It’s storming. Not a bad storm, just a nice gentle rain with some thunder. However, my dogs act as if we are in the middle of a volcanic, tornadic, hurricane-like, weather event of monumental proportion. We have given them doggy Xanax and they have gone to bed with Dad, rooted under the safety net of my chenille bedspread. I heard them praying while I was fixing their medicine…they asked for forgiveness for chasing the pregnant cat. They said they were sorry for pooping right in front of the door because they were afraid they would get struck by lightening if they went outside. They also thanked God that the thunder and lightening couldn’t get them in the house while asking to be able to trust Mom and Dad more when it came to life and death situations. The chill pill has kicked in now, they are tranquillized into a deep slumber that will hopefully outlast the ‘storm’. People make fun of me because of the deep, abiding love I have for my animals. I tell anyone who dares to roll their eyes or makes a tsk sound in my direction, these are just people with fur. Their feelings are as important as mine. My mom always said, “If you’re scared, you’re scared. There’s no talking your way out of it.” Well the same goes for dogs. Seriously though, if your dog is unnerved by thunder and lightening, don’t be one of those people. Buy a thunder coat, get some doggy Xanax or just sit and hold them tightly and croon in their ears. Be a good human, be kind and caring to your dogs. They love you. I’ll let you know if these two survive…
I’ve been having a hard time for a while. Mentally and physically. There is no need to go into all of the particulars, it doesn’t affect this post at all. Having said that, keep reading, God is good and I am going to tell you about it.
I woke up today and it’s grey out. It has been unseasonably warm here in Northeast Arkansas. Balmy, if you will. However, it’s been drizzly, hazy and colorless. The air is heavy and wet even when it’s not raining. This kind of day magnifies the melancholy mood that smothers me these past days. As I fixed my coffee this morning, I did it through tears and prayer. I prayed that something good would happen today. Something that would propel me out of this somber climate. God heard me and answered me. Wait, I know he always hears me. I know he always answers me. This was so loud though. Silent in it’s descent, boisterous in the stirring of my faith.
I placed my coffee cup on the corner of my desk and went to adjust the volume on the television and something caught my eye. Just a white flutter, really. I have lost most of my peripheral vision. I see mostly straight on. But for just a second, a shadow of snowy calm peeked into my view. I spun around and there they were.
Our lake is a man-made lake that covers 645 acres. It was originally to be a part of the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program until the Small Watershed Act was passed which allowed for construction of bodies of water to benefit fish and wildlife development. The lake was constructed to be a water source for the Lake Charles State Park for seven months a year. In October, the lake is drained to flood the Shirey Bay-Rainey Brake Wildlife Management Area, which is managed by the Arkansas Game and Fish. The purpose of this is so that duck hunters have a place to hunt successfully. Well, successfully for the hunter, the birds have a somewhat different take on this. What’s normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.
Our house sits in a little cove on the opposite end of the lake from the State Park. The park sponsors bass tournaments and local fishermen frequent the lake each summer. During this time of year, the boats are scarce as there isn’t a lot of water in the lake. What remains is shallow. Because the land was wooded when construction began, there are trees and brush that scatter the floor of the lake. Motoring a boat through a maze of timber both fallen and still standing takes a special skill. Even if you are very familiar with the lake. Right now, where the water is usually clapping against the bank, you can walk out two hundred feet before you ever reach the water. This isn’t something we usually take advantage of. The ground is marshy and in some spots, almost quicksand like. Our hounds love it! Much to my chagrin. They tramp around in the muck, wading in and out of the water to take a winter swim. Coming back to the house covered in mud, they are crest-fallen when I get the hose out to spray them off.
Because the lake is so low and the sky is so grey, I don’t pay much attention to the happenings on our lake this time of year. So imagine my surprise when I suddenly saw such an awe inspiring gift this dreary February morning.
Pelicans. At least a forty of them. I have seen them on the lake a few times before, usually in a group no larger than four or five. They were floating on the skirt hem of the lake. Bouncing up against the shallow waves that the blustery day created. They were so quiet. At first I thought they were snow geese. My eyesight, the distance my eyesight had to adjust to and the time of year all lent to this assumption. I soon realized these weren’t geese.
Pelicans are huge! The first time I saw one on the lake I was flabbergasted by it. There were only two and they were getting ready to take flight when we came upon them in our flat-bottomed boat. As they unfolded their wings and started to skip across the lake, we were showered with the spray from the water as their feet quickly paddled, bobbing and weaving, propelling their selves into the air. I immediately thought of Orville from the Disney movie The Rescuers. I was sort of expecting one of them to adjust their goggles. I remember the laugh that sprang out of my mouth before I could catch myself, I was trying to be quiet as to not startle them. Well, that didn’t work. My excitement was enormous. I had never seen anything like them. Their beaks were a foot long and the color of a traffic cone. Their necks stretched out in such a comical way. And their wing span, oh my goodness. I had no idea they were so immense! As I watched their colossal departure, I was mesmerized. Ken and I just sat there laughing. It was a sight to see.
My excitement was unmistakable and my dogs immediately knew that an adventure was afoot! Now, I have too many dogs. Of that, I am fully willing to own. I also do not seem to have any control of the hoard I have amassed. They run around willy-nilly and yip and yap. There was no way they were going to spoil the gift that was waiting for me at the length of my back yard. I screeched for Heidi, a friend of Belle’s staying the weekend, to look what I was saw and to grab my camera! I snatched the four-wheeler key off the key-shaped wooden board that hangs by our front door and out the door Heidi and I went, scolding and pushing dogs back so that they wouldn’t impede my race to the lake’s edge.
Now, I am not very good on our four-wheeler. We had an older one for several years, I could handle it pretty well. It was a big green behemoth thing that had no power steering and sort of lumbered along. Then my husband decided to buy a new one. The new one is FAST and very powerful. It has power steering. You think that sounds like a good thing. (insert eye-roll here). It just makes it feel like I am about to tip it over all the time. It has taken well over a year for me to adjust to my not-so-superior driving skills on this particular ATV. However, I am tenacious. I hopped on this cherry red beast and Heidi slipped behind me. I thrust my camera out to her, warned her not to drop it and I started the engine. Off we went, soaring across the yard and towards the lake. We bounced and careened over the yard, through the line of pine trees and around the bonfire leavings. Heidi let out a piercing little shriek and we both giggled and held on tighter, her to me and me to the handle bars. I was having fun! I slowed down a bit when I drew up to the shore of the lake. I tried not to disturb the flock. They were floating and bobbing away from the bank and I was quickly losing any hope of capturing pictures of them. I stood atop the seat of my little rocket and started snapping. They were moving rapidly down and out, away from me. They weren’t swimming or navigating with any purpose, they were just gliding along and letting the wind move them about. Unfortunately, the direction they were moving was away from me.
