has changed over the years.

That family in the grainy old photos has grown up. I’ve been through a parade of Christmas photo hairstyles. The 80s were particularly poofy.

My grandparents, parents, and oldest sister are gone now. Spouses joined the family, then some left. My nieces and nephews grew up to form families of their own. Adorable great nephews and an angelic little great niece entered the picture to breathe new life into the wonder-of-Christmas years.

But for me…well…every Christmas is still compared to the old family routine. For a good portion of my life, Christmas was blissfully predictable. There was a big dinner with extended family at Mom and Dad’s house on Christmas Eve. Then it was a Christmas morning of fun, laughter, excess, and time spent together. It was day of jolly elfin magic and early morning gifts followed by a brunch featuring all of our favorite, decadent breakfast foods (so much bacon, so very much bacon). Kids snacked on surgery treats from stockings while adults likely enjoyed some spiked beverages that somehow made it into the breakfast category (you add tomato juice or orange juice and voila!).

And it happened like that every year. For years and years. The routine held steady. And then, bam!  It all changed.

Now, I’m not turning into a pouting child here, well, ok, maybe I am. I have a tad bit of trouble with change. But I have really been working on going with the flow. Creating new traditions. Finding my own special in the most special of holidays. I’ve also really started celebrating the heck out of Halloween. I’m all about the holiday that allows…nay, requires you to dress up as someone else.

But I digress.

Christmas is still about family, and celebrating together. It is. The routine has just changed. It just all looks different now. And I have to embrace different.

Last year, I embraced it by hiring a company to cover our house in lights. It was the first Christmas without my dad and the third without my mom. I needed some holiday sparkle and magic. It was nice. The house looked wonderful and welcomed me home every night. My spirits were lifted.

And it was expensive.

This year, we decided that hiring the lighting guys again was a bit like mixing money in with the hay we throw to the donkeys. We’ll do our own lights, we said. We’ll light the place right up. I had my doubts. The holidays tend to sneak up on us.

We’re often the people at the Christmas tree lot at the eleventh hour. Jim actually prefers to do his shopping on the day before Christmas. Every year we say we’re going to get cards out…and…well…did you get yours? No? Hmm.

So it was shaping up to be a pouting kind of Christmas. I was trying to get in the spirit, but the spirit was apparently flying around someone else’s house and skipping right over me. Bah humbug.

And then it happened. My little Christmas miracle.

Christmas treeI came home one night to my dark, decidedly un-Christmassy house. Bah. I unlocked the door and stepped into my living room where there was no sparkly festive tree. Hum. I looked out the back window and…hey, wait. Way out there in the pitch black version of the photo above (here, another copy so you don’t have to go all scroll crazy…now picture it all dark), was a little, blue, glowing tree. Bug, stand down! Stand down! I believe we have some Christmas happening out there!

Yes, somehow, way out in the middle of a pasture, where there is no electricity, there was a solo, tiny, perfect tree glowing blue. I am fairly sure that my horses and donkeys did not pull off this Christmas magic. Jim feigned ignorance, and though the hogs are pretty clever, I’m still betting that the only other human who lives out here deserves the holiday high five for turning my frown upside down.

Of course I’m kind of anticipating the day when the lights end up wrapped around a very disgruntled mule, but for now, every evening, as night turns out the lights, I know I can search the pasture to find my perfect little tree shining away.

If this were the perfect Christmas story, I would go on to tell you that the little pasture tree inspired the most profound, heartfelt, joyous Christmas in the history of Nancy, but that would be a tad too Norman Rockwellesque for us.

christmas pigJim did put lights on the house and trimmed some trees in the front yard. I put my glowing pig on the front porch (because nothing says holidays like a glowing pig), and did manage to decorate a tree. Then Jim and I both got the real-deal flu. Not the “gee, I kind of feel like I have the flu” flu. THAT IS NOT THE FLU. The real flu makes itself VERY known. There’s no “kind of” about it.

