Williams Ave.

When I was young, I remember going on walks with my dad around my old neighborhood .  More specifically I remember the walk when I told him, “You know this will be the last time I hold your hand?”  He patted the back of my hand in his and said, “I know.”

I remember when we headed our street and turned into our driveway and let go.  I guess I remember it because it really was the last time and we both knew that it would be.

Looking back, that’s just one of the million things I remember about that house and that time of my life.  Almost every memory I have for well over half my life has that place, that house as the backdrop.  There were about a million birthday parties there: some inside, some in the treehouse out back, and some at different locales. Yeah the skating rink…why do you ask?

When I was young and me and my sister got in trouble and got sent to our rooms, we’d whisper from the floor vents, “Is mom mad?” “I don’t know.” “I think she’s crying.”  I had some of the worst fights and the best nights of my life there.  That house saw me learn to ride a bike, shave my legs for the first and last time, drive a car, fall in love, leave for prom, and get my heart broken over and over again. And it watched my family go from 6 down to just me and my dad for the last few years we lived there. It’s where it all happened for me…my life.

There are many times that I dream about anything really and it’s set there.  The basement is still haunted and the upstairs is just as we left it.  I still see my bright yellow room with the shelf bordered windows, incense and candles, and friends pictures everywhere.

Leaving that place was hard and I remember it vividly.  The night before I just kept walking around the driveway and up the sidewalk and thinking how if I came tomorrow I’d feel like I was trespassing.  I thought how bizarre it all was too because the place had never been anyone’s but mine.  And I know that’s how many people remember me.  There, in that place.

I still drive by our old house from time to time.  I try not to look too creepy but it’s hard not to when I keep creeping passed over and over again.  So much about it has changed.   The owners told us when they moved in that we could come back any time but I’d have a hard time commenting through a cry session.  Plus, what do you say about the country floral curtains I saw through the windows?  I mean there are a lot of sad things about a move.

We all have one though.  The place that was like the pacifier of our young adulthood. There is just something about home. Or should I say, that home. I moved out of my childhood home 7 years ago but now that I’m married and I have a family of my own, a family that will only grow as the years go by…I think about how I can make it a place that my kids go back to in their minds over and over again.

My last memory there was standing by the huge pine tree at the end of the sidewalk trying to choke back tears and telling my dad, “I’m really going to miss this place.” He just said, “I know.”  As we stood on that driveway that he paved himself and we had our last little moment there, I guess we left the same way we started near the beginning.  Me, still really just a girl, telling her dad how she feels and him understanding.  And as always….

he did.

Secret Gifts

It isn’t until you are an adult with kids of your own that you realize the gifts your parents gave you. When you are a child you think, “Uh, of course they want to play teacher and classroom for five hours.” Then you grow up and your kid wants to do the same things over and over and over…simple books, peek-a-boo, if they are older maybe Pretty, Pretty princess and you think, “Wow. They took time to do this stuff with me. This was investing in me and maybe wasn’t always the blast for them that I thought it was.”

Sentimental things aside, I think about how they gave me clothes, cars, braces, prom dresses, college tuition and text books, gas money, spending money, groceries, Christmas gifts…..

All I can think of when I see that last list is holy bank account and then a picture of me running off the edge of a cliff flashes through my mind. Parenting takes sacrifice. And money. But mainly just an overall sacrifice of everything.

I appreciate that my mom got up with me when I was sick and held my head and hair back over the toilet when I threw-up. I can truly see that for the gift that it was when I’m up all night with a snotty nosed little baby who cries all night because she can’t breathe. Of course you want to do those things for your child. Who wouldn’t take care of their baby? When you are kid though, you don’t know that it comes at a price of exhausted days and breaking points when you feel that you are going to lose it if your baby screams one more time. Sacrificing your comfort for your child is the mark of a loving parent and in that, becomes a gift to the child. You are better for having parents that nurtured your sniffles. Even though you needed it when you are young, you don’t know the gift of it till you’re grown.

I appreciate that she got with me every 2 to 3 hours when I was a newborn and took excellent care of me even with three other kids running around. I’m thankful for handmade birthday cakes and spectacular birthday parties and the ballon-a-gram bear that came to one of my birthdays, even though I was embarrassed when he hugged me. I was never too good with surprises. Still not. But being the classic last-born of the family, I’ve always been comfortable with attention so I don’t know what went wrong with the birthday ballon-a-gram bear surprise.

