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IMG_7103Most days, when I awake, I look into the mirror, smile or frown, and have a bit of a greeting with my mom.

“Hi, Ma”  I say and she smiles or frowns back at me, depending on my mood, with our likenesses  more profound the older I get – and the closer I come to the age she died.

I think of Ma more vividly on special days; her birthday, mine, holidays, and the Ides of March, which is the day she passed away. It was also the birthday of my Aunt Christine. We had several years in our family where one or the other relative passed on one of our birthdays.

At any rate, I’ve been thinking of my mom and about her last gift to me.

Just days before her death, on a sunny afternoon in her hospital room, Ma patted her bed for me to come over and sit. She was bandaged and bruised where the doctor has attempted putting a port in for her to receive chemo. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread too far and there was nothing to be done but to make her comfortable.

On this particular day, March 10 or 11, Ma was very cognizant and she wanted to talk with me. She made her simple wishes known and then we talked about faith and her dying.

My mother’s faith was simple and unquestioning. She wasn’t all that afraid; just enough so to want to talk about it, and so we did. We talked about God and heaven and those she would see again, especially my father. We cried and held hands and she called me her rock (a title I never wanted) and in those moments together my mother gave me the last gift I would ever receive from her. She gave me her love and showed me how to say goodbye with grace and dignity.

We were all with her when she passed. I was right at her side and I have always known that I caught her last breath before she went home.

It wasn’t until somewhat recently that I realized I gave her a gift as well. I gave her the moments she needed to put her thoughts and beliefs to rest, to talk about dying – and to say goodbye. It is funny, isn’t it, the things we continue to learn from our parents, long after they are gone?

This morning, when I awoke, we smiled at each other, on this the Ides of March.

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DSCN7096 - Version 2What’s a gal to do when she’s just finished a book, for the second time, whose ending she knows and whose author will be visiting the Cutoff when the very next day dawns?

Well. she sheds a puddle of tears for, though she knows how the story ends, it is the journey that is the protagonist in an adventure that is both funny and sad, painful and celebratory. It is the story that is both physical and personal for the author, and it reminds the reader, perhaps, of one’s own long travelled road; of memories made, bridges crossed, battles fought (some won and some lost), of lessons learned and of those lessons she keeps learning. It brings to home and to heart the value of family and friends, and of those who have cheered us on and had our back along the way.

 “Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace”, is the book and the author is none other than the remarkable and gifted Andra Watkins.

Andra’s name often appears in the comment section here on the Cutoff, for which I am grateful. Her name also sometimes appears in the body of a post, especially when one of her books is published, such as last year’s “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”, which I wrote about here.

I was delighted when I won an advanced reading copy of Andra’s second book, “Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace”.  “Not Without My Father . . . ” is Andra’s memoir of her trek along the Natchez Trace, promoting her first book. It entails how she drafts her father to be her “wingman” on her journey – the angst and pain, frustration and hilarity that occurs along the way. Roy Lee Watkins is bigger than life, a natural storyteller, and a bit of a character, to say the least. The book is the story of her journey along the Trace, as well as their personal journey as father and daughter.

In the book, we also meet her mother, Linda, her friend, Alice, and others; from the innkeepers that provide a nest’s rest, to the National Park workers she meets along the Trace, as Roy sells her book from the trunk of his car and weaves his own tales.

It was in my second reading of Andra’s book, once it was published, that I realized I was mentioned in the acknowledgments, along with a host of other readers, for song suggestions, which are used as chapter heading in the book. What fun it was to discover.

So, in honor of Andra, who will be wending her way to the Cutoff as part of the Chicago leg of her book tour, here’s a little Ray Charles and a lot of hope that she does come back some more, some more, some more, some more . . .

 

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2_Abraham_Leon_Kroll_American_artist_1884_1974_The_ConversationIs there anything more satisfying than solving the world’s problems with one’s hands cradling a warm cup of traveling steam – and whatever floats inside it?

