The Rest of the Story

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A while back, during my college years, a tad bit before the virtual world exploded into cyber space and super electronics became the norm, I used to love to listen to Paul Harvey‘s, “The Rest of the Story,” segment on a little thing called the car radio.  I loved how he took one story and delved deeper into it to provide a whole different aspect.  After publishing my post yesterday, I began to reflect more deeply on all the things that combined to make that day so special.  You’ve all now heard about why that one particular photo of Mama has such an impact on me personally.  But what you don’t know is some of the other factors that came to be that day, helping to make an unforgettable experience for us all.

To begin, I must say that every person in attendance contributed in some way.  Everyone had to alter plans and travel distances to be present.  You see, Mom was not in her hometown.  We had decided that placing her in a more central location to all who would be spending their days with her in the hospice facility was a more logical solution.  We were actually two hours away from where I grew up and my parents’ hometown.  We would have had it no other way.  We wanted Mama to be surrounded by those she loved as often as possible and for as long as possible.  We were all more than eager and strongly desired to contribute in any way possible to create a day to remember.

Patrick and Traci of course were the ultimate deciding factor in getting the wheels turning.  It was their kind spirits and abundance of love for Mama which guided their hearts.  It was also their generosity in allowing others to shower them with assistance and contributions as best we could. They took care of all the little details necessary for the wedding couple, including gathering up all their little kiddos, preparing them for the day and then finally themselves as well.

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My sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Adrian, housed several people in their home during this time.  Her children gave up their bedrooms without hesitation and were always eager to assist any of us.  Elizabeth was the ultimate hostess, providing food and transportation for many.  So many of her generous friends dropped by with dinners, snacks, treats, and even flowers to show their support and to ensure that their sweet friend would not be overwhelmed by so many guests.

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My twin, Diane, spent long hours on the phone over several days dealing with schedule changes, flight arrangements, and car rentals to ensure that her husband, Scott, and three boys, who live several states away would be able to attend as well.

Mama’s sisters, Aunt Trish and Aunt Lou Lou, were by her side daily and rescheduled their days so as to be there to help beautify her for the ceremony and hold her hand during this whole process.  Aunt Trish provided something “old” by gifting Traci a broach to wear that was painted by Mama. They were more than a support; they were a shoulder to lean on and a hand to hold.

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As for Traci’s side of the family, her parents were taking care of their growing brood of grandchildren and helping to ease any stress for the happy couple in any way they could.  Patrick has twin girls and Traci has a son and daughter.  What a lovely group of people to combine into one loving household.

Traci’s sister, Rachel was a true expert in catering a last minute wedding.  It was absolutely fantastic and such a lovely addition to the day.  She also somehow magically created all of the bouquets and boutonnieres for the wedding party.  I am not sure I have ever seen more beautifully arranged flowers in my life.  I don’t know how she did it!  She definitely sprinkled a little fairy dust on the affair!

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I felt truly blessed and frankly, terrified when my brother and Traci asked if I would photograph the entire event.  I typically do all of my work outside and this was a bit out of my comfort zone. My hesitation was for a mere second and then I promised that I would do my best; but deep down inside felt emotions might just get the better of me, leaving me in a state of frenzy on the special day.  I have considered myself a solid photographer for years; but, this was somehow on a whole different level.  The ceremony was beyond emotional; but viewing this immensely intimate moment in time through my insanely timid photographer’s eye that day, was one of the most illuminating experiences I have ever had the joy of living in.

There remain two exceptionally sweet moments that can only be considered divine intervention.  Early on, there was much question in locating the perfect spot to hold the ceremony.  That was soon resolved by the nurses who strongly suggested that Mom’s bed should only be rolled out as far as the doorway to her room.  We looked around and sighed, having the beautiful image in our minds of just what the original venue would have provided, and yet knowing in our hearts what was truly important.