She gave me pizza and let my friends stay the night and watch TGIF on Friday nights. What I realize now is that having company over, while it might entertain your kid, is really just one more child to be responsible for. Not to mention, it’s all night giggles that you have to shush throughout the night.

When my parents got divorced and she became a single, working mom for the first time in her life, my mom’s love was shown in a black polyester shirt wrapped in a box for me. I really wanted that shirt and bank situation aside, hideous fabrics aside, she got it for me. I still remember getting the box and being so elated that I got that shirt.  Things meant more when money was tight and there is without a doubt a blessing in learning the value of the things you have and a lesson to see your parents give to you freely when they can.

My dad was a quick run to Waffle House in the wee hours of the morning when we both couldn’t sleep and always lived in the moment with me. And he is the same man who today gave me, a 28 year old, back $15.38 I paid him my freshmen year of college to reimburse him for something he bought me. At the time I barely had any money and he took it knowing he would give it back to me one day. Today at church he pulled out an old money envelope with the money inside, along with the pay stub from the childcare company I worked for. Printed on the stub was the measly amount of money I earned.  While kids aren’t the ones typically doing the sacrificing, sometimes they are and a parent can appreciate that too. They can even let you learn a lesson about living penny to penny and pay you back 10 years later when the lessons have been learned.

Dad was also a “move the furniture and blare Ice, Ice Baby and take turns watching each other do the M.C. Hammer” kind of dad.  The gift in that was basically humor which, while it isn’t necessarily a life changing lesson or moment, it’s a hilarious memory.  It was awesome to me because I was kid and the song and dance move all made sense.  He was an adult though so as I picture myself ‘hammering’ while he hollered and clapped, I don’t know what his excuse was.  Just a good ole’ dad, I guess.

There are gifts in everything good about your childhood and almost everything good has an element of something your parents did selflessly for you: sleepless nights, exhausted days, financial stress so that you could have, hours of playing childlike games so that you could have great days and good memories.  Most of your life they are secret gifts that the innocence of childhood and ignorance of youth conceals.  I think they are hidden to you then because you just expected it.  That’s just what parent’s do.  Then you get older you realize that while expected, it cost them.  Even if it joyfully cost them, it cost them.

I am so thankful for parents that loved me with obvious action in spite of the hidden obstacles of daily life. I guess the mark of them doing a job well done is that I can sit here at 28 years old and see it for what it is.  After all, you can’t fully appreciate what you don’t understand and kids don’t understand what’s been given to them.   But if you parent them right, they turn in to adults that do.

Stronger

I run in just a little late like I always do these days after having a baby. I hand Eden off to my dad. He smiles, admiring her face while she excitedly reaches for his styrofoam cup. Leave it to babies to like cups, spoons, and paper more than toys.

I quickly walk up to the stage and take one big step up to my spot at the mic and immediately began practicing for worship with Lance singing and playing right beside me.

Nothing is any different this Sunday than all rest: always busy, familiar songs, typical practice.

I turn the page and we start to sing the song “Stronger”. It’s one of my dad’s favorites so I look up to see if he realizes that we are playing “his” song.

With the light of the sun bursting in behind him, I see the silhouette of my father, holding my daughter with her little cream tutu and leggings bulging out around his shirtsleeves.

I can’t hear him over the roar of the music and the sound of the monitors in my ears but I knew what he was doing.

With one arm holding up my child and another raised in the air, he was singing the song to her.

Their faces were just a few 6 or so inches away as he convictedly sang in his nothing fancy, holding a tune in a bucket voice. sincerely, he looked at her and she intently studied his face.

With the sound of the electric guitar, piano, and percussion behind me, the sound of my husband to the left, I couldn’t help but watch him sing those precious words to my child.

“You are stronger;
You are stronger;
Sin is broken
You have saved me
It is written
Christ has risen
Jesus you are Lord of all….”

In my predictable fashion, I couldn’t help but to well up in my eyes a bit. Between the chorus end and the next verse, I ran over to Lance’s mic to tell him to watch them on the floor.

When the chorus played again, sure enough, my dad raised his hand and sang to Eden.

I watch Lance.

He glances at me.

We both smile, thankfully, back at one another for a brief moment.

It’s hard for me to describe what it does to me to see three generations there on the church floor: me on the stage, and my dad holding his grandchild on the floor.

There was something about singing those words and watching that take place that moves me. I felt a simultaneous gratitude to God for who He is and who He gave me in my father, and then for my father and who he has been to me and is being to my child some 28 years after I was born to him.