I am one of the fortunate ones. I have friends and family who are ready and often waiting for a good sit-down chat, whether it be at the kitchen table, in a coffee shop, lunch in a quiet restaurant, or on the ether pages in this modern world.

I think, these days, with family and friends oftentimes far away, or too busy to catch their breaths, that the internet has become a virtual clothesline. We hang our laundry up to dry and hope that, perhaps, a neighbor or two will wander by for a spell while we clip the clothespins on.

While I am writing, I often have a cup of tea or a mug of coffee at my side, and I think about you, dear reader. Do you read with a favored cuppa nearby? Are you in business attire, your pajamas, a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt? Do you chew on a cookie or a piece of fruit as you turn your virtual pages with a click that comes as sure as your next breath, traveling here and there around the blogosphere?

I am a “people person”. I love to strike up conversations with my best of friends – or the librarian checking out my latest read. You never know what you will learn on these verbal forays. For instance, the cashier at Walgreens, who recognizes me as the lady who sometimes comes in to buy their dollar molasses cookies, shared with me that a local fast food/ice cream stand purchases the very same cookies to make the ice cream sandwiches they sell. The gals and guys at the Jewel always take the time to ask how I am – and care.  Once, my address visible while paying with a check, a cashier asked me if I knew Jim and Connie who live on my street. Indeed, I did. It was their house we bought. I swear, if there had not been other customers in the queue,  we would be talking still about what nice people they are.

Well, the kettle is whistling and I need to ice my old knee, so, I guess it is time to stop.

Thank you, forever and always, for wandering by for a spell. I always enjoy our chats.

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A lollipop was mentioned.

I don’t recall why.

 I started signing the oldies song, Lollipop. One thing led to another, Kezzie dashing into her room then back out again, just as I found the Chordettes on youtube. We had some fun singing the lollipop song, over and over again, and trying to make a “pop” sound with our fingers and cheeks at just the right time.

I thought you might have some fun either remembering this, or having some fun of your own with the younger set.

Anyone recognize the chap making the lolli-popping sound?

Do you have a song that brings on silliness and fun?

 

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MagicofOrdinaryDaysth copyth-2th-3th

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Happy Valentine’s Day.

What are some of your favorite love stories?

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It is such a joy to have someone who wishes to sit with you on a sofa and listen to a watch tick.  Penelope Fitzgerald

DSCN7323When I first saw this quote on Nan’s blog, Letters from a Hill Farm, I knew I would eventually pirate it to the pages of the Cutoff. Fitzgerald’s quote speaks volumes about the sweet moments of being with children. It is the simple, quiet (or not so) moments that are endearing and that keep us company in the off hours when they are not with us.

As I’m nearing my time to leave for home, the tender moments of being with Kezzie and Ezra are all the sweeter, as is my time with their Daddy and Mommy. I will soon get in my car, packed with my belongings, and a few of theirs; their sweet child smells and their soft padded tread, as well as enough loud and enthusiastic sounds that could fill a sports arena. I will pack their endless questions and propositions. “One more time, Yia Yia.” The whys and whens, and the inevitable poopies, Yia Yia” ). In will go the yogurt smudged sweater and the slightly bent emery board.DSCN7353

Gone is my little notepad, now Kezzie’s Journal. Can you imagine that? A kindred spirit if ever there was one. Her first entry is a picture and a fine one at that.

As I mosey down the long road toward home, I’ll wonder if Ezra will finally call me Yia Yia instead of Jenny – once I close the door – and if Kezzie will still feel our cuddle times when I’m no longer there and I will hold the gentle bliss that comes from listening to a watch click.

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DSCN7328Photo on 2-6-15 at 1.46 PMPhoto on 2-10-15 at 12.05 PM #2

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We like to name our snowstorms here in Chicagoland. We stack them up like snow shovels at the back door, waiting for the next big one to come drifting down and then we recall their names in our collective memories.

