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red clay ponderings

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Little Red Slippers

My grandmother Crawford would put up her Christmas tree mid-December; a fragrant, local evergreen.

Christmas 1967 was different. She caught the Christmas Spirit early, and had her tree up the week of Thanksgiving.

She had never done that before.

By December 1st that year, packages wrapped in bright paper were nestled beneath the boughs of her tree. One package for each grandchild. Everyone commented, but didn’t complain, on her premature decorating. They wondered “whatever could she be thinking, putting a tree up so early?”.

Back then, most people decorated a week… two at the most… before the Holidays. Setting up a live tree one month before Christmas was unheard of. But there sat the Crawford tree, in the front window, for all of Hickory Flat to see.

One afternoon, around Thanksgiving, I went shopping with her. On that day, she got behind the wheel of her big, blue Chevrolet Impala and I snuggled up next to her. On the bench seat. No seatbelts required.

Lois Emma Benefield Crawford aimed her Chevy Tank in a southward direction on Highway 5, and before long we had left Cherokee County. We were rolling down Highway 41… destination: Marietta.

More accurately, our compass pointed to Kmart and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Browsing around Kmart, we lingered for a while in the shoe aisles. And it was there, that I came across the most beautiful pair of house slippers I had ever seen. Red velvet mules, trimmed in red fur. And they were just my size.

I couldn’t stop looking at them. Couldn’t resist running my hand over the furry red trim, even as it tickled my palm.

She stood very still, and I felt her watching me.

“Neetie, you like them shoes?”

I looked up at her… her blue eyes were intense, like sapphires against her dark complexion. Beautiful eyes. But there always seemed to be a hint of sadness behind them. The kind of sad you see in the eyes of poor people. People who keep going, even though life doesn’t cut them many breaks.

I answered her: “Umhuh …. I think I’ll ask Santa for these”.

We finished up at Kmart and made our way to Dunkin’.

We both had a single donut. She had coffee. I had hot chocolate. We nibbled our treats, sipped our hot drinks, and I talked about those red shoes the whole time.

“If Santa brings me those shoes, I won’t just wear them in the house. They are so pretty, I’ll wear them to school, too. The bottoms are hard, like real shoes. Not soft, like house shoes”.

She laughed a little.

On Christmas morning, I found a package addressed to me:

“To Neetie,

Love, Maw and Papa”.

The wrapping paper was covered with chubby little Santas, all playing in a falling snow. I was hesitant to open the package. Because I knew there would never be another.

Life had changed since our Kmart shopping excursion.

On December 4, 1967, the phone rang. It was late for a phone call. But I wasn’t yet old enough to be fearful of late night calls. So I answered, and heard my grandmother’s voice on the line.

“Neetie, I need to talk to your mama. I love you.”

My dad found her on her kitchen floor, the phone was nearby.

She was gone.

Without warning. Without saying goodbye. Her heart had simply betrayed her, it had given up and quit.

Christmas morning, I sat on my knees by her Christmas tree, and told my mom I didn’t think I should open my gift. She told me the decision was mine, but encouraged me to remember that the gift was something my grandmother had given me, her oldest grandchild. And it was something she wanted me to have.

Carefully, I pulled back the tape. I couldn’t bear the thought of ripping her paper, paper she had selected. In my mind, I could see her at her kitchen table, drinking coffee… wrapping gifts. Humming along with the radio. Her Coca Cola clock illuminating the wall behind her.

I felt so lost.

My chest was heavy with grief when I opened the gift from her. And when the paper was pulled away, I wanted to cry. Cushioned in a blanket of white tissues, lay the shoes. The most beautiful shoes in the world.

But I didn’t feel joy at receiving them. It’s not that I was disappointed in the gift. I loved the slippers and I was thankful to have them. But I missed my grandmother. I wanted to go back to the day at Kmart. And stay there.

My mom still has the red shoes. They are in my old room. They’ve been around for 52 Christmases now. And I still get a lump in my throat when I think of the sacrifice Lois made, to buy them for her seven year-old granddaughter.

And I wonder if she had a feeling that she would soon be leaving us.

I don’t know. But this I do know… some of us have complained about our people decorating too early.

It’s ok. Let them have some Christmas joy. Don’t shame the family and friends who want to stir up some Christmas memories a little early in the season.

They may know something you don’t.

Merry Christmas 🎄

Danita

Two of Lois Emma Crawford’s great-great grandchildren.

My friend Lorie Hamby’s tree.

She decorated in October that year. She said the lights and decorations made her happy. I said she should leave her tree up all year… “no shame in your Christmas game”.

It was her last Christmas. ♥️✨

Another Last, First Day

My Sweet Cooper,

Your big adventure begins today. It’s a momentous day for the little girl who loves shoes, jewelry and all things girly. (Even your guinea pig is named Sparkles.) You’ve anticipated this day all summer long, maybe longer. Your first day of Kindergarten.

You call me Aunt Diffy. I call you my Sweet Coop-A-Loop, a name Carter and your dad came up with before you were born.

