Sunday, July 28, 2013

From Beyond the Grave

If you're lucky, you'll have someone in your life that makes the world better. I don't mean a parent, a child, or a spouse - someone who's important to you but not necessarily in your daily circle of life. It could be a friend, a relative, whatever, just one person who delights in spending time with you and vice-versa.

My Grandparents, Emma & Ireland
For me, I had two: my grandparents, Ireland and Emma Prillhart. I was fortunate to grow up being around them quite a bit; I know several people whose grandparents died before they really got to know them, or ever met them at all. Mine lived until I was well into adulthood. My grandpa passed away when I was 23, and my grandmother followed earlier this year, my 36th on this earth. As a child, I spent a lot of time with them, as we lived directly beside of them. Afternoons were spent in their care as my parents worked, and once my grandfather retired he enjoyed having his grandkids around. He always entertained me with a song from his guitar, or by using a slingshot with pinpoint accuracy. I would roll my eyes when we would enter a store or flea market, as he would always bump into someone he knew and talk for what felt like hours to my young mind.

Here I am mixing some cornbread. I
have this mixing bowl at my
house now.
My grandmother, on the other hand, was a steady and reliable homemaker, and worked in a garden and the home all day long. I would spend time in the garden with her, helping gather corn and other vegetables. In the afternoons she would fix supper, and I would sit on the counter and mix cornbread and watch her tend the stove. In all my years, I never saw my grandma drive a car, work a "real job," or type on even a typewriter; at times, she would spend hours reading the Bible and endlessly writing in notebooks. I used to think she was just copying the Bible into her own hand.

Working in the garden
My grandparents didn't have a television for most of my childhood, a decision they made when I was still young. I don't think they were any the worse for it, as there were many other things that occupied their time. In fact, without the distraction of television they were probably happier, although again, at my young age, I did struggle with the concept.

There was also my uncle Danny, the youngest of my Grandparent's five children, who was mentally handicapped and lived with them. He died a few years after my Grandpa. Although he wasn't very affectionate, he loved everyone, and we loved him. He was a big part of the time I spent at my Grandparent's house. We watched baseball at the park across the road, looked at books, played games and just enjoyed the endless days.

When I was in second grade, we had to move away, and I didn't see them as much. We moved only about 15 miles away, but it might as well have been across the country - I only saw them at church on Sundays and on special occasions. It would be about seven years before we would move again, this time to a house 2 doors up from my grandparents. I was just entering high school, and although I fell in love with computers and video games in my isolation, I was delighted to be near them again. In the summer, I would walk to their house early in the morning and spend the day driving around with Grandpa or learning to play the guitar. Sometimes I'd have some fresh cornbread and fried squash for lunch with my Grandma.

One of the greatest joys of my life is
that my daughter, Bindi, got to know
my Grandma before she was gone.
The point of all of my talking is this: my grandparents were always there for me. They loved me and I absorbed their love. It's a part of who I am. When my grandmother died several months ago, it was a very difficult time. I had the opportunity to kiss her forehead and tell her I loved her the night before she died, and I'm so very glad I did, because she told me she loved me every day of her life, not just with words, but with actions.

Recently, I've been struggling with some personal issues of depression, loneliness and worry. There's been a lot on my mind. Friday, my parents, who are preparing to move into my grandparent's house, have been cleaning out the usual papers and mementos that accumulate over the years. They gave me a stack of report cards, papers and a yearbook from my early years and told me to take them home. Thinking not much of them all, I started leafing through the papers and drawings, reminiscing of an easier time. Mixed in with all of the report cards and kindergarten drawings was a card in an envelope; inscribed on the front:
The mysterious envelope
"Master Chris Allen Newsome"

So I had to open it and read it. There, in the simplest way humanly possible, my grandparents (I assume my Grandma actually wrote & drew in the card) had reached from beyond the grave to tell me that everything was going to be all right:

I love you too, Grandpa and Grandma. Thanks for still being there for me.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Being a Parent

Being a parent is a lot of things, most of which you've heard already; but trust me, unless you are a parent, you really don't understand what they mean.