I felt an intense feeling of being rescued by the grace of God in my life both spiritually and the earthly grace I had to be raised the way I was. When I was just a little baby like my daughter with no choice or control in the world of who would take care of me, he gave me my parents.

It was another one of those moments in my life where I’m standing in the middle of the result of my parent’s faithfulness and God’s provision.

When he is gone, I will remember him in that mid-morning light singing God’s grace over my first-born on a regular Sunday morning.

Some days God’s faithfulness is apparent immediately.  Sometimes, it takes life times, and even generations to see clearly.  Three to be exact.

When that song finished, my dad and Eden ran up to me before the next song began and he said, “Some time when no one is around, I’d like for you and I to sing that song together up there.”

I smiled in a sort-of tickled way and said, “Okay”.

Eden and my dad went walking out of the sanctuary and I think to myself, “Sometimes he just doesn’t know how good of a man he is.”

As they disappeared around the corner, I’m so glad I do.

Pickles and Paint

When we were children, we are all sort of creative. Creative either due to actual talent or boredom but, imaginative either way. Personally, I always fancied myself an inventive child.  When I was growing up my dad managed a branch of a large commercial food supplying chain and we somehow ended up with huge pickle buckets at our house.  We never actually had the pickles in them, they were just huge 50 gallon plastic pickle buckets.  They were always in the garage, for storage I suppose.  I’m not sure how this originally happened but at some point, I ended up turning them into a ghetto drum set.  I flipped them all on their tops and turned another one upside down for my seat.  I found some sort of long broken wooden handle and I would just sit out there in the garage alone and play those buckets for hours.  Not like a cute little 3 year-old playing the bucket drums, no-no.  This was serious “I think I’m talented” 7 year-old bucket playing.  I can only really remember playing two beats:

Boom Chink Boom Chink Boom Chink Chink Boom Chink

The chinking was of course me hitting the concrete floor with my broom handle stick.

Then was another tune that was a little cutting edge.

Boom Boom Boom Boom Chink Chink Chink Chink Boom Boom Boom Boom Chink Chink Chink

That one was a little different.  I imagine that’s why that song never really took off.

When I wasn’t laying the smack down on pickle containers, I can remember taking an oversized Toys R Us bag and stuffing it with cotton balls.  I sectioned it off into ears, a head, and body and painted the face, turning it into an Easter Bunny complete with cotton tail.  I probably remember this one because even as a child, you can tell if you parents are really impressed with your art or if it’s just another scribble page for the fridge.  I recall that my mom kept it and showed proudly to a lot of people.  Namely my brothers and sisters.  I actually think we still have it.

Somewhere between plastic bags and buckets I found the muse of my artistic hands.  The medium to which all other mediums are compared:  puff paint.  Being the business lady that I am, I started making and selling puff paint decorated folders with Disney characters on them to my classmates for a dollar a piece.  Being the lazy person I am, I believe I shut down my operation after three sells.  I did make one classic piece though: a shirt for my father.

My dad lived in Louisville after my parent’s divorce and Father’s Day was approaching and I needed the perfect gift.  So, I took a white Fruit of the Loom shirt and thus began the fashion of all fashions.  Being the good dad that my father is, he’s worn it every Father’s Day since then.  Somehow every year I forget that he’s going to wear it so when he walks in the room with it on, I’m always caught off guard and get choked up.

This year was no different.  Only this time, I walk into our church sanctuary and over a blue and white pin striped dress shirt was a ratty white puff paint shirt that time and storage had tinted a yellowish color.  There he was just walking around and talking to people with it on over his dress clothes.  And, of course, it made my heart beat fast because I felt like I wanted to choke up but I was trying not to.

At the beginning of the service my dad got up to pray, shirt and all.  He said, “I’m going to try to get through this.”  I knew I was a goner.  He stood before our little church and said with tears welling in his eyes, “The greatest joy in my life has been being a father…..” And so he continued.  And so I cried.  Unfortunately, ugly face cry.  I watched as my dad spoke passionately about being a father, my father.  Cara, Craig, and Christina’s father.  He raised his hand up and spoke with authority about how there is a Father who loves greater than him.  A Father who allowed him to be born on the country floor of his broken down country childhood home, delivered by an aunt.  A Father who sustained that life and saved his soul 19 years later.  Watching his hands rise with his dress shirt peering behind his “dad” t-shirt I made as a child and seeing him talk about loving his children but loving more the Father who loves all the little children, including him, was the single memory snapshot I’ll keep in my mind of exactly who my father was.