So on the scale of Christmases that take tradition and tuck it in bed with Tamiflu and unlimited Sprite on the side, this one was an imperfect 10.

And still, my Christmas was special. Every single time I looked out into the night, I was reminded that even the most seemingly imperfect Christmas was perfect in its own way. Yes Nancy, there is a Santa Claus. He looks a lot like a pale, coughing Jim.

I’m keeping my little magic blue tree shining in the pasture until next December, at which point I am officially calling do-overs for Christmas. Seriously. Watch for that card in the mail. If I start now…

Oh and if I forgot to say it, Merry Christmas. I know I’m late, but feel free to apply it to the 2015 Christmas. Help a gal out. Put me way ahead of the merry game. Thanks. And, hey, Happy New Year, while we’re at it.

house lights 2014

The Magic of Dad

ImageBeing a dad means a lot of things and, looking back at my Dad’s parenting career, I’d have to say that one of those things…a HUGE thing…was learning to compromise. Especially when you are the only man in a houseful of girls.

My dad was a manly, power-tool loving, football cheering, John Wayne doppelganger kind of guy. He was a funny, strong, outspoken, smart, you-don’t-have-to-ask-his-opinion man. A man’s man through and through.

He and my dear mom first had sweet baby Cindy–Daddy’s girl. Then, I’m sure everyone thought baby number two would be a boy. But no, they had cute little Terry. Daddy’s second girl. Now technically, “Terry” with a “y” is considered the boy spelling, so maybe dad was going for something there…but no, he was thrilled with his two pretty girls.

A few years later, in a didn’t-plan-it-didn’t-prevent-it accident…wait, they called it a “pleasant surprise” to spare me years of therapy…Mom and Dad were blessed with another pregnancy. Everyone was absolutely sure this one would be a boy. Even the doctor said it would be a boy, though there were no ultrasounds at the time. I’m guessing Doc must have done the spoon tied to a string dangling over Mom’s belly test or some other completely unreliable voodoo procedure.

I say unreliable because I am, of course, Daddy’s girl number three. Dad did not regret his three girls one tiny bit. Of course he did bolt out to get a vasectomy immediately after I was born, but without regret. Too much information? Sorry.

So I’m pretty sure my Dad’s life was in no small part about compromise. A big manly-man doesn’t live in a house with a wife and three girls without a little give and take. And there was a lot of give on his part. A lot. He was that kind of dad.

On this father’s day, I’m reminded of one huge check in Dad’s give column. The take-the-entire-family-to-Disney-World give, and at this point, “family” included spouses and four grandkids. If you knew my dad, this gesture deserved more than the obvious “wow, that’s a lot of people to treat in Disney” reaction.

Let me give you a little background. Dad was not exactly a family vacay kind of guy. Not that he didn’t enjoy spending time with everyone, he loved family time more than anything. It’s just that he loved family time at home. Preferably HIS home.

So, on Christmas Day, in 1990-someodd (I am not particularly good with dates), my father made the grand announcement, to a gathering of his children and his grandchildren that in June, just after the last day of school, he was treating everyone to a Disney World vacation extravaganza.

Everyone said YAY! I sat stunned and said, “Really?”

Then I said yay too…because I didn’t want to appear ungrateful. But REALLY? The man who didn’t care for travel. The man who didn’t particularly care to fly. The man who most loved being home, tending his amazing veggie garden, was going to go to Disney? In the heat of the summer? At the peak of tourist season?

Well there’s that compromise part. Big time. Dad probably NEVER really wanted to go to Disney World, but he knew it would be the trip of a lifetime for all of the kids (adult and actual).

My mother had worked with a travel agent and the whole trip was in the bag. Piece of cake. Take eleven people to Disney. Sure. Easy. Yikes.

At this particular phase in my life, I was working in Corporate America for CITGO Petroleum. We had annual conventions for all of our branded marketers. I helped plan them. The one place on earth where it was easy to find lots of space and entertainment for a couple thousand of your closest friends, was/is (drumroll) ORLANDO! So let’s just say I had been traveling to and from Orlando several times a year for several years. Let’s just say I knew the route. Really well. Really bleeping well.

