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But New Mexico Is Not That Far…

I’ve been working on this post for a week, and to be honest, I wish I didn’t have to write it. I’ve kind of been dreading August. It’s a little long so please bear with me…

Things are going well at Opal’s Farm. We’ve held on to the tomatoes and peppers through this crazy hot summer and even have new crops coming in. Thanks to Grow SE and the Rainwater Foundation we have a new Kubota MX 5400 tractor, a Land Pride tiller attachment, and pallet forks to facilitate our future growth and composting. They have also helped us hire an Assistant Farm Manager who I’ll introduce soon. We have wonderful volunteers who brave the intense Texas sun to come out and work at the farm (early in the morning of course!). The Cowtown Farmers Market has a new place to go to that even has shade and picnic tables. We are truly blessed!

So, what’s so difficult to write? This all sounds great! Well…

One of our (especially my) best friends and mentor, Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand will be leaving Fort Worth and moving to New Mexico next week. We’ve known the move was coming for many months but now it’s too real. Laura Blaylock retired from the Tarrant Regional Water District on Friday (and I noticed that most of the furniture was already gone when we had our last Grow SE Zoom meeting) and they had their last day at the Cowtown Farmers Market this past Saturday. Although I’m thrilled for their new adventure (it was 72 degrees last time I talked to Charlie in New Mexico! I’m so jealous.), I’m sad to see them leave.

I’m not sure Opal’s Farm would still be growing had it not been for Charlie. When I pulled around the corner for the first time and saw the five acres plowed I thought “What have I gotten myself into? I’m so over my head”. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie outside a Grow SE meeting a few months earlier. I had a feeling it was going to be okay. Some people are just destined to cross one’s path. They are truly a gift.

Over the last three-and-a half years, Charlie has helped guide me through the process of making Opal’s a going concern. He’s taken hours out of his schedule to meet with me, listen to my problems, and helped find solutions to make Opal’s a successful urban farm. There have been times I thought we weren’t going to make it and Charlie was always there to cheer me on. Most importantly, he and Laura took time to invite me into their lives and build an incredible friendship.

I know I’m not the only one that has benefited from knowing Charlie and Laura. Charlie has been a blessing to the local farming and food community. His work with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council, the Cowtown Farmers Market, the Tarrant Area Food Bank, and Grow SE has helped start several urban farms in Fort Worth. His commitment to access to fresh, local food and the farmers in and around Fort Worth will be missed. I can only hope that I’ll be able to follow in his footsteps and help others as he has helped me.

Charlie and Laura made sure their farm was left in capable hands. Becca Knutson, the Cowtown Farmers Market manager will be moving in and taking over Charlie’s labor of love. She’s been making the transition for several months now. She’ll continue bringing great organically grown fresh produce to Cowtown each week (and she’s a fantastic manager as well!).

Cowtown Farmers Market will be having its first market at the new location at the Grand Pavilion in Veterans Park this Saturday. It’s somewhat bittersweet for me. Charlie and Laura will be stopping by to be with us one last time, but not as vendors. They’ll be leaving the following week to new endeavors and much cooler weather. I’m not sure I’ll know what to do without my Laura hugs to get me through market (she gives the best hugs ever!).

Charlie and Laura, please know you’re loved and appreciated so much for all you do. I know that New Mexico will be better for your residence there and frankly, I would be right behind you if I could. It’s beautiful there and I’m happy you both get to enjoy mountain living. I may not have Apple Facetime but I already have an app for my Android so I can see your smiles. I promise I won’t be calling every day, but I can tell you I’m grateful for cell phones (this once anyway…). Be safe in your travels and keep me updated on the new adventure.

P.S. – Tell Dusty to call me. He has a place right here for the holidays. I love you both and already miss you!

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Happy Juneteenth! Happy Freedom Day!

Opal’s Farm celebrated Juneteenth in a big way this year. We missed Miss Opal’s Walk to Freedom since we were at Cowtown Farmers Market yesterday, we had a record-breaking day in produce sales at the market! Thank you to all our friends and customers – many of whom were first time visitors to the market – who came out to wish us well and celebrate the Juneteenth weekend with us. You made our day extra special!

We loaded up the market stuff and headed to Panther Island Pavilion for the I Am Juneteenth Festival where we saw many old friends and met many new ones. It was even bigger and better that last years party and highlighted Freedom Day for us all. Many new vendors and food trucks came, and all ate well. Thank you, Miss JoAnn, and Miss Mattie’s Food Truck for the amazing food! You hold a special place in our heart. We look forward to seeing you every chance we get (and tomatoes are coming your way!).

The Dock Bookstore sat up right across from us, which was a real treat. The Dock has been at Meadowbrook and Handley Drive for fourteen years. Please drop by sometime to enjoy what a bookstore is supposed to be. Celebrate and support our local businesses that are so vital to our community.