Over the years I heard my mom say things like, "Having you kids has been the greatest thing that ever happened to me" and "I don't know what I'd do if something ever happened to you." At the time, in that moment, I (like most people) thought it was just mom being mom, paying lip service, etc., etc. Once I became a parent, it was all so clear to me; and yet, it's almost indescribable. My sister-in-law put it the best I've heard: "Did you ever think you could love someone so completely and totally?" She really hit that one out of the park... most people think of their significant others and say something to the effect of "I am totally in love with this person" and "I love everything about them." Cameron Crowe, in "Jerry Maguire," said "you complete me." In truth, the only time you ever really, honestly feel like this is when you are a parent.

The mere thought of your child being hurt sends a deep ache through your body and tears to your eyes. Their cries can slice through you like a lightsaber. Their smiles and laughter can take your soul higher than it's ever been. Truly, one can see divinity in a child's face.

I realize I'm not making much sense in this post, but tonight I'm writing totally off the hip, as opposed to my usual half off the hip approach. There is much swirling through my mind and heart. This is just a method for me to release it. If you are a parent, hug your child and tell them you love them. NOW.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"On Vacation"

Prior to the year 2010, I had really never been "on vacation." At the age of 34, my only time "on vacation" had been my family's annual whirlwind trip to Augusta, Georgia. My father is from Augusta, and, living in East Tennessee, rarely saw his family. So every summer, when I (and my brother and sister) was out of school, we packed up in the car and left out for Georgia at 4 a.m. Saturday morning. We would arrive at my Grandfather's house somewhere between 10 and 11 a.m., and spend the day with him and various other members of my dad's family. Sunday morning around 10 or 11, we would pack back up in the car and head home.

Twelve hours of driving over the weekend to spend 24 hours (at least 8 of which were spent asleep) in Augusta. In a strange, seemingly copacetic ending, the last time I took this trip was before my senior year of high school when my grandfather died. We stayed a few days that time, and I haven't been back since.

After high school, I went through a few jobs, some schooling, met and married my wife, and settled down. I was married in 1998, four years after graduation, and my wife and I bought a house just 2 months later. Being a newlywed, a new homeowner, and having a job that paid just enough to get by led us to spend a lot of time at home. My employer offered me a one week paid vacation every year, but also gave me the opportunity to take it as extra pay instead of time off, so I did that every year. By 2002, I had my own business and couldn't make enough time or money to take any real time off. When the business ended in 2008, we were in financial distress.

I had been married for 10 years at this point, and I had never taken a vacation. It was a miracle my wife hadn't left me. In 2005, I had managed to scrape up a little cash and take her to Gatlinburg, TN, for a weekend. We called it our honeymoon, even though it was several years late. By 2008 my business had failed, I had taken a job I wasn't all that thrilled with and my wife was pregnant. There was no way I was going to be able to get away any time soon.

It seemed like the next 18 months went by in a flash. My daughter was born, I was promoted at work, and we were starting to get our finances back in order. By the fall of 2010, we had scraped together some money with the help of a bonus I earned at work, so we rented a cabin in Pigeon Forge, TN, and spent a week "on vacation." It was amazing. Never before had I been paid while I wasn't working. Spending time with my wife and child every day was priceless.

Me and my dad in St. Augustine, FL.
The next year my brother and his family offered to let us stay in their rental condo in St. Augustine, FL., for a week while they were on vacation. A small disclosure: I had actually been to St. Augustine as a child with my parents on the last real vacation they took. I was so young I don't really remember much, other than partial memories of seashells and starfish. This had to be around 1979 or 1980, when I was 3-4 years old. My wife had never been to the beach either, and had asked at various times throughout our marriage that I take her to the beach. I am somewhat of a nerdy, geeky, indoor-type (if you didn't guess that already) and the beach never seemed appealing to me. I don't really enjoy warm weather, so why would I go somewhere that's even hotter for vacation? Nevertheless, again we scraped up a little cash, and took advantage of my brother's offer.

St. Augustine turned out to be so much more than I thought. Sure, it's hot, but it's a different heat. The water is cool, the wind is nice, the sky is beautiful. We were hooked. As I type this, I'm in a condo right off the beach on Anastasia Island in St. Augustine. This is the third year we've vacationed here, and I can't imagine not making time for it. This week seems to sustain me all year long. We may not always come to St. Augustine, but now we treat the annual vacation as a regular expense and plan for it. In the past, I would downplay the importance of anything that didn't have any long term reward, such as a new roof on the house or remodeling the bathroom. What I didn't see before is the long term reward of time together - making memories with my family. My wife and daughter will be able to talk about trips to the beach and we will all remember the things we've done "on vacation."