But I never know exactly how to reference you, when I’m (frequently) telling others about you. You’re my nephew’s baby girl. My brother’s granddaughter. Are you my Grand-Niece, my Great-Niece? You’re both grand, and great, in my eyes.

Do you see these First Day of Kindergarten photos your mommy and daddy shared? Just look at the joy in your eyes, the mischief in your grin, the sweetness of your countenance and the confidence of your intellect. You are truly grand, and really great, my sweet Coop.

I’ve also looked forward to this day, because you’ve looked forward to it. But I’ve felt some apprehension, too. And not just because your great-granddad, Papa Grady, says “Cooper seems to be having birthdays faster than the rest of them”.

It’s because you’re leaving a safe environment and stepping into a world that doesn’t always include the rest of us.

You’re ready for it. I’m not.

School is a magical place. But it’s also a brutal place.

One of my prayers for you Coop-A-Loop, as you begin your educational journey, is that no one ever steals your joy. Already, you know you are surrounded by an army of people who love you. And we’ll always be with you, even when you don’t see us. Even when we’re gone. But will you remember how much you’re loved, on the days that aren’t so lovely?

I hope so. I pray so

When the day comes that you encounter a “mean girl”, and you will encounter one… probably before you finish kindergarten … I hope you dig deep, and allow the defiant spirit of your great-grandmothers to rise up in you. You have some tough, strong grandmothers.

On the day you encounter a bully, I hope you feel the love of your family, your warriors, surrounding you, encouraging you to march on. Head up, eyes focused, face forward.

I hope you understand that the meanness of others has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with jealousy… and the insecurities of the one hurling the dart. I pray those word-darts never hit their target. But if they strike, I hope they slide off like hot butter on Teflon.

I pray you’re able to see past the mean exterior of anyone who may be lonely or unloved, and extend a hand of friendship.

My prayer is that you, Carter, and children around the world, have a safe school year. Every year.

May lifelong friendships begin today.

PS, let’s check back here thirteen years from now. #touchdownGeorgia! ♥️🖤

Do you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24

The Last, First Day

Several times over the last two weeks, family and friends have documented their children’s first day of school and posted their photos on Facebook. I’ve enjoyed viewing the First Day photos of their children and grandchildren: candid and posed shots of excited expressions, book bags full of new things, stories of tears shed (parent and child). All of it took me back to my own children’s First Days …Looking at the pictures, I could just about smell new Crayola’s and crisp, clean sheets of paper. Those days ended much too soon for my liking. Yet, other than a little reminiscing, I didn’t think too much about the start of the new school year. Not until yesterday, when my niece Rebecca shared a photo of my great-nephew Carter walking away from her and into his school for his first day of four-year-old Pre-K. It’s a sweet, wonderful photo of our little man proudly and independently taking long, confident strides down a long walkway; a strong, right-handed grip on his lunchbox.

But I saw more.

The photograph provoked an emotion I had not expected. It stopped me in my tracks. Did Rebecca see what I saw? Perhaps, but probably not fully, not yet. How could I tell her what she had actually captured? Should I try to explain what I saw? Sweet, brilliant, handsome little Carter-Man was in the photo, for sure. But there was an older boy there as well. And a young man.

Aug22 031
The older boy held a set of car keys firmly in his hand. The young man walked with casual determination on foreign soil. Both had their backs to the camera. All three were Carter. But they could have been anyone’s son. Or daughter.

In reality, the older two Carters’ were only visible to my mind’s eye, but I saw them clearly. Sixteen year-old Carter. Twenty-two year-old Carter. Time happens that quickly, it really does. Not so much when you’re in the middle of it; during the living of it. In its present form, time seems to dawdle; move sluggishly. It’s after the moment, not immediately after, but later, that you realize how quickly it slipped away from you.

All day I thought of Carter’s photo. I thought of his mommy watching him walk away and I remembered what that felt like. Without being told, I knew she had watched him until he was out of her sight; watching his back… should he need her. I thought of how there will be other days like this, when she and Justin, Carter’s dad, will watch his back as he walks with great anticipation towards future things: cars, airplanes, girls. A bride. Perhaps they’ll watch with Bulldog pride as he walks toward the same revered arches they once walked through; wave goodbye to his back as he moves to another state. And always, they’ll be watching until he’s out of sight, watching his back…just in case he needs them. That’s what parents do…

I shared Rebecca’s photo with a friend and told him how it made me feel. He said he understood: “I felt the same way when I saw this photo of Jon”, he said.

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We have no experience at parenting until we are parents. That’s how it is….we’re clueless in the beginning and for many years thereafter. We’re amateurs….the most intense on the job training you can imagine…for the most important work you will ever do. We make mistakes, because we know no better. In the beginning, we don’t understand how fleeting a span of eighteen years actually is. We don’t realize how abruptly those little arms will outgrow our own; until they do.

I know Rebecca and Justin give lots of hugs and kisses to Carter and his baby sister, Cooper. Most young parents do. Still, to them and all parents, I would give this advice: Give more hugs…lots more. Read more books together. Give longer back scratches. Snuggle longer. Because those little ones aren’t little for long. And one day, a day that will sneak up on you, you’ll be experiencing your last, first school day.