I was, however, completely on board with Dad’s vision of the whole family strolling hand-in-hand through the Magic Kingdom. It was going to happen and it was going to be awesome. Dammit. Awesome.

So fast forward to June. We all checked in at the airport on time. That went well. We all got on the airplane. The same plane. That went well. We all made our connecting flight in Dallas. That went well. We all made it to Orlando. That went well.

If it seems to you that this is all going too smoothly, you’re a clever one. We all went to claim our luggage. That didn’t go so well.

Whose luggage do you suppose did not make it to Orlando? You guessed it. Mr. Compromise. Dear old Dad.

Since I had the most/most recent travel experience at that time, my family parked in a lovely airport seating area while I headed off to file a lost luggage report on Dad’s behalf. The suitcase was described…tracking was underway…I was given an 800 number to call to check on the progress of Dad’s delinquent suitcase. The suitcase with EVERY essential in it. The suitcase that was likely off on its own vacay in Tahiti or some such destination.

Soooo…Dad was a bit OCD when it came to organization and preparedness. We were the family that would never run out of foil, toilet paper, or toothpaste. There were cabinets in Dad’s garage filled with the stuff. And it was all exactly in place. Labeled.

With this background information, you can well imagine how Dad’s stress level might have started to ratchet up a tad. However, after a few moments cursing the airline under his breath, he took a deep breath, plastered a smile on his face, uttered the obligatory “it’s no big deal,” and we all headed out to board the bus. In Dad’s world I suspect that mass transit was just another rung on his personal ladder to hell, but he took it all in stride. Without his suitcase.

We made it to the hotel. It was late afternoon at this point, so I suggested that we stop by the gift shop to purchase a few essentials for Dad in case his suitcase did not appear that night. I was met by Dad’s wide-eyed “what do you mean it might not be here tonight” expression, which he quickly traded for his “no big deal” forced smile. He then purchased a few toiletries, an incredibly expensive pair of boxer shorts, and a Mickey Mouse golf shirt.

I am pleased to report that Dad’s luggage did arrive later that evening. Much later. After midnight later.  And they knocked on the door. Waking my parents. After midnight, after a full day of Gallimore Family Vacation travel. I’m pretty sure Dad greeted the bellman in his new Goofy-themed boxer shorts without a smile plastered on his face. “No. Big. Deal.” (It was becoming somewhat of a mantra at this point.)

ImageOk. Let the vacation begin! While it may seem that things got off to a little rocky start, and despite the fact that I was initially a little jaded after so very many business trips to Orlando, the Gallimore Family Disney Extravaganza was actually a magical time.

Though Dad’s vision of the whole family strolling off to find Mickey together wasn’t totally realistic considering the 40 million other families that had the same vision; we did improvise with a well-orchestrated divide and conquer strategy. My sisters and I devised a quick plan to alternate hanging out with Mom and Dad while the other two-thirds of the family would bolt off to hit the two-hour-wait lines that would eventually lead to rides that Dad would NEVER step foot on.

The third of the family on “Mom and Dad duty” would stroll casually, enjoying sights, parades, and characters. The on-duty third would make well-planned visits to various big attractions just in time for Dad to see the grandkids screaming in delight.

At midday, we’d all meet up for an air-conditioned lunch and then Mom and Dad would often head back to just enjoy a little quiet time at the hotel pool while their little darlings turned into sweaty, wonder-filled bundles of Disney adrenaline/exhaustion. Then we’d all meet back up for dinner followed by oooo-ahhhhh fireworks.

ImageAnd you know, Dad’s Christmas dream really did come true. The Gallmore Family one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-repeated Disney Extravaganza (a guy can only give so much!) was awesome.