My best friend was there to see that prayer that day.  I’m so glad that someone got to see what I admire in action.  I’m as proud as I was the day I spent hours in the basement making puff paint hearts.

Eventually the service began and ended and some people came up to me and told me how they had cried watching my dad up there on stage.  One girl I was talking to said, I already cried earlier when he explained the shirt to me and told me that this year he was going to pass it on to Lance.  I covered my heart with my hand and gasped and my eyes began to water.  He had never told me that before.  This Father’s Day will be the first year that I haven’t seen my dad wear that shirt in  18 years.  This year I will see a new father holding our baby girl with a tattered old t-shirt peeking behind pink swaddled blankets.  I don’t expect that shirt to mean to him what it means to me but the fact that he’s willing to wear it, let’s me know that there’s another a little girl that will someday be looking at her father in the very same way.  They say that, “Behind every good man is a good woman.”  I also believe behind every good woman was a father that was good to them first.    I have the puff paints to prove it.

Twenty Six Birthdays

We sat on a bench together 8 hours after I became his daughter 26 years ago.  26 and 58, talking more like friends that hadn’t seen each other in a while, reminiscing on how I got from the Medical Center on September 10th to a woman on a park bench with her father.

He asked me, “What were we doing 10 years ago today?”

It was my 16th birthday.  We went to the Mix Factory in Nashville and then came back to the Drury Inn and crammed 12 girls in one hotel room.

He said, “I waited for a call from that hotel all night long.” He stills says it with a smile.

He asked me, “Ten years ago where did you think you’d be today?”

For some reason I started feeling emotional all of the sudden.  Maybe it was because my dad and I were stopping to remember a time that seems so far from us now and we were talking about it him and I…the two people who lived through those years of my life together.  Just us.

I said I thought I’d be 3 things: a singer, a mother, and a wife.  I’m only 1 of those three things today.  I always wanted to be married young and that’s where I found myself; a bride at 21 just 4 weeks shy of my 22nd birthday.  I had my chance to sing and if you would’ve told me ten years ago that I wouldn’t of taken it I would’ve never believed you.  Still not a mother.  Honestly,  when I was 16 I probably would’ve told you that I’d be a mom by 24 or at least 25.  Apparently, it’s not as easy to get pregnant as I thought it was ten birthdays ago.

He listened and said, “In ten years from now I’ll be knocking on 70.”  I asked him if that made him upset.

It made me upset.

Ten years doesn’t seem like enough to me with that man. I hope he’ll be knocking a few more decades.

We just sat there side by side facing out.  Short pauses in between.  I realized how far I’d come from who he knew.  How he remembers me is as a child which is a time I can’t even recall so in a way, he’s known me longer than I’ve known myself.

I asked him what was the best thing he did for me while raising me.

“While raising you imparticular?”

“Yes.”

“It was probably the best and worst thing I did…gave you freedom.”

He’s right. It was equally both.

He said, “I know there are things I’ve done that you don’t know about and that there are things you’ve done that I don’t know about and that’s okay.  You were a good kid.”

And I was.  Mostly during those years because of the grace of God and him.

I told him yesterday something I did that was the only thing he didn’t “know” about.  Deep down I think he did.  He twisted the steering wheel cover with his hands when I told him.  There is just something about hearing some things out loud even though we’ve heard it in our own heads a thousand times.  He wasn’t angry.  My dad has always given me the grace to be human.  I really need to learn how to do that for myself.

Ten years from now I would assume I’d be a wife and a mother to more than one child.  It’s weird because that’s the only thing I feel quite sure of.  I think that’s because you spend your whole life dreaming while you are young and then you get to where we all are now:  either living that dream, or having to start dreaming again.  I’m not sure what to hope for next.  And that’s okay.

My dad and I spent the next few hours together just talking and riding around with the windows down.  32 years seperate my dad and I and we talked about our lives…who we have been and who we are, like we were equals.  After talking to him I am just convinced, man-woman, old-young, father or daughter, that our stories and feelings are all the same and there truly is nothing new under the sun.

In the year 2040 I’ll be my father’s age.  I don’t know  where I’ll be but I guess there is something I do know I hope for.  I hope September 10, 2040 I’ll be riding around with my grown child listening to them talk and smiling to myself because I see my life written all over theirs.  I’ll tell them how they were a great child.  And if I’m lucky, they’ll look at me like I do my dad and think to themselves with watery eyes, ten more years with this person just wouldn’t be enough.

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