My eyesight has deteriorated substantially in the last two years. For someone who loves nothing more than an afternoon with her camera, this have been something I mourn. I can still use the auto-focus but any manual attempts just end up being a blur. I attempted to use my larger lens anyway. Try or die. The outcome was a blunder, but I am going to share them with you anyway. I want you to grasp the beauty of the moment. I cannot tell you how this lifted me up. It was a spiritual moment for me. I have not one doubt that God set those pelicans on my muddy, shallow lake for me. I love birds. I envy their ability to soar away from scary things, drifting peacefully along. I love their songs. I am jubilant when I find a nest hidden in my yard. I creep slowly about their home, waiting on the birth of something new. I mean, my name is Birdie….
God knows this. Of course he does, he made me this way. I prayed for something happy, something to life my spirit and to make my heart glad. I got exactly what I prayed for. I have come to know God differently in the past year. I lean on him as he has asked me to. I have come to know that he wants be to be joyful in my every day life no matter what is going on. He also knows that the flesh makes that hard sometimes. Our flesh gets in the way. So on a day when I was feeling overwhelmed with life, I asked God for something beautiful to make me smile. He delivered. He always will.
I don’t talk much about chronic pain. Not to you anyway. As I walk with Jesus, I am called on not to complain and to be thankful in all circumstances. I do talk to my family about how I feel. Mostly because they ask. Not every day though. Most days when asked, my standard answer is “I’m ok.” Because in reality I am. I could have it so much worse. I could be unable to walk. I could be in the hospital. I could have terminal cancer. I could be dying today. Thank you God that I am not.
However, I am in pain a lot in my life. And then there is the occasional insanity you had no idea your body could even produce. I am pretty sure something Stephen King like is controlling the strings of my puppet. I can’t help but be a bit amused at this. It helps me to get through the day when I picture ‘ol Steve up there thinking of ways to aggravate and scare me. It’s all in your perception, folks.
I have been tired lately. I get fatigued every day from the simplest of things but the past couple of weeks I have been on a different level in the drained-garage. A lot of it has to do with my activities, but then, a lot of it isn’t. My activities, for any person with out an autoimmune disease, wouldn’t even be noticed. For me, they are an out of tune trombone. Loud and tiresome. When I am exhausted, crazy crap starts happening. Last week, I could see lightening every time I moved my eyes from side to side. No, I am not making that up. Ever seen stars if you’ve been hit too hard in the head? It’s sort of like that. I can feel it. It feels like chewing on aluminum foil. My eyeballs also sort of quiver. Like if you’re having cold chills and you shiver, my eyeballs do that. Makes seeing so much fun! BUT!! At least I can see!!
My legs have ached for several years now. This swings between a dull toothache to excruciating Charlie horses. The weather, the level of fatigue I am experiencing, my stress level, if I’ve had enough cake this week, what’s on TV…Anything and nothing at all affects it. I have gotten every home remedy, exercise advice and ‘as seen on TV’ gimmicks that you can imagine. The rotten truth is, nothing helps. When you have MS, your nerves are like frayed wires. It is explained quite often as an electrical cord that is stripped to the wire. Sometimes you get a connection, sometimes not. That’s what our nerves do. So sometimes I get pain signals that aren’t real. Well, they aren’t real in any causation. They are real to me. Lately, it has started to affect my arms. Especially my right arm. From my shoulder to my fingertips. Some days, I just hold my arm against my body, my hand curled into a ball, so that I don’t move it and nothing bumps me. The pain I feel is rooted deep. It makes me nauseated. And there is no answer.
I have taken pain pills for several years now. I started taking them when I was diagnosed with CAS. The chest pain I feel is sometimes more than I can handle, so I have always kept a prescription of Norco. That’s a pretty name for Hydrocodone. When people hear you take that, they look at you different. I have taken this medicine for seven years. I have never once asked for an increase in the dosage. I have never asked for an increase in the amount of pills I am allowed per day. I take them sparingly. I do this for two practical reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to become dependent on them. Secondly, I have a disease that will only worsen with time. As I will build up a tolerance for this medication, I don’t want to reach a level of tolerance that will require me to be on stronger and stronger medication in a short amount of time. I don’t want to spend my sixties and seventies walking around stoned. Speaking of stoned, I have tried marijuana. It makes my heart race and flutter and scares the crap out of me. It doesn’t agree with my coronary spasms. I wish I could be a pot head and feel great. I know this works for a lot of people. I am fully supportive of that. Sadly, I am not one of them. So I deal. I deal with a fraction of the benefit of pain medicine because I refuse to subject myself to the side affects and the dependance on it. This doesn’t stop the judgement, however. It embarrasses me to call and ask for my refill. I am treated differently at the pharmacy when I have this medication filled. I actually stopped going to the Walmart that is near me. The staff in the pharmacy treated me as if I was refilling heroin. I know there is an issue with prescription medication, but not with everyone. You don’t know my path. I go to a small, family owned pharmacy now. They treat me with respect. But only because they know of my issues. When I first did my business there, I was treated with the same disdain. I finally told one hateful little angel that I had Multiple Sclerosis and Coronary Artery Spasms and that filling my prescription with a smile would go a long way with making my day more enjoyable. Then I felt bad for being ugly to her and I took her a Vanilla coke from Sonic the next time I went in. She probably threw it in the trash. Never take drinks from strangers….
I’m on a pain rant this day because it’s bad. I am speaking this blog today as my hands hurt so bad it is hard to type. My eyes are blurry this morning so my monitor is actually on the corner of my desk, as close as I can get it without it falling off. I am waiting on the delivery of an electric blanket from Amazon because sometimes the heat is soothing. Sometimes it makes me tired and will add to the issue because of my sensitivity to heat. It’s a merry go round and Pennywise is chasing me.