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Early on the morning of the wedding, two of Traci’s sweet friends, disguised as miracle workers, waltzed in with twinkle lights, paper bells, and flowers to spruce the place up.  As soon as the nurses caught sight of this, they rushed down to assist by providing sheets to hang from the ceiling and frantically began moving all medical equipment out of view.  I very vividly recall the tears that formed in my eyes at that moment.  What a sight to behold!  The love pouring forth from Traci’s friends and the most genuine desire to provide support by the nurses was more than evident.  It was felt by us all, deep down in those special spots reserved for exceptional moments in humanity.

Finally, as Dad prepared for the day, he realized he was lacking appropriate attire for the wedding.  He felt certain he could get away with the pants he had, but needed to stop by the mall to buy a shirt and tie.  As he wandered the unfamiliar grounds of the massive mall, gazing into the windows of unfamiliar stores, he came across a shop that appeared to have just what he needed.  There was only one problem.  The store didn’t open for another hour, which he did not have the luxury of.  So Dad did what any great man would do in his hour of need, he knocked on the door and flagged down the person inside.  The salesman came to the door and promptly said, “We don’t open for another hour.”  At that point, Dad took a deep breath and relayed his story to the young man.  I feel certain that at that very moment, this man looked into Dad’s eyes and felt the magnitude and importance of the day.  He then simply asked Dad to wait a second and on his return he opened the door to Banana Republic and welcomed Dad in for his very own individual shopping spree.  That wonderful salesman assisted Dad in locating a shirt and tie worthy of the man that was to officiate the ceremony of marriage for his only son.  And although the shirt was wrinkled and his pants worn, I have never seen my Dad look more distinguished than he did that day.

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The service was amazing!  There was not a dry eye in the room!  It was, by far, the most intimate, emotional, loving ceremony I have ever had the privilege of witnessing.  It represented what all weddings should be about, the love of two people and those who share in the best, most successful well wishes for their life together.

“And now you know….the rest of the story!”

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The Challenge

Mama

Recently I was presented with the challenge of selecting my absolute favorite photograph ever taken.  Mind you, that is out of thousands.  However, I found it to be an easy choice.  For me the photo does not have to be perfectly composed, or even perfectly focused; but it absolutely must be from the heart.  By far the most cherished photo that I have ever taken is this one of Mama.  It was taken two days before Mom’s passing and during my brother’s wedding.

Originally, my brother and his sweet fiancee were to be married on my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary at our ranch house with both families present.  So many plans had been made, flights had been purchased, hotels reserved, and catering set.  However, things drastically changed when Mama’s health faltered and she was placed in hospice just days prior to that.  Knowing how much she wanted to witness the marriage ceremony and their desire to have her present, my brother and his fiancee decided to change the venue.  In less than two days, all family members altered their flights, plans, and prior arrangements to attend the wedding of this selfless and loving couple.  Amazingly enough, every family member was able to make arrangements to attend.  The hospice facility staff was beside themselves with assisting in the preparation since this was the first and only wedding they had ever had in their facility.  They were as excited as we all were.  They too, had grown to love Mom instantly, as so many did.

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During the days in hospice, Mama seemed to be fading with moments of her true spirit shining through, allowing times of true joy for all of us.  She slept a lot and couldn’t seem to focus very clearly; but we all knew she was alert enough to know that a wedding was going to take place.  On November 19th, with my father officiating and my mother looking on from her hospital bed, two of the most amazing people on this planet were joined in matrimony.  That day, the day of this photo, was Mama’s most coherent day.  It was as if the sickness had left her body to allow her complete delight.  She was laughing, hugging, talking, and blowing kisses to us all.  It was during this time that I turned the lens on her and captured the purest moment of clarity and happiness in Mama that day.  She passed away two days later and just two days shy of their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

Wedding ~ Dad

It has now been exactly seven months to the date since her passing and posting this photo brings the same raw emotion as it did the day I peered through the eyepiece and captured her true essence.  For me personally, the photos which evoke the most emotion are the dearest in our hearts. This photo of Mama is by far my most emotionally charged and favored photograph ever.  It manages to grasp onto those ultimate moments of beautiful clarity and the memories of those final days spent with my dearest, sweet Mama.