The music and entertainment were terrific. Fireworks ended the evening of celebration with a spectacular show reminding each one of us that freedom is to be celebrated from June 19th through July 4th. It’s freedom for all of us regardless of race, religion, or politics. It’s time to celebrate our shared humanity and press on to a better community.

Miss Opal’s Walk to Freedom 2022 –
Miss Opal and Unity’s Executive Director Ms. Dione Sims

Ms. Opal addressed the crowd and then came to our booth to meet, greet, and sign copies of her children’s book, Juneteenth. I watched as the line grew long to meet “The Grandmother of Juneteenth”. Parents asks for pictures of Ms. Opal with their kids and themselves. They wanted their children to understand the history of Juneteenth and Ms. Opal’s life of advocacy and activism. I was mesmerized by the way she touches the hearts of everyone she meets, but especially the children. The message she sends is always the same – there’s much to be done. Know where you’ve been so you know where you’re going. Acknowledge the past so we can all move forward. Love others – especially in the small ways – and remember we all bleed red, we’re all brothers and sisters, and above all, each one of us are God’s children. Treat God’s kids well.

On this special Juneteenth – Freedom Day – I can’t think of anything better to do than that…

Ms. Opal and Gubernatorial Candidate
Beto O’Rourke
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Family Reunions With a Brand New Family

North Texas has been in various stages of drought since last summer. Rain has been sparse this Spring, but timing is everything – it came just in time to relieve my anxiety about leaving town (and the farm) over Memorial Day weekend. I attended a family reunion at the family farm in Kentucky and quite frankly, I’m still feeling overwhelmed by this family I never knew I had.

A little backstory – you need to know that I’m adopted. I was blessed to have the most wonderful parents one could ask for. Mom and Dad always told me that I was special because I was chosen – hand-picked if you will. Dad passed in 2002 and Mom passed away in 2017. Rarely a day passes without thinking about them.

I had taken a DNA test sometime ago and last Spring I got serious about finding my birth mother. I found an incredible Facebook group called DNA Detectives. I asked for some help and was amazed at how quickly they found my biological parents. I sent a letter to my birth mother, and she called a few days later. At sixty-two years old a new chapter of my life began. I have been doubly blessed with Mom and Momma.

We talked weekly and learned that I had five half-siblings, two younger brothers and three sisters. My eldest son, Adrian, and I went to Kentucky in September to meet them in person. Margaret and I returned to Kentucky in November and spent Thanksgiving week with my newfound family. I spent a few days in Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend for the family reunion and met a plethora of cousins, nieces, and nephews that came from Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Colorado, and Kentucky to be with my Momma at Flint Ridge, our family farm.

Flint Ridge – the McCuddy family home – the house was built in 1804 and purchased by Napoleon McCuddy in 1829
The old smokehouse at Flint Ridge – the cracks in the walls were from the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812

I introduced myself to one of my cousins and the response was “Oh, so you’re the subject of all the conversations the last few days”. I think it was meant positively though given the welcome I received from the family.

I can’t explain what it feels like to be among a crowd of people who look like you. I’m told that I favor my grandfather, and I look just like my Uncle David, both of whom passed away before I knew them, but the pictures are awesome. I apparently also look like my cousin Tommy because I was mistaken for him a couple of times.

I believed what my father had always told me about being special until I found out the rest of my world found being “special” really being “different”. I guess that why I felt at ease with all these people. I wasn’t different. I was like a whole room full of people that looked like me and felt a part of.

I talked, laughed, and did a lot of careful listening to the stories of my family. I think nurture is way overrated as a major influence in development. This last year has taught me that genes are far more responsible for who I am than my environment ever could be. Momma told me that when she visited Flint Ridge many years ago that something happened when she crossed the Tennessee River – it was where she belonged. I knew exactly what she meant.

One of my happiest moments of the weekend is when my cousin Brian said He wished I grown up with them. My cousins knew how to have fun. My brother Mark and I have talked about this. He always wanted a brother and so did I. Between talking to him and talking to Momma I’ve concluded that three boys with the same appetite would’ve put Momma in the poor house. Mark and I would have been good for one another or really, really bad…

I’ve learned that I am my mother’s son. I am just like her in so many ways, even down to the foods we like and dislike. I’ve come to know how blessed I am to have a momma who loves me and has for the sixty-two years we were apart. Last August I received my “first” birthday card from Momma.

I’m blessed to come from “good stock” – I could listen to the story of my grandparent’s relationship for hours – how my grandfather turned his back on fortune and chose love instead. Someday I’ll be able to share that one, but not today.