Sometimes pain is embarrassing for other reasons. Ken and I went to St Louis last year to see an MS specialist. While there, he took me to the zoo. It was warm out and the zoo is big, so he rented a little scoot-about for me to ride on. The looks I got were so humiliating. The exasperated sighs when I was in the way and they had to wait a minute to get their view. The rolling eyes when I had to say excuse me because I needed to back the scoot up a bit to turn around. One woman even told her child to move, I might run over her. I felt like telling the little girl that her mother was much more disabled than I would ever be. But I smiled and waited on them to pass. I won’t do that again. (rent the scooter, not refrain from maiming a human) What people saw was a lazy, somewhat overweight woman who was too young to be riding a scooter. Remember this story when you look at someone and think you see the truth.
All of this being said, I am thankful for my life. I am thankful for the struggle. God allows trials to bring you out on the other side whole. I do want you to stop and think. If you have someone in your life that has challenges, ask yourself what you can do to help them. Mow their yard, make them a meal, send a card. You have no idea how these things lift the spirit. It’s a struggle to maintain peace and joy sometimes when your body is in such turmoil. I have things to do today. My husband deserves a warm supper, my daughter deserves to have her favorite jeans clean and on her bed when she gets home. My sink was clogged then leaked all over the kitchen floor and I am out of trash bags. I can’t drive to the store to buy more…. BUT!! I have a new book to read and Kadey and Anna Claire bought pumpkin spice creamer for our coffee. So all is good today. The kitchen floor has been semi-mopped and I found a box for the trash. Always a silver lining. Well, most days. I am humbled by the Grace God grants me to make it through days like these. I am praying for comfort and motivation today. It would be awesome if you’d pray with me.
Thank you, as always, perpetual reader. Be kind to someone today. #loveloud
I have the most amazing human in my life. God created him just for me. He turns twenty-two today. His whole life has been a blessing for me. If you don’t know my Kyler, you don’t know what you are missing.
Kyler was born during a trying time in my life. His dad and I were separated. I had three other children and I was going to college full-time. God sent me this angel for so many reasons. He pulled our family back together. He changed my faith in God. Kyler was a gift.
When he was born, Kyler had serious medical issues. Frankly, there were times when I thought we wouldn’t have him very long. For the first time, I reached out to God in a different way. My desperation was so enormous. My prayer warrior at that time was my Aunt Lyla. She called me every day at the hospital and prayed with me. I would be so down. My hormones were crazy, my husband and I were separated and my baby wasn’t going to live. I had my mind made up. I just knew he was going to be taken from me. Aunt Lyla wasn’t having any of that. She talked me through it all and prayed for all of us. Kyler’s issues stopped as suddenly as they had begun. He began to get better and thrive and in no time, we were going home. I learned the power of prayer during that time. I learned that prayer warriors are essential and I learned that forgiveness crucial.
After we brought Kyler home, we spoiled him rotten. We were all afraid he would get sick again and we treated him like he was the most fragile of souls. He didn’t make a sound before three other children and I were on top of him seeing what this sweet baby needed. Kendall was the most enamoured of him. He loved Kyler from the moment he laid eyes on him. He would sit and hold Kyler and watch every blip on the monitor that Kyler wore. He played with him and fed him and was selfish with his time with him. I often had to tell Kendall that I was his MOM and I would be just fine handling him alone. Unfortunately, all this attention went straight to Kyler’s head. He was spoiled rotten in no time.
As the kids got older, Kyler became the boss. We didn’t like it. We tried to dissuade it. However, none of us could stand to see him cry. Well, none of us except Kade. Although Kade was the older brother, Kyler bossed him around incessantly. Our children always slept with us. We had a king size bed and we just all piled in. There were many times that Kyler would throw a fit because Kade and Kennedy would be in bed with us. He wanted to be top dog. This did not include sharing me, my bed, the television. He would announce that it was time for the kids to go to bed, point his finger in the direction of their rooms and tell them to ‘git’. Then he would prop himself up on our big pillows, tell me to put Spongebob on and demand a bowl of Lays potato chips. Oh my, he was awful. And we all let him! We totally created this monster.
The three middle kids were my ‘stair-step kids’. Kendall and Belle are my bookends. Kendall was much older, Belle was much younger. The three in the middle were born in four years. There is exactly eighteen months and one day between Kyler and Kennedy. The three in the middle have always been a trio of chaos. They fought the most, loved the most, got in trouble the most. Kennedy was the innocent bystander that got lead into precarious situations out of her control. She trusted her brothers and was guileless in her participation in most of the calamities that befell her. They would cook something up and persuade her to join in. A lot of times, they tried to blame her for things she didn’t even really know were happening. Luckily, I was an ornery kid too, so I knew she was just being dragged into the predicaments they created. More often than not, she just stood there wide-eyed until the storm had passed. It’s funny to hear her talk about it now. She will tell how Kyler would dare her to say a curse word, he would keep after her until she would finally relent, then he would come and tell on her. The two of them kept Kade busy too. They would do anything to irritate Kade. Kade has always been particular about his belongings. He did not want them in his room. Not only would they sneak in there, they would get on his top bunk and get in his stuff and drive him crazy.
Kyler was also stubborn. He hated clothes. He was always in his underwear. People would actually come over when he was dressed and feign surprise at the fact that he even had clothing. He had a temper. He would get mad at Kade for something and would vow his revenge. He actually peed on one of Kade’s game systems one time because of some slight he perceived as war-like. Bill had the painting company and his crew came to the house every morning to start the work day. The boys did terrible things to these poor men. When it was hot, the guys would turn the hose on and get a cool drink while they were cleaning tools. These awful boys peed in the hose. They shot windows out of the truck on one employee. BB guns were not allowed after that. Kyler would go to work with Bill and when they stopped to pick up one of the employees, Kyler would tell them they had to sit in the back seat. He has always been the boss.
When all of the other kids started school, it was just Kyler and me. The kids went to a private school so we took them every morning. After we dropped them off, Kyler and I had breakfast. He always wanted Hardees or Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel has always been our spot. He wanted no guests to eat with us. This was our time. I miss that most of all I think.