Birthday Celebration

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My birthday weekend is coming to an end today.  I was so worried throughout this entire month about how I might react on the actual day.  Typically, I spend time prior to the day planning out what I’d like to do.  I have always gone to the spa for at least one of the days.  As well, I tend to have a large group of people over for a home cooked meal with champagne and cupcakes.  On big birthdays I plan elaborate celebrations.  But this year felt different.  I was dreading it.  I really did not know how I was going to react to the silence of Mom’s birthday wish.  I was so used to her calling up and doing that typical thing that Mom’s do by reliving the day you came into the world.  It just didn’t feel right.  My friends kept asking me in the kindest of ways, “So what are we going to do?”  I just kept stalling.  I felt like I wanted to just sit on the couch the entire day in complete silence; but, that didn’t seem right either in light of how I typically enjoy my birthday.  So I finally decided on keeping it small with friends I felt certain would follow my lead.  I knew that this group of friends would either live it up with a bang…or just as easily lie down in the grass, eyes lifted to the sky, and cry with me.

I waited until the day before my actual birthday to spring the plan on my friends.  I decided on an early breakfast with a leisurely drive through the vineyards and some wine tasting.  The day would end with a visit to the Solvang Brewing Company for one of their infamous Viking Corn Dogs.  As can be expected with this group, they leaped at the chance to join in on the day.  Their support was expected, but their exuberance was intoxicating.  I began to become excited about the day rather than pensive.  These amazing women that I choose to live my life around took their most envied personality traits and simultaneously filled my little wounded heart with hope.  They were enthusiastic, encouraging, supportive, flexible and leaping feet first into this uncertain day with me.  I love them for that.  I love that they pushed their lives aside to fill the hours of my day with a quiet reassurance that all would be okay.

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Seeing as the majority of my day was planned out, I knew that I needed to save a piece of it for Mama.  So in the wee hours of the morning, I headed out the door with my loyal companion, Marcello, for a much needed walk of remembrance, release of sadness, and recognition of why I even have a birthday.  I made sure Mom’s playlist was set and I started my Birthday Walk!  I cried through most of it, Marcello glancing up at me now and then to make sure I was okay.  I began so early in the morning that I doubted anyone would even pass our path and if they had, I wouldn’t have even noticed or cared.  This walk was for my own peace of mind and to fill a little hole in my heart with birthday memories.

I won’t go into detail about what exactly ran through my mind during that time, but my biggest hope is that Mama somehow heard me and knows how much I miss hearing her voice and long to hug her one more time. I wanted to thank her for giving me a reason to even need to celebrate my birthday.  The only way I could imagine these celebrations filled with laughter and love is if somewhere along the path of my life someone else had shown me how important I was to even justify such observance.  I thanked her for so many things that early morning and as I entered my home at the finality of my walk, the phone rang and Dad’s voice filled the air. The two people who brought me into this world unknowingly shared the exact same space and time on my birthday and this brought the greatest sense of tranquility to my day.  It filled my day with the love I needed to move forward without guilt or sadness….and that is exactly what I did….I celebrated life that day!!

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Soft Rain

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I’ve become accustomed to listening to relaxing “white noise” music during the night when I can’t sleep to try and alleviate restless nights.  Yesterday morning, I awoke to the sound of rain and a rushing stream.  It was one of the most relaxing mornings I’ve ever had.  I laid in bed wishing that it would become reality.  I longed for the soft patter of real rain and the peaceful calm that it seems to blanket the whole world with when it comes.

Eventually, I had to succumb to reality and rise and prepare for the day.  Expecting a hot day, I was pleasantly surprised by how cool and breezy it was.  It was lovely and I realized that however much I had wanted my day to go one way, the alternative had been equally pleasant.

