Last days with Jacob and Owen

Both Great Grandpa and my mother left on Friday, so it was just the six of us for two more days.

We had grand plans for Thursday and Friday, but rain showed up and didn’t leave. That meant no Splash Country and a shorter canoe trip down the Little River.

The canoe fits three comfortably, which is just as well since Jackson was at basketball camp and Owen had no interest.

When I asked Jacob what he wanted to do while in Tennessee, the one request he had, other than eating at the Asian Buffet, was to go canoeing.

While they floated down the river, Owen and I went home to eat lunch and play cards. This was the only one-on-one time I got with Owen, so I treasured it, however brief! Jeremy and Owen are “best cousins” and stick together as a pair almost 100 percent of the time.

I also took the opportunity to snap some headshots for Owen, who’s trying out for a play in his hometown.

He looks so much like his dad in this photo:

When they got home from canoeing, I grabbed Jacob and subjected him to photos too.

Owen loves his big brother 

I drove them to the airport on Sunday and cried as I said goodbye. Jacob teased me – “We’re not even your kids!” – but he doesn’t understand that they are the next best thing to being my kids. I endured his teasing because I know he loves me, that they both had a wonderful time in Tennessee and enjoyed being a part of the Miller Camp for Boys for a week. Their plane landed safely in Chicago and off they went into the care of their grandparents. My sister and brother-in-law flew home a few hours later, so by Sunday night everything was back to normal.

I feel like I’m still recovering from the week – is it an age thing or an introvert thing, or both? Utter exhaustion persisted for a solid three days. Today is the first day I’ve felt semi-normal.

Still, I’m thankful for the time we had and the memories we made, and I think Jacob and Owen feel the same.


Life and Death in Spring and Lent

As the bursts of color take over Tennessee and we enjoy the warmth of 70-degree afternoons, we are also in a liturgical season of reflection and preparation. It’s a binary spell that can mess with your head if you let it.

This week, however, my family is also experiencing loss. My grandmother passed away over the weekend, and though we all knew it was coming and I was prepared to see my dad’s phone call come through somewhat early on Saturday morning, feeling the loss of my grandmother has been a little different each day.

At first it was Okay, I knew this was coming and I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore, followed by, I wonder how my mother’s doing. This cannot be easy. Then there was raw grief, the realization that I won’t ever get a quirky note in the mail with an accompanying clipping from the Washington Post about owl sanctuaries or a collection of educational pamphlets from Historical Williamsburg. Grandma was known for her quirky notes and random, curious newspaper clippings. For the many times I shrugged my shoulders and wondered why she chose me for a specific clipping, I now cried that I’d no longer receive them.

My grandmother was an exceptionally bright woman, cultured and mannered, a stickler for a strong vocabulary. She encouraged my writing and creativity without fail, especially when I was a young girl. She’d let me play Paint on her fancy Apple IIGS while sitting in the ergonomic kneeling chair. At her sprawling work desk, surrounded by a jungle of indoor plants, I’d pull up a stool and draw and doodle and write little stories on pieces of cut paper. She encouraged all of this, so even while I didn’t prefer her cooking and I always held my fork incorrectly and I’d say Can I have dessert instead of May I have dessert, my grandmother was a significant influence on all of my right-brained efforts.

I was named after my grandmother’s mother, Jennie, so after my great-grandmother passed away in the early 90s I inherited a collection of monogrammed and personal items with my name on them. Grandma was a deeply sentimental person, so I have no doubt she felt great pride passing those things down to me. And yes, I still have them in a keepsake box in my closet.

Because my grandparents live in our nation’s capital with so much culture at their fingertips, our birthday and Christmas gifts always had an educational bent. Something from the Smithsonian Institution, perhaps. I loved that she thought that way, always considering what we might learn from something she gave us. My grandmother valued education as a necessary staple in everyone’s life. She was a lifelong teacher and a lifelong learner, someone who pursued knowledge and endeavored to share it. My grandfather continues to receive phone calls from former students who were impacted by Grandma’s efforts and passion.

The last time I saw Grandma was in the hospital in January. My sister and I visited her and held her hands and told her we loved her. She knew we were there.

It’s beautiful in Tennessee right now, and on an evening walk tonight, I got to thinking about one of the last things Grandma gave me. It’s her copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse, given to her in May 1948.

It’s tiny, scarcely bigger than my hand and about an inch thick.

Inside it reads, “With best wishes to a student who is ‘willing to cross the threshold of her own mind’ to realize her creative potentialities,” along with a typed note Grandma included for me.

For me, this is a treasure. Though the inscription was written to my grandmother in May 1948, it can very well be an inscription from Grandma to me in 2017. She wanted her granddaughter to cross the threshold of her own mind, to realize her own creative potentialities. I have no doubt, and I am trying.

Thank you, Grandma, for the legacy of learning you’ve left me. I will miss your quirky notes and listening to your impressive, formidable vocabulary. You longed for your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to reach their highest potential possible, and none of that went unnoticed. Well done.

Throwback Thursday: My mom in the 60s

First, a story.

When I was in college (late 90s), I decided to come home for the weekend on a whim. I didn’t tell my parents beforehand (no cell phone, of course) but instead drove straight from my dorm room to the library where my mom was working. I parked the car, walked inside, and saw that my mother was working at the main desk directly in front of me. She didn’t look up from her work, so I calmly, quietly walked forward until I was standing less than two feet away from her. Finally, her eyes met mine and she let out a gasp. It wasn’t the sort of gasp that said, “Hey! You’re home!” Instead, it was one of shock.

“Oh my goodness!” she said. “It’s like looking in a mirror!”

For a split second, instead of seeing her own daughter, my mother saw her college-age self.

All my life I’ve been told I look like her, and it’s the greatest compliment. We have the same smile and very simliar eyes, and though her face is more slender and mine is more round, our features are close enough to one another that sometimes I see a photo of Mom and think, “Yep, there I am.”

While we were in Washington last week, we spent a couple of evenings with my grandparents. (Pictures to come!) In my grandmother’s office hangs a quilt with squares of pictures scattered throughout. One picture in particular stood out to me and it was this one:

The Thomas family in the 1960s

I’m assuming that it was taken in the mid-60s, and after this post goes up, I have no doubt Grandma or Grandpa will email me with the correct year. My mom is the only daughter and the oldest of four. This is one of those photos that when I look at my mother I see myself. Chuck disagrees, but I see it. Do you?

To my mother

This post is being written too late for my taste, but I was out of town yesterday and today helping a friend move. However, I couldn’t let the entire day pass by without publicly wishing my sweet mother a wonderfully happy birthday.

Mom, I wish I could cook dinner for you tonight. I love you!

Much Needed

It really was a merry Christmas. I have more than 500 photos to prove it. Here is the best one:

It was also a very loud Christmas – because of them:

Jacob, 10

Jeremy, 8

Owen, 7

Jack, 5

Many blessings to you and yours for the new year. See you in 2012.