For six years, Kyler was the baby. Several years, it was just the two of us. We spent all of our time together. He didn’t want to stay all night with Nana or friends. He just wanted to be at home with momma. Then the unthinkable happened. I got pregnant. We were going to have a new baby. Oh my goodness. The hysterics. When we told him we were having a new baby, without missing a beat and with a seriousness that was terrifying, he stated “I’m going to kill it.” Good grief. Fortunately, he got over all of that when he saw her, and when I assured him that he would always be the baby, even though he wasn’t the littlest any more. I put him in charge of diaper patrol and bottle gathering. He was full of pride at his resourcefulness and he loved her like she was his toy. He still does.
Kendall and Kyler were always close, but because of the closeness in age and the ability to get under each other’s skin, Kade and Kyler took a little longer to become good friends. When they did, they got into more orneriness!! They were fearless and their goal in life was to live up to the Soden name. Their grandfather and dad had left a legacy of being the ‘badass’ and they weren’t going to let that stop with them. As I look back now, I don’t know how any of us made it. On the plus side, I got to know a lot of nice policemen. Luckily, they grew out of all of that and they are good boys. They are also best friends. Their loyalty to each other and the other kids is so amazing to me. I don’t have a really close relationship to my brothers (I’m working on that). These kids love each other. They care about what is going on in each others lives. They love spending time together. The best times are Sundays when everyone comes. Every one of us cherish that.
Kyler picked out his girl early in life. He was fifteen, I think, when Kennedy told me that Kyler had a girlfriend. I met her and fell in love with her. I can remember thinking I hoped he kept her, but at their age, that probably wouldn’t last. It did. He’s never had another. There have been other girls when they have broken up. They lasted all of about ten minutes. None of them were Kate. I am forever thankful that this is who he chose for us. And in our family, you chose for us. We spend too much time together to choose someone who can’t adapt to our brand of crazy. She did. They have been together through everything. They have grown up together. They are a family now. They gave me my most precious gift, Karter. He is so loved. He’s the only grandbaby for us and the only nephew. We all dote on him. He has brought a ray of sunshine to all of us. I am grateful beyond measure that Kyler chose Kate and blessed me with Karter. They are a wonderful little family. I am so proud of my sweet son. And Kate? She is kind and loving and the best mommy. She is also such a hard worker. Her whole life revolves around making a home for her family. She started nursing school this week. I have no doubt she will be an incredible nurse. My boys are so lucky. She is an angel.
Today is my baby boy’s birthday. It makes me so sad. Birthdays do that to me now. Just a few minutes ago he was sitting in my bed with me watching Spongebob and having me scratch his back. He has the biggest blue eyes and they hold the key to my heart. Kyler is my sweet son, he is also my friend. I am so lucky. If you see him today, wish him well. His new turn around the sun starts today. This last year has been extraordinary, I cannot wait to see what he accomplishes next. Happy Birthday Kyler. You’ll always be my little guy. Momma loves you.
I have an old coonhound named Sam. We aren’t really sure how old Sam is, he was someone else’s throwaway who landed at our door. Kennedy was on the front porch one evening and Sam just sort of ambled up onto the porch and took over our hearts. Kennedy came and got Ken and I out of bed so we could see what was outside. She excitedly led the way and what we found was one of the most pitiful things I’ve ever seen.
Sam is a blue-tick coon hound. He has big chocolate ears, a sad brown face and his body is a map of liver spots and ticking. His ticking is creamy white with blue/black tick marks. When he found us, he probably weighed less than fifty pounds. His coat was dull and coarse and he had more ticks on him than I ever thought could get on a dog. Ken and I sat down with Kennedy and Sam just walked up and rested his head on my knees and sighed really big. It was like he was saying, “I’m so tired.” Belle soon joined us and for the next few days we spent any free time picking ticks off of Sam. Kennedy would rather cut her fingers off than touch bugs, and yet she loving pulled hundreds of nasty bugs from Sam. There were hundreds around his eyes and so many in and around his ears. That was the worst of it. They were so tiny and it felt like we would never get them all. We also started feeding this skinny hound. You could run your fingers down his sides and count every rib. His shoulder blades stuck out like sails on a ship. He was just all angles. Except for his big, loppy ears. Sam has great ears. Anyway, we fed him dozens of scrambled eggs and hot dogs and anything else we thought would put weight on him. Ken got up one morning and made biscuits and gravy, after all, gravy makes you fat! We groomed and nurtured and fattened and loved this sweet dog back into doggy shape.
It wasn’t long and Sam made it into the house and was taking regular naps in the sun beams crossing the end of the sofa. He moves with the slowness and ease of an old timer. He saunters around the house, stopping to chuff things out, sizing things up and making sure things are at the right. He is an affectionate scoundrel. He loves hugs. He doesn’t seem to realize his size, which is now closer to eighty pounds than the scrawny fifty he was when he landed here. When I sit in my chair, he comes over and puts his front paws up on the foot stool and slowly starts maneuvering his way into my lap. Usually I am trying, unsuccessfully, to explain to him that he is too big to be in my lap. It would surprise you how small he can make himself when he is determined. He lowers his head and pushes up against your chest with his forehead and just stands there. It’s like he’s saying he is so thankful. Or he’s telling you he will keep your secrets. You can trust a dog with anything. They listen and love and in the end, you both feel good. You can’t say no to Sam. It would break his heart…and mine.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been around a coonhound, but they don’t bark, they bawl. Sammy has the most mournful bay. It seems to start around his tail, by the time it gets to his throat, his head is thrown back and a deep siren of a call comes out of him. I can’t get enough of it. Even after this many years. Other’s aren’t quite as passionate. Belle has a friend who fishes with his grandfather on our lake, she has had more than one phone call telling her to shut her dumb dog up, he’s scaring the fish away. His cry does echo all across this lake. Wherever you are on the lake, you can hear Sammy. He also loves to swim. If he gets out, oh my gosh. First, you can forget catching him. Stubborn. He doesn’t hurt anything, but he loves to ‘tree’ cats. He stands at the bottom of the tree and with every breath announces to the world that what he was trailing has been caught. When he gets bored, or hot, he heads for the water. Not just in and out. He gets in, leisurely gliding in until his feet no longer touch, then he just swims. Back and forth. It stresses me to no end in the summer months. I am afraid someone is going to come in to our little cove and run right over him without ever knowing he was there. When he’s had his fill. he climbs out, shakes off and has a nap in the sun under the huge oak tree in the front yard. People in the neighborhood always stop to say hi to him. He has a big, easy grin and he loves a bit of a scratch behind those big ears.