Once home, as I took some time to unwound, I glanced out into the soft glow of the lowering sun.  A serene smile spread across my face as I realized the softest of rain falling from the sky.  The kind of gentle rain that doesn’t even make a sound, but still stops you in awe.  The beauty of it was inspiring and had me lifting my gaze to the heavens as a sign of “thanks” to Mom.  She seems to be answering my wishes with the sweetest subtlety these days.

Mother’s Day Minus One

Mother's Day Prayer Balloon Broadway Musicals Popcorn and Orange Slices Marcello

This month has been an exceptionally difficult one.  The constant reminder of Mother’s Day in my classroom has just added salt to the wound continuously.  I think the fact that I realized early on that I would want to spend this particular Mother’s Day all alone, scared me just a bit.  Not knowing truly what emotions it would evoke, I set my decision in stone.  I wanted to sit alone in all the memories.  I wanted to cry, laugh, and remember all of those moments that made Mama so special, without attempts to coast just above it and just make it through the day.  So I gathered up the courage and developed an idea I thought would carry me through the day.

I had considered writing a post that highlighted all the best parts of what made Mama so unique. Then I realized I don’t want to rush this process.  One of the things I love most about my Mama Memories is that they come to me just at the exact moment that they should.  It is in that instance that I share them through written word.  So although I could easily list all the wonderful things that encompassed her, I choose to peel back the layers gradually and through time, just as our lives naturally evolve over time.

Instead, I have filled the day with a balloon prayer, Broadway musicals, pajamas, popcorn, orange slices and a bit of snuggle time with my little, furry man.  Mom’s love of Broadway Musicals is what ignited my brilliant plan.  I know that there will be tears today; but, I also know that there will be laughs, happiness, and the comfort of memories that nestle close to the heart and fill it full of love.

So as I spend my day being the best mommy I can to my little guy, I will also spend time remembering the best Mama for me that I could have ever hoped to imagine and dream for!!  I miss you, love you, mean it, Mama!!  Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Popcorn, Orange Slices, and Jerry

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Ahhhh…the ease of a beautiful Saturday!  I don’t think there is anything better than a relaxed, carefree, sunny Saturday.  As a kid we lived for this day.  This day represented freedom, family, friends and Jerry Lewis.  Yep, you heard me right….Lewis….Jerry Lewis!

In our household, bribery was often incorporated into the daily workings of our homestead corporation.  To give you an example, we could enjoy television at free will, daily, as long as none of us kiddos received a “C” on our report card.  As luck would have it, I could typically be counted on to ensure that we never saw the glimmer of the illustrious, illuminated box; therefore, consistently guaranteeing no television for eight more weeks.  Not sure if this brilliant notion was swiped from the whole Punxsutawney Phil Groundhog phenomenon, but it sure felt that way.  So starting Friday nights we had a pretty packed viewing schedule; but Saturdays, oh glorious Saturdays, now those were the day’s dreams were built on.

Pajamas, popcorn, orange slices and a good Jerry Lewis flick.  That’s what Saturdays were made of in our home.  I can’t rightly recall if it was Mom or Dad that loved Jerry Lewis.  My guess leans towards Dad though. It seems to be a little more in his wheelhouse.  Regardless, we all began to love Saturdays with Jerry.  It represented laughter and popcorn tossing competitions.

As you know, my life on the child labor market started pretty early on and popcorn vending sure seemed to fit right nicely into that realm.  Dad initially was the master of popping, but he more than willingly seemed to pass that torch onto us as soon as feasible.  Unlike laundry duty though, no hard feelings were harbored when popcorn vending came into play.  We all seemed to love that job.  We had a pot that appeared to have fallen off the back of a chuck-wagon traveling along the Trail of Tears that we used to pop corn in.  It was a dull metal, dented and charred from excessive use.  I really have no idea what might have come out of that pot prior to our popcorn days, but it was surely seasoned well and produced popcorn the likes of which you can’t find today.