The Big Snow.  New Year’s Eve Storm. 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard. The Valentine’s Day Storm. The Blizzard of ’79. This weekend’s snowstorm has been christened The Super Bowl Blizzard.

From late Saturday night to early Monday morning, snow swirled and twirled and sleeted  – and it edged out a previous March snow record, my father’s blizzard, knocking it down by an inch in its ranking, making The Super Bowl Blizzard the 5th highest accumulation of snow in Chicago’s history, measuring in at officially 19.3 inches.

My father and his sister, Christina, aged 12 and 10 at the time, had their tonsils removed on March 25, 1930 at the Presbyterian Hospital. It was just two blocks from their house. They walked to the hospital and would have walked back home the next day if nature had not made a call with what was, at the time, the greatest recorded snowfall in the history of the City of Chicago; a record that held until 1967.  *

The Presbyterian Hospital was one of the first of its kind in Chicago. It was affiliated with Rush University, and today is part of the Rush Medical Center, one of the finest in the world. Renamed Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital, it also claimed the tonsils of my sister and me in 1962. I call it the “two for one sale”; siblings who have tonsillectomies at the same time. My father and aunt. Tom and his sister, Maura. Dottie and Penny. You?

I remember both snowstorms well, even though I was not yet born in 1930. I was not even a “twinkle in my father’s eye” in 1930. My memories are family folklore, for that storm and it’s events were retold, each and every winter, after big snowfalls, and every March of my childhood.

On March 25 and 26, 1930, snow fell as Daddy and Aunt Christina were having their tonsils snipped. By the time they were sufficiently recovered,  Chicago was blanketed in deep snow. No streetcars were moving. No cabs. Nothing was moving. It was too cold and dangerous for Pete and Christina to walk home and they were too big to be safely carried.  Biting winds swept in off the Lake. Not many drove cars back then; well, no one but Bill, a cousin.

Bill and his machine were dispatched. The children were bundled beyond recognition. They were settled into a 192o’s automobile which moved, inch by inch, home. My grandfather sat in the passenger seat. Pete and Christina were nestled in the back seat under an array of blankets.  It took them almost an hour to drive two blocks. Bill and my grandfather got them home safe and sound.

My family never forgot Bill’s kindness in bringing the children home that day. I was born in that very same hospital; my mother and father walking the two blocks to my birth. Bill would become my godfather.

The 1930 March blizzard would come out of the deep well of family lore each winter; a reminder of a big snowstorm that my father and aunt endured after their tonsillectomies and were driven home in a car. While I enjoyed hearing about the storm, as I did about all family stories, I was secretly, childishly, elated for The Big Snow of ’67.  That historical blizzard gave me and my generation of Chicago area kids a big snow of our own.

The Big Snow of 1967 holds a record which has never been broken. 23 inches of snow fell in that snowstorm. It brought the City of Chicago and the suburbs to a halt and is etched in the memories of my generation as much as the many other memories of that era.

That snowstorm of 1967 was the “perfect storm”, of Biblical proportions it seemed. It is still talked about around kitchen tables and by meteorologists, who pull it out of the archives of storms whenever another big snow falls. So it now, as we shovel out of the Super Bowl Blizzard of 2015, which just nudged my father’s 1930’s storm to 6th place . .

. . . and we still recall The Big Snow of 1967, a storm like no other.

It’s all in a name – or one tenth of an inch.

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* There have been years with more snowfall in a season. These records are sustained snowfalls without stopping.

1. 23.0 inches January 26-27, 1967 The Big Snow

2. 21.6 inches January 1-3, 1999 The New Year’s Storm

3. 21.2 inches January 31-February 2, 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard

4. 20.3 inches January 12-14, 1979 Blizzard of 79

5. 19.3 inches January 31-February 2, 2015 The Super Bowl Blizzard

6. 19.2 inches March 25-26, 1930

7. 16.2 inches March 7-8, 1931

8. 14.9 inches January 30, 1939

9. 14.9 inches January 6-7, 1918

10. 14.8 inches December 17-19, 1929

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