He has become the favorite of everyone in the family, but his heart is really Kennedy’s. She isn’t home much, she’s out adulting. He waits. He knows her car. Just as soon as he hears her, he starts in. Sound the hounds. Out the doggy door, to the fence, in the doggy door to the front door and back. This is a constant loop until she comes in. Then he hugs her. He stands up, wraps his front paws around her neck, puts his forehead against hers and just stands there. He is so happy she is here. For the next three or four hours, no other animal will be able to get anywhere near her. She is his. He chuffs and gruffs and lays across her. It’s obvious to me. She found him and saved him. He came to her. She said it best, “God sure gave us a special gift when he had Sam show up.”. That’s the way we all feel.
I became a true coonhound mom the night Sam was out and I thought he was hurt. It was the first night he had gotten out and stayed out all night. I could hear him baying over and over and I was convinced he was stuck somewhere. It was freezing rain outside, I was home alone and I couldn’t stand it, I had to go and see what was wrong. I put my robe on over my pajamas, my muck boots on, snagged Ken’s big ol spot light from the kitchen and went out front and jumped on the mule. The window was iced over, the wind was blowing and I was trying to hold the spotlight and drive. The week earlier, we had lost a tree in the weather and I was convinced he was caught in that tree somewhere looking like Jack Nicholson at the end of the Shining. Mind you, this is about three o’clock in the morning. So I am yelling and yelling for him and suddenly he jumps out in front of me. I swear he was smiling. He was wagging his whole body. He was having fun. I was so mad. I whipped that mule around and headed straight back to the house. Damn dog.
Sam is terrified of storms. I know some dogs are nervous during bad weather. We have two others that don’t do very well during storms. Sam is not even on their scale. He can sense it coming. So on many occasions. he has alerted me to the fact that bad weather was on it’s way. Once the thunder starts, Sam is a full time job. I was the first one who got to see this. I kept telling the family how awful it was, but like most things, everyone poo-poo’s mom. One by one, they have each had their turn. It truly is pitiful. In March, I had just gotten out of the hospital and Sam had gotten out. He was amorously chasing another throw-away pet in our neighborhood who happened to be in heat. He was not coming home. We had been out in the truck, on the mule, on the four-wheeler. We had walked and yelled and bribed. When you got feet from him, he bolted. He was BUSY. Kade and Ken had been trying to get him in, we knew bad weather was coming. They both had to go to work and I was going to be home alone. I was nearly hysterical. Everyone left and I sat and waited, Periodically, I would go out on the front porch and yell for him. He didn’t normally come to the guys, but would usually always come to one of us girls. I yelled til I was horse. I wasn’t supposed to be driving anything but it just kept getting uglier and uglier out. I called Ken and Kade in a panic and they both told me to calm down, Sam was a dog, he would be ok. Well that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. I took this opportunity to use my furious-ness as the catalyst to stupidity. I got on the four-wheeler, which I never drive. It has power steering and goes two hundred miles an hour and I hate it. It just feels unsafe to me. Especially in the rain, with my eyes, legs and that peripheral vision thing…Off I went. I just kept screaming for Sam. I went up and down all of the dirt roads and all around the neighborhood. I went where he usually went if he managed to escape. Nothing. No sign of Sam. I was freezing. I was shaking so hard, I kept pulling on the handlebars and jerking myself to one side or the other. I kept slipping off the seat because everything was slick from the rain. My hair was in my eyes, the wind was blowing so hard. I decided I’d just better go back home. I got into the house, went straight to the basement and got out of my wet clothes. I grabbed Ken’s robe, it was hanging in the laundry room. I came upstairs, sat down on the couch and just boo-hooed. About that time, Sam walked in the back door. He was soaked to the bone and as cold as I was. I laughed and swatted his butt and then hugged his neck. After drying him off and making him a warm bed on the couch along side the one I made for myself, we cuddled. I cannot tell you the relief I felt.
Our dogs are our family. We have voices for all of them, so we carry out complete conversations we perceive they are having. They all have personalities and quirks that we cater to. We know who is scared of what and who is certainly going to get into trouble if left unattended. They get gifts at Christmas and they have special back to school treats. Although they aren’t going to school. they will be so sad Belle is. They hate it when that big yellow box takes her away for the day. Sam and Tag will stand guard waiting for her to come back home. I don’t know why God chose us for Sam to come to. I know that he has been a comfort to me on so many occasions. I love that big ol coonhound. He will look at you with those big brown, sad eyes and it just makes me smile. I don’t know who decided to throw him away, but I am thankful every day that they did.
I have often written about the women in my life. God has blessed me with some of the strongest women he made. I have an arsenal of female perspective and a gaggle of iron shouldered geese to lean on when my road gets bumpy. This particular story is about Pearl, otherwise known as Ellen Voyles, my sister in law. I don’t usually call her that. We are sister-friends. She is so much more than a sister in law.
I always wanted a sister. I had brothers. I had two step sisters once. Picture Anastasia and Drizella. I was so excited when I found out I was going to have not one, but two sisters!! I made a spot for them in my closet for when they came to stay. I had a trundle bed at the time, I pulled the trundle out and left it set up so they would feel like they had a ‘spot’. The older sister was a senior in high school and didn’t come very many weekends. The younger one was a year younger than me and came to visit a lot. She and I made friends quickly. Well, I did. You know me, I was full of big plans, I had visions of us becoming inseparable. We would do everything together, go shopping and do make-overs on each other and we would be there for each other when children were born and when family died and we would make super cool nicknames for each other. Maybe we would even have our own secrete language like twins sometimes did! Gasp! Slumber parties with all of our friends, mom making a batch of cherry chip cupcakes! We would, of course, share favorites in every thing! I took the fantasy of having a sister and ran as fast as I could with it. I always do this. I’m forever excited and enthusiastic. Even now, at the age of fifty, my balloon doesn’t land. I’m the ant moving that damn rubber tree plant. Unfortunately, in this situation, I was flying a kite made of fantasy and destruction. I was ten miles down the road with my kite before I realized that the kite string had been cut, the kite was on fire and it was headed for the side of a barn.