Dad compromised, he took the entire family on a trip that probably had little to no appeal for him, and he was our hero. Though it was certainly not his ideal vacation (his ideal vacation would have been a week at home to catch up on his DIY projects), his joy was in seeing his family have fun. Nothing made him happier.

And Tigger. I think Tigger made it a pretty good vacation too. He and Dad definitely bonded over the course of the week.

Thanks Dad. For making so many big and little dreams come true throughout or lives, I thank you. Happy Father’s Day. I love you. I miss you.

 

Sometimes It All Comes Down to ChapStick…Remembering Cindy

Image

The sister-friends, left to right, me, Terry, and Cindy

The room was dim. A little light filtered in from the hall, mixed with the noise of activity that suggested there was still a world out there, but it all seemed a million miles away. The room itself was quiet. Deafeningly quiet. I just kept my eyes focused on my sister. She kept her eyes focused straight ahead…somewhere else. Somewhere seemingly far away.

I had volunteered to stay the night with Cindy. Not so much out of strength or some sense of duty, but more because if I left, I would have no idea what to do with myself. Everything would just seem out of place, out of sync. At this moment, in this situation, everything that mattered to me was lying in the hospital bed next to my chair. She was right there, and yet I still couldn’t reach her.

The doctor’s words from earlier in the day were still bouncing around inside my head. I couldn’t remember the whole one-sided conversation, only specific points.

“It has spread.”
“Liver.”
“Happened very fast.”
“Aggressive.”
“No, there’s nothing.”
“I’m so very sorry.”
“Maybe two days, maybe two weeks, it’s hard to say.”
“We’ll keep her comfortable.”

Though I remained silent, in my mind I was begging the doctor to do something. There had to be something. But no. There was nothing. Nothing but this exact moment when the world seemed to simply stop revolving, all of the color drained away, and everything turned to shades of gray.

Then the voice inside my head started screaming. How can this be? How can this happen? Didn’t we say she was winning this battle? Wasn’t that just a month ago? My sister was going to be a breast cancer survivor. We were so sure of it. She was fine one minute and then…then there was this. My mind just couldn’t make sense of any of it.

After the doctor left, I remember seeing my sister’s boyfriend, Mickey, sitting by her on the bed, talking to her so very gently, so calmly. He knew exactly what to say. Though disease had robbed my sister of the ability to talk easily, she was fully aware of everything the doctor had said. Mickey knew exactly what her eyes were saying and he knew how to answer her unspoken questions. His connection with her was profound.

My sister Terry and I slipped away from the room and hid in separate corners of the hospital to make phone calls. Phone calls we desperately did not want to make. Trying to find the right words, knowing there were no right words. Then we went together to my parent’s house to deliver the news, in person, that no parent should ever have to hear; to inflict pain no parent should ever have to know.

Looking back, I remember all of these moments not as a participant, but rather as a third party looking in. I was hovering in the cloud of confusion that swirled above my dear, struggling family. I was detached, yet desperate to engage. Desperate for a moment of connection and understanding. Any moment.

And so when everyone gathered in the hall of the hospital, caught in the ultimate “what now” moment, I found myself immediately volunteering to stay the night with Cindy. I would stay to keep an eye on things. I would make sure Cindy was as comfortable as possible. I would be there to call the others if there was any urgent need. There was an unspoken agreement between us that Cindy would not spend one moment alone.

So I sat. I watched. I listened. The cold, dim room offered little in the form of physical comfort for me, but that somehow seemed appropriate. I desperately wanted to hold my sister’s hand. To stroke her arm. But her hands and arms were swollen…edema caused by the liver that was betraying her…by the demon known as cancer. Physical contact seemed very uncomfortable for her.

So, in the quiet of the room, I sat while my mind raced. They say that when someone is dying the movie of their life plays in their mind…flashes before their eyes. Cindy’s life—the parts I had shared—was playing out in my mind. The oldest of three girls, Cindy was our trailblazer. The one who taught our  parents to be parents. The one who left the nest first. The one who had figured out so much on her own, and then thankfully shared her knowledge with Terry and me.