The popcorn was delicious, but it was Mama’s fine palate that decided to marry the taste of buttery popped corn with juicy orange slices and that, my friends, is beyond compare.  There was nothing fancy to it, oil popped corn with melted butter and perfectly cut orange slices used as chasers for each buttery bite of puffed corn.  I don’t know why, but those two scents and tastes, ’til this day, cause my mouth to water, eyes to sparkle, and a certain feel of home to enter my heart.

Now back to Jerry Lewis.  If you’ve never experienced an afternoon of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis films, you must.  At first, you might question why you are even watching them.  They can be a bit over the top at times….okay…most of the time.  But as time progresses, you start to realize this is truly depicting what life is all about.  We live daily adventures, accepting life’s ups and downs as they come, developing the ability to laugh at ourselves and bring a smile to the face of others all along the way.  It’s about lasting relationships that provide support and love, whatever form they come in.  Jerry Lewis may play this type of loving, loyal character in his movies…but he very much encompasses this belief in his own life as well.  We saw ourselves in his fictional character and wanted to emulate his overwhelming compassion in real life.

I can’t help but compare his bright personality and abundant empathy with Mama.  Maybe that’s why his films resonate so profoundly with me even today.  Long after our popcorn and orange slice Saturdays have since ceased, each one of us still embodies the desire to contribute to charitable foundations through activism.  We learned this from both our parents and I can’t help but think that Jerry, popcorn, and orange slices had a little to do with it too.

 

 

Mom’s Bucket List ~ Kentucky

Barbaro ~ Louisville, Kentucky

One of my most favored stops on our “Mom’s Bucket List” journey was to Louisville, Kentucky.  I was totally jazzed about finally getting to experience a bourbon sampler.  Little did I realize just how much fun I would have stopping by the Kentucky Derby.  Mind you, we did nothing more than cruise by and check out the exterior of Churchill Downs.  At any rate, we could completely imagine the excitement the races must evoke in those that hold this tradition close to their hearts.  The Twin Spires stretched well into the cloudy skies that day and stopping to pay a little homage at the statue of Barbaro hit especially close to home for me.  Barbaro, the beloved racehorse pictured, is one of the most inspirational stories to come out of the Kentucky Derby.  A story of strength, persistence, and hope seemed to sew a common thread between our two lives.

Twin Spiers ~ Kentucky Derby

I found it oddly fascinating that Churchill Downs is located smack dab in the middle of a run down, residential area. I envisioned it to be rolling, grassy hills it rested upon.  It made me realize just how much we as a society thrive on celebrations and traditions.  This unassuming stadium becomes larger than life during this time in the year, filled with laughter, hope, cheers, celebrations, families and friends.  It exudes an air of opulence and pomp and circumstance.  It made me want to experience it firsthand.  I have now added that to my own bucket list and can’t wait until the day I’m able to don a big rimmed hat, sip a Mint Julip, and belt out a verse of “My Old Kentucky Home” among my fellow countrymen.

Later that evening, we ended up at a delightful establishment called, Lilly’s.  Although I cannot recall exactly what I ate, I do remember it being delicious.  We were all more than pleased with our meals.  But, it was the Bourbon Sampler that was calling to both Dad and me.  My impression was that we would get those small samples that are common to receive when you do beer samplers.  You can imagine the shock when eight full very full samples of bourbon showed up at our table.  It was then that Mom made a most miraculous observation.  I believe it went something like this, “Well, I guess I know who will be driving.”  Mom wasn’t much of a drinker.  Come to find out, bourbon might just be an acquired taste.  At any rate, I did find one or two that I truly enjoyed and could then successfully check bourbon sampler off of my bucket list.

So in honor of the Kentucky Derby this weekend, I’ve dedicated this post to that little drop in our bucket that we conquered during one of the most important trips of our lives.

Bourbon Sampler @ Lilly's ~ Louisville, Kentucky