What I found out rather quickly was, she was a brat. Unfortunately, I was a brat too, and this was a one-brat-household. My dreams of my being the Marcia Brady to her Jan skid down the hot slide of life.
So there went my dreams of a sister. I eventually got married and was blessed with two sisters-in-law. I have loved these girls for thirty-three years. However, we have always lived so far away from each other. We’ve always been friends, we keep in touch even now. With busy lifestyles and long distance, it has been hard for us to have a close knit relationship. I always thought, ‘One day’. We think that about a lot of things, don’t we? One day we won’t be as busy. then we will……
So then a bunch of other crap happened that you don’t want to hear about right now and I met my second husband. In comes Pearl, Stage Left.
I came up to the lake house for the first time one afternoon in early summer. It was HOT! I had my hair cut in a cute little pixie and I had been tanning a little bit so my legs didn’t look like a can of busted biscuits. I wore a knee length skirt and my good luck t-shirt and my old keds tennis shoes. Pretty cute sea going fare. We skipped down to the boat, Yes, I said skipped, anyway…We skipped down to the boat and hopped in and Ken took off like his pants were on fire. We hurled around the lake five or six times going about two hundred miles and hour and I couldn’t see a damn thing because my skirt had blown up over my head and I was too afraid to let go of whatever I was hanging on to. When he finally did slow down, it was with a jerk and I fell forward and smacked my forehead on the windshield in front of me. While I was trying to rearrange my clothes and smooth down my hair, he stuck his hand out and said “Wanna go meet my brother?” Grinning, I said “Sure!” Inside I was thinking “Holy crap they are going to think I’m Guy Fieri” because there was no way my hair was going to do anything at this point but stand on it’s ends and I wasn’t completely sure if I hadn’t peed myself. Hustling me up the hill to their house, we stepped up onto the porch and rang the bell.
Ken ushered me in, I sat on the loveseat with him and was immediately warned not to pet the dog who was cheerfully wagging his tail at me. “He’s a fraud and he bites.” I nervously laughed. Then Jim started. I didn’t know he had started then, I do now. “So, Tracey, you have how many children?” Without missing a beat, “I have five children. All under the age of seven.” Everything just sort of stopped. I laughed and said I was just kidding. He looked at Ken and said “Brother, I was going to ask you what the hell were you getting into?!” This was the beginning of a fantastic friendship for me. Jim and Ellen have become my family.
More importantly, Ellen Pearl has become my sister. Pearl is long and lean. She looks as if she swam her whole life. You can see her standing on her toes on the cliffs of the Norfork Lake, ready to push off. She has this marvelous head of steel and pearl hair. It’s the hair everyone wants. It’s natural curl is perfect and her only styling tool is a bobby pin. She isn’t a chirpy morning person. You have to quietly let her adjust to the day with her coffee. She is always calm. I have never seen her flustered, I think that is one of the things that draws me to her. That and her eyes. She has the warmest eyes. She is unwavering in her attention when it is placed on you. She isn’t fussy in her clothing. She always looks smart and neat. Last summer I got so tickled with her, She and I were texting and she said, “I got a floral blouse.” I commented something non-committal, Ellen doesn’t wear floral blouses. In fact, I think I might have said as much. She said something about it being time for an old woman floral blouse. A few weeks later we went for lunch. After we got out of the car and exchanged hugs, she said “Look! My floral blouse!” It was beautiful. She was beautiful.
Ellen is gifted in many areas, painting is one talent that I am struck by. Her paintings speak to you. That sounds so cliche. It’s not deep enough. Trying to mark this with words makes it too small. There were several paintings in the house when I moved in. My favorites changed with my mood and temperament. Now my favorite painting is the one we received as a wedding gift. I had mentioned periodically that this certain painting was my favorite of hers. When it came time for our wedding, she told me to pick out my favorite painting. I told her I loved them all so much, for her to just surprise me. I knew which one I loved, but I knew it was dear to her too. I would never have asked for it. On our wedding day, with no fanfare and all the love in the world, she gave it to me. It’s a soft painting. All whites and blues. There is a figure and he is reaching towards Heaven and releasing a bird. It’s not a dove. Not to me. It is the most peaceful work of art I have ever seen. I have it hung on the wall at the end of my bed. It’s what I see when I wake up and when I fall to sleep. It represents friendship, love, marriage, beginnings, family.
Pearl is also hysterical. She doesn’t even mean to be. She said she thought she might be going crazy because she was making sounds. Sounds? Sounds. She said her Godson asked her why she kept making that sound then she sort of made a ‘puh’ sound with pursed lips. I tried to imitate it, failed. She did it again. I tried again, sort of got it. If something is dumb now, we just make that sound. Our own secret language!!
When we first met, she kept calling me Sheila. She said I didn’t look like a Tracey, I looked like a Sheila. So I became Sheila. Belle introduced her to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back and they became Becky. Pearl, aka Becky, decided that Kennedy needed a name also and after long consideration, Kennedy became Maggie. Maggie Mae from Rod Stewart fame. Pearl said when she heard that song she could just see it was Kennedy Rod was talking about. So here we are, from left to right, Sheila, Becky, Becky and Maggie. Please to meet you.
Ellen Pearl Becky makes excellent strawberry cake and slaw. She introduced me to Japanese dumplings and how to make them. She has taught me how to pick colors for cabinets, tame a Voyles man and how to smile when you don’t want to smile.
Ken and I hadn’t been married very long when we have our first grown up fight. I was mad and had my feelings hurt. I shoved my feet down in his boots, there was three feet of snow on the ground, and went stomping over to Ellen’s house. I knocked on the back door, she took one look at me and pointed the way upstairs leaving Jim bewildered in the basement. I laid my case out and cried and bawled and she quietly set a box of tissues in front of me and started talking. She became my lifeline in this part of the world. I hadn’t had that since I left Indiana. I’ve made a lot of friends, but not like this. She’s my sister-friend. We have gone through alot together in five short years. She has been my calm in the calamity more than once. When it came time for Ken and I to get married, we started discussing who we would have perform the vows. Immediately I asked if we could ask Ellen. I called her and asked her if she would care to be ordained and to marry us. She happily excepted. She wrote our vows, I still have the little black folio with her handwritten vows in it. No words were ever so full of love. They were written for us and to us. She has such a deep connection with Ken and it showed in the words she chose to use. We are connected now, Ellen and I. Not by our circumstances, but by the bond of sisterhood. I cherish her friendship. God always gives you what you need at the time you need it. Thank God for Pearl.