She was my shoulder, when I needed one. She was my sounding board when I was unsure. She was ready to celebrate every little triumph with me. And now she needed me. She needed me and I had no idea what to do.

My frantic mind searched for some grand gesture. Some way to make this whole mess right. Where were my super-human powers? Why couldn’t I do something to make this go away; to rewind the clock and give her much earlier warning of the storm to come? Irrationality…you did me no favors that night.

So, doing the only thing I knew to do, I watched her very carefully. If she moaned or seemed restless, if her heart rate escalated, I ran to have the nurse come check on her, to administer more pain medicine. I smoothed her sheets, careful not to touch her sensitive limbs. I talked to her softy. I shared stories of times when we had laughed, of times when we had been silly young girls. I prayed. I prayed a lot.

Then, as I studied her, I noticed that she kept trying to wet her lips…running her tongue over them and rubbing them together. Over and over.

chapstickThat’s when it hit me. You know the feeling when you’re sick? You’re a little dehydrated, you’re breathing through your mouth. Your lips become so dry, so uncomfortable.

And in that instant I finally knew the one meaningful thing I could actually do for my Cindy. The one little thing that I could provide to give her comfort, to let her know that I was with her. I dug in the side pocket of my purse and found my tube of ChapStick.

“Cindy,” I said softly so as not to startle her, “I’m going to put some ChapStick on your lips. It’s going to feel good.”

I gently rubbed the balm on her tender, chapped lips. Slowly, as she rubbed them together, her eyes shifted to look directly into mine and we had our moment of beautiful clarity, of connection.

With great determination, her voice reached through the fog to whisper, “I love you.”

“I love you too, Cindy.”

Nothing more needed to be said. Everything had poured out in a simple eight word exchange.

As she drifted back to that place inside herself, I spoke quiet promises to her. I promised her that Terry and I would take care of our aging parents. I promised her that we would always be there for her two children, young adults now, but still not quite ready to be without their mother. Never ready. I promised her that I would remember her with smiles, laughter, and that I would perform her patented silly dance for future generations to enjoy.  I promised her that we would still talk every single day. I promised her.

Night finally surrendered to a gray dawn. We moved Cindy away from the institutional setting of the hospital and into the warm embrace of an in-patient hospice called Clarehouse. Clarehouse was our safe haven, the place that allowed beautiful colors to return to our world. It was a blessing that deserves, and will get, a story of its own someday.

In this warm, safe, beautiful place, surrounded by her family, my Cindy left this life quietly and peacefully. The ultimate educator, she gave me one more lesson that day—that there is beauty in everything; in new life, in life well lived, and even in life’s end.

After the nurses had taken care of Cindy’s body, I slipped back into the room alone, needing just a moment more. I looked at her face, carefully positioned by the nurses into an expression that was pleasant, but not one of her expressions. This body was no longer my Cindy. She was gone. She was really gone.

Then I saw the tube of ChapStick, still sitting on the bedside table. Upon seeing that reminder of our final shared moment, my heart filled with all of the memories and love this woman, my dear sister-friend, had ever given me. My Cindy came rushing back.

And so, with tears that were a mixture of grief and gratitude tracing paths down my cheeks, I slid the ChapStick into my pocket as I also tucked my sister’s spirit safely inside my heart.

My amazing sister Cindy passed away nine years ago on Memorial Day weekend. She was the age I am now. I do not remember my sister with feelings of sorrow. She would hate that. Cindy was a positive, spirited, fun-loving woman. Any tears that come are just reminders of how much I miss her, but do not define my memories of her. I celebrate Cindy with pure, unabashedly silly joy. I still have the tube of lip balm that gave us our final connection. Thank you Cindy, for giving me that last great lesson: Sometimes the most meaningful moments in life, in relationships, don’t come in the form of save-the-day acts of heroism or over-the-top grand gestures. Sometimes the most meaningful, beautiful moments are brought about by something as simple as a tube of Chapstick.