GarrettCostaRica

Addendum:

Carter’s First Day of Kindergarten, August 2014.


Carter’s First Day of First Grade, August 2015.

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Carter’s First day of Second Grade. 8/10/2016

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Little Sis loving the walk with her big brother.  8/10/2016

He wouldn’t allow his mom to walk him in today. Our sweet Carter-Man is growing up.

First day of 4th grade. 8/10/18

My the Lord bless you and keep you, may He turn His face towards you, and shine His face upon yours, everyday. I pray He is gracious to you, Carter. May He give you peace, and protect you, all the days of your life.

♥️, Aunt Diffy

First day of 5th grade for Carter, his last year of elementary school. The years are moving forward more swiftly than I care to think about. He’s growing up.

This summer, I spent a week with him and Cooper, and I caught several glimpses of the fine young man he’s becoming. I looked for a little fella, but I only found shadows of the little boy.

That’s sweet Cooper with him, trying to keep pace with her big brother. She’s growing so fast. Today was her first day of first grade. She’s already lost a baby tooth. And that’s how I know her baby days are coming to a close.

But for now… she’s still our big-hearted, little Coop-A-Loop.

💞💞

A Letter To My Sixteen Year-Old-Self

Danita

Last year I posted this article on another site. I’ve had a request to repost it here.

Several months ago I heard about a book titled, Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen Year-Old Self. The book contains letters written by celebrities and leaders…the letters are addressed to themselves at the age of sixteen. I was curious about the book and planned to get a copy (I haven’t yet) and I thought about penning a letter to my sixteen-year-old self. But the thought sort of frightened me so I pushed it to the “maybe I’ll do this later” file of my brain and quickly forgot about it. Then this past week, two different incidents brought the idea front and center.

If you feel inclined to write a letter to your sixteen-year-old self, I invite you to do so. Who knows? We may help another 16 year-old along the way.

A Letter to My Sixteen Year-Old Self

Dear Me @16,

You will not want to hear this from me, but I’m going to say it anyway, “Listen to your Mother. She knows more than you think she does.” She isn’t trying to zap your independence or take your individuality from you, she’s just trying to help you along. She can see the big picture better than you at this point; it will be a few years before your ‘rose colored lenses’ are cracked, but crack they will, and then you will understand where Mama was coming from. Listen to her.

Don’t be afraid to take chances. In a couple of years you’ll have an opportunity to tour Europe, don’t let it slip away just because you can’t find a friend to go with. Most of your friends don’t understand your curiosity of world travel and you don’t understand their lack of it. Respect the differences and be bold. Work your summer jobs, save as much money as you can, pack a bag and go. (And when you fall in love, make sure he’s a guy who shares your love of other places. I don’t think you’ll listen to me on this one…)

Speaking of love…What you find attractive at sixteen will be far removed from you at thirty-six. In a few years you’re going to meet a cute, seemingly outdoorsy type guy…he’ll be driving a cool jeep and he’ll say all the right things. Listen to me and listen good…Don’t Give Him the Time of Day, much less your heart! Because if you’re not careful, you’ll marry the imposter… You know how you already feel marriage is for keeps? That part of you doesn’t change; if you marry this guy you’ll be stuck. You’ll have two beautiful babies with him…the babies will own your heart and soul and you’ll hope they own his…but they won’t. And that will rip your heart to shreds. And about that time, you’ll realize your idea of an attractive man has changed. Finally you understand that what really makes a man attractive to you, what makes him the most attractive man in the world, is a man who loves his children and his wife…a man who adores his babies and respects their mom; a man who can’t wait to play and spend time in the company of his family. By thirty-six you come to realize honesty and integrity are far more attractive than washboard abdominal muscles and nice biceps. A guy could look like Herman Munster but treat his family with adoration and admiration…and that’s a man, you will realize, who is truly a very attractive man. Achhhk… You’re not listening, are you? At 16, you don’t have the life experience to understand.

Spend more time with your brother. He’s twelve now and you believe he is strong and focused, destined for great accomplishments in life. He’s phyiscally strong, that much is true. But he’s vunerable. Don’t be afraid to tell him how very much you love him, how you look up to him even though he’s four years younger than you. Tell him how proud he makes you. He needs to hear it. Wrap your arms around him and hold him close. He needs that too.

Put money in your little savings account at Bank of Canton and add to it everytime you’re in town…even if you only have a dollar to deposit. The $1.56 you have in the account today will add up and one day you’ll need it. Don’t tell your future husband about it though….

I’m more than thirty years away from you, but I wish I could lay across your bed with you and tell you how important you are. I would tell you how much your parents, your brother, your grandparents, cousins and a few friends love you (rest asssured, they will stick by you through thick and thin). I would tell you not to listen to your future mother-n-law when she puts you down…or anyone else for that matter… for you are valuable. I would tell you not to worry about the opinion of others…And I would tell you that you are filled with a determination and tenacity that you are not yet aware of…

Hang in there girl, the road gets bumpy, but eventually you find a few diamonds mingling between the rocks.

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