I got to see me brother a couple of weeks ago. He lives in South Carolina and I live in Arkansas and we aren’t that close so we don’t talk that much. He made a comment while I was there, it wasn’t about us, but it felt like he was talking right to me and it hit me right between the eyes. He said “You never forget how someone makes you feel.” Isn’t that the truth?
My mother was a hair dresser when I was young, she had a client who was a meany. When I think of her now, that’s how I think of her, that ol’ meany. When I was a teenager, she was always asking me what size jeans I wore then telling me that when she was a teenager she wore just a size under that. She would ask me my bra size and tell me that she couldn’t imagine having breasts that large at my age. My pants were too tight, my t-shirts were too tight, that color didn’t look good on me. Every time she was in the shop, these are the things she said to me. To this day I have a bad feeling when I think of her. It’s just been recently that Mother was telling the story about this particular woman stopping by the house once in a while so Mother could ‘freshen her up’ (wanting a free comb-out). She has stopped by for this particular reason and she picked up my brother, who was around three at the time. Now let me tell you, Jeffrey Haines was a gorgeous baby. I’m sure she wanted to pick him up and love all over him. She was trying to get some sugar from him and she said “What would you say if I just kissed you?” My brother deadpanned “God D@#%$t.” Mother said she was mortified! I was in Heaven! Then I suddenly thought, all those years that horrible woman was mean to me! This was why! (Picture a dramatic slump at this moment)
We also have people that make us feel like we have been wrapped in a blanket just taken from the dryer. My person like that is Beth Jones. Beth was a Kindergarten teacher at the Christian School my kids went to. I knew her long before then, however. She had cute sons that I went to church camp with. I have loved Beth Jones since the day I met her. She has this breathtaking smile that lights up a room and then she starts talking. She starts telling you how much she loves you and how beautiful you are and then come the hugs, oh the hugs. That’s the blanket thing I was talking about. When my children were young and I was having problems in my marriage, I would walk in to the class to drop one of the kids off and all she had to do was look at me and she would know. She would squeeze my arm and look me in the eye and tell me she loved me and I would start to cry. She would have her classroom aid take care of the class and step outside with me. She would say a quick prayer with me and tell me to come back on her lunch hour or on her break or after school and she would talk to me. She gave me guidance and encouraged my faith and my walk with Jesus and she told me I was worth more. She was the first person to ever tell me that I was worth something. It makes my soul cry writing this. There are not enough words to tell you how blessed I was to have God drop Beth Jones into my life. I survived a lot of years because of her.
You also have the people you meet on just a day to day basis. I go and get my watermelons from my cleaning girl’s daddy. She is a doll and he raised five amazing daughters, so I go out of the way to buy from his stand. Likewise, there is a fireworks stand in my hometown that I wouldn’t buy one of those little starters from. Two or three gals in that family ‘bought from my ex husband’s stand’, you might say, so I choose not to show my patronage to them on our Nation’s Birthday.
What will stick to your soul is the people you love. I was mean to my little brother. I was so jealous of him. He is an admitted Momma’s boy. They showed a lot of affection. I wasn’t built that way. I didn’t know what was wrong for years and years. I just thought she preferred him. So I was mean to him. As adults, we have had little to no relationship. I have a close, loving relationship with his wife, his two daughters and his two granddaughters. They are so dear to my heart. And suddenly, in the last five years or so, I want to be close to him. We have both been wary. It’s taken a long time. This visit, we seem to have turned a corner. I have felt like I have wanted this and he has not. I have felt all these years as if I didn’t deserve to have a relationship with him. I felt I let him down in so many ways. Then one day it occurred to me, I was a kid, doing stupid shit, acting out because of the circus we were in. I was a KID. So I forgave myself and decided that if God wanted this to happen, it would. In this new day, wounds are healing, hearts are softening and we seem to be moving toward each other for the first time. That makes me so happy. I want to be someone who makes him feel good, not bad.
The sad part of this story is I am fifty. This story started when I was about sixteen. What a waste of time. Miscommunication. Jealously. Anger. Resentment. Why?
There is nothing so big that you should go to bed tonight knowing someone is feeling bad because of you. Fix it. Own it. Eat it. Anything else you do with it is just a sinful waste of time. And not only are you hurting them, you’re hurting you. Don’t let your time slip by. Reclaim your peace. Reclaim your love. Be a joyous human. Life is only as good as we make it.
I pray. A lot. I pray for my children and my Mother. I pray for my almost children. I pray for strength. Sometimes I’m praying for the strength not to lose it and poke someone with a fork. Mostly I pray for guidance and wisdom.
My favorite spot to pray is on my front porch. It’s quiet and still on my porch. I have a comfortable chair and our front yard is beautiful. We have this beautiful old tree that I love. It’s so tall, I can hardly see the top of it. It’s strong. Even though it’s been damaged by a magnificent storm, it continues to thrive. When the wind is up, it’s almost as if that sweet old tree is talking to me. The rustling of the leaves comfort me. Bird families and squirrel families make their home among its branches. The singing and chattering of its guests…
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When I was a little girl, I loved going to my Aunt Vickie’s. Her home and business were in the same building. My Uncle Gene always had a car lot and a garage but my Aunt had different businesses at different times. As a child, there was no place any more fun than their house.
The house itself was always a fascination to me. It was so different from our own. She had red velvet curtains and black leather furniture. She had big metal bulls with gold rings in their noses and matadors that were four feet tall with sweeping red capes that seemed to truly taunt the imitation bull. She had hanging bird cages with considerable winged imitation birds that I was sure was looking at me no matter where I was in the room. There was a large stereo with more velvet that lined the doors. There was always twangy country music coming from it.
Vickie was just as colorful as her home. She always had her hair piled high. She always wore a hair piece that was curled into sausage like ringlets. Wisps of hair curled and set just so around her face. She always wore false eye lashes, her eye make up matching every outfit. Her clothing was always so bright and colorful and I can remember her kicking her shoes off and dancing around the room to some old song that came on the radio. She wore rings on every finger and lusty over-sized earrings. She would get so tickled. She always seemed so uninhibited to me. She seemed so fearless.
I remember her having a restaurant, I was really little then. I don’t remember much about it other than the wonderful smells of home cooking. However, she then had a beauty shop. Mother was also a beautician and I went to work with her a lot. Here, though, I could really play. It was in the 1970’s and wigs were all the rage. There were a row of chairs that pumped up much higher than I was really allowed to pump them. There was a long mirror behind the chairs with an eclectic group of ephemera. Advertisements for hair products, Final Net, Toni Perms, Dipity Doo. Pictures of up-dos and beehives and of course, the famous Farrah hair. On a shelf above the mirror, I guess it may have more of a ledge, there were little white Styrofoam heads lined up. Some had little wiglets, some had hair pieces to make the tallest hives. Little brown or grey heads of hair, rolled up in pink and blue rollers, netted in little green hair nets, just waiting on their owners to come in so Aunt Vickie could fashion their hair in the latest trend.
On the counters, combs, brushes, clippies, bobby pins, things to tease hair, things to smooth hair, things to section and wave hair. The glass jar of blue liquid that cleaned the combs. The toaster oven thing that dried the hair brushes after they had been washed. The stacks and stacks of towels. A job I have loathed my whole life, folding all of those miniature towels. I would give anything to fold those towels today.
Oh! The magazines! Gossip magazines! Donny and Marie Osmond, Sonny and Cher, Starsky and Hutch, Shawn Cassidy, David Bowie. The actual TV Guide! Better Homes and Garden’s magazines filled with jello salad recipes. Cosmopolitan, which I was in no way allowed to read.
It was so much fun. Playing Beauty Shop. Answering the phone and making pretend appointments, working our customers appointments in the way we had heard the grown ups do.We would wash each other’s hair in the shampoo bowls, roll up strands of hair, using six clippies on each roller because we could never get the rollers to stay in place. We sat on the booster seats at the dryers, reading the magazines, having pretend conversations about all the drama we could think up. We played grown up. We played Mom and Aunt Vickie.
There was a little store between the house and the businesses. It was where you paid for your gas or bought a snack or pop for the road. There was an adding machine, a cash register, phone, a bell that rang for someone to come to the register. There was a cabinet full of glass shelves that held truck-stop fare. Rolaids, tooth brushes, hair nets, pantyhose, candy, gum, matches, nail files, rain bonnets, chapstick, pens and pencils, little spiral tablets and assorted cigarettes. We would play store, taking turns being the cashier. We ate all the candy and gum we wanted and made terrible messes, Aunt Vickie didn’t care. She just wanted us to have fun.
When we got a little older, she had a camper set up at a camp site each summer. We would go and have cookouts and swim. We played games and rode bikes. We ran around in bare feet and swimsuits, begging money for the concession stand. We always had fireworks and flashlights. There was always tons of food and cans of Faygo. We piled into a small bed, dirty feet and wet heads, laughed until the wee hours of the mourning, then got up with the sun. She made sure we had everything we wanted. She ran around attending to all of us, kids and adults, making sure every need was met.
Eventually she put a pool in at her house and they built a pond. She was always all about having fun. Having the whole family over. Having all the kids over, their friends, the more the merrier. She would run around and yell at Uncle Gene to hurry up and get something done and laugh at everything.
I have talked a lot about the strength of the women in our family. She was no different. She lost her only son and then raised her grandson. She held everyone together as best she could for so many years. We would get together for a holiday and something horrible would be going on and she would sit at the table, playing rook and laughing until tears ran down her face at something one of us was telling her. She was a rock.
I had my first child when I was nineteen. She was there. She was always there. The only one she missed was my last one. Belle came to quickly for anyone to be there.
When Kennedy was born, she was almost seven weeks early. I was in the hospital in Anderson and they were taking us to Indianapolis because of their neonatal unit. Mother, Grandma and Aunt Vickie came. I was in labor for five days. They never left me. The first few days, the doctor’s were trying to stop my labor. They had so much medicine coursing through my veins, they also kept me fairly high on a new pain medication that had just come out. Nubane. Good gravy. I’ve never been happier in my life. I had a constant grin on my face. That shit was awesome. It also made me HOT!! It was February. In Indiana. It was probably two degrees outside. I was lying in my hospital bed, in my gown, no covers. I had the air conditioning on in the room and a fan the size of an airplane rotor at the end of my bed. Still, I was hot. My family of women sat in a row on the couch in the room, in their winter coats, covered up with blankets, and never left me. They kept me entertained the whole time. Vickie had become a nurse by this time. I was freaked out a bit, to say the least. Happy…but freaked none the less. Every time they wanted to do something to me, I’d look at her and raise my eyebrows. This was secret code for, ‘What the hell does that mean??’. Eventually, thing started to decline and they decided to go ahead and let me have Kennedy. They were going to put an interior heart monitor on her head and they explained that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate it without an epidural. I was scared to death. I asked if my Aunt could stay. I sat up on the edge of the bed and leaned over the bedside table. Aunt Vicki was on one side of me, shivering, and the anesthesiologist on the other. He explained step by step each part of the procedure as he did it and Vickie would dumb it down for me. Tana used to call this ‘Tana’s terms’. My Aunt would start explaining something medical and Tana would say “Tana’s terms please”. She got me through it and she had everyone in the room laughing. Because that’s what we do. We get through it and we do it with humor and tears.
My Aunt Vickie died yesterday. I can hardly stand it. She has always been my go to person when I needed something medical explained. She has always been my second opinion. She is where we have Thanksgiving and Easter. She is truthful to the point of ass sometimes. She was part of a group of women who raised me to be who I am today. She also raised tw o young women who I love so dearly,
Vickie Ebbert Christie was ornery, witty, tenacious, unshakable, unwavering, veracious and my favorite Aunt. I will miss everything about her. She is in Heaven today, most likely dancing with my Uncle Gene and she is so happy to see Shad. She never stopped missing him, I don’t think it ever even lessened. She is with them now. She is with my Grandparents. My Grandma and Grandpa were so glad to see her, I have no doubt. And I’ll bet you a dollar, she went and found Elvis as soon as she said hello to the family. If you knew her, you were so lucky. If you didn’t, I hope you got a little taste of her here. She was a bright light that never dimmed. Rest in peace, Aunt Vickie. I love you.