During a lull in the festivities, I walked off by myself to the family cemetery. I looked at the headstones. The names and dates told a rich history of the McCuddy family, my family. I reached in my pocket and pulled out a small container that held some of my son Jeremy’s ashes. Jeremy led me to this place. He often asked me why I didn’t put more effort into finding my birth mother. It was his sudden death that pushed me to share my DNA results with total strangers on Facebook and find my momma. It was somehow fitting that some of his ashes rest at Flint Ridge among his ancestors – his blood.

May 29th was the first day of the reunion and the second anniversary of Jeremy’s death. God has a way of holding broken hearts close to his heart. That day will always be bittersweet – a reminder that God wraps us all in arms of love and family.

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Jeremy and I

I got up early this morning to study for the final in a course I’m taking in Indigenous Religion and Ecology. Unfortunately, the coffee hadn’t kicked in and I fell down a rabbit hole and cleaned up my personal email instead. I apparently stopped doing so on May 29, 2020 – the day my son Jeremy died. Life seemed to take a different path after that day.

I wrote about the grief and the loss for a few weeks after he died. My public blog became my personal journal in the hope it would be cathartic for me and somewhat hopeful that it would shorten, or at least make bearable, the grief process. It didn’t. It simply became easier to write about Opal’s Farm and passing on quotes I came across that meant something to me than to speak of the pain of grief.

So, I’ve been silent the last few weeks unless it’s about Opal’s Farm. Spring planting has taken up most of my time. It’s hard to stay on top of all the great things happening at the farm – and there are some fantastic things happening there this Spring. I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I had more hours in the day so I could tell you all about it, but I don’t so I do the best I can business-wise.

When it came to writing anything else I found myself relying on the old “writer’s block” excuse -and that’s just what it was – an excuse. The reality is grief has reared its ugly head and clouded my thinking for some time now. It started around Christmas – that’s my deceased son’s birthday – and hasn’t let up.

I told my wife that I may need to finally see a grief therapist. This was becoming somewhat debilitating, but I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars an hour for someone to tell me grief and loss sucks. I get it.

I also get that people don’t want to hear about my loss anymore whatever their reason may be.

Grief is incredibly isolating. People who haven’t lost a child don’t get it. They may have the best of intentions, or they may think it’s time (it’s been a year-and-a-half) to just “get over it” and move on. I understand. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’ve treated others the same way. Not because I want to but because of the discomfort, and often fear, I feel being around grief. We all do it…

This morning I read once again all the emails and articles written about Jeremy after his passing. He was loved by many. Although his talent as an artist lives on through his body of work, I find myself wondering if at best, he’s thought of from time, and at worst, if he’s been forgotten – everyone’s moved on. COVID robbed us of the celebration of life he wanted should he pass. We honored one of his requests at the small family homegoing we had for him – we had honey buns but couldn’t have a taco truck. I’m still waiting on that one.

Several years ago, Jeremy and I were headed out to a remodeling job we were doing. I miss our time in the truck together – the conversations, the laughter – although I must admit that working with Jeremy was rarely easy. We’re both pretty set in our ways! Still, we had a lot to laugh about. He told me that we should write a book together. I asked him why he thought that. His reply still haunts me today – “We could write about you and me. It’d be so crazy no one would believe it. We’d make the non-fiction bestseller’s list.” I can’t argue with that…

Jeremy 2019

There were several things that Jeremy wanted from me that I just never got around to while he was here. Some of them I’ve done, some I haven’t yet. He always wanted me to find my birth parents. He loved my adopted parents, especially my dad, but he always wondered about who were really were – where and who did we come from. I found that out last year when I met my birth mother – his grandmother – and learned so much of our family history. When I go to Kentucky in May I’ll be taking some of his ashes to lay at the family cemetery on the family farm we will be having our reunion at. My brother’s sons look so much like Adrian and Jeremy. Part of Jeremy belongs there too.

I’ve also begun the book he always wanted. I realized that Jeremy had a private persona and a public one as an artist. While most people know Jeremy the artist, few know Jeremy the man. It’s time for a broader (and crazier) picture of he and I both.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe post a chapter here and there. I don’t know if it will be a bestseller. In fact, I don’t even know if you’ll read it. I do know that what will happen will happen and maybe his loss and the pain I feel will mean something to me and the healing will begin…

This song plays almost everyday on my streaming station. It has become my song for Jeremy.
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Run, Maggie, Run

I came home a little early today to get stuff together for Earth Day at the Health Sciences Center tomorrow. I have a large volunteer group coming and a doctor appointment for Margaret as well. My brain has been running like crazy – at least until a moment ago.

My wife sent me You Tube link (attached below) and the tears have slowed enough to sit down and write.  Every now and then a song comes along that you swear was written for you. Maybe it’s about your life, your loved ones, or your friends, but it’s like the songwriter was inside your head. That’s the case with this one…

My Maggie was a ball of fur that I bottle fed until she ciould eat solid food. Her mother and the rest of the littler were taken to the shelter. She grew into sixty pounds with a beautiful gray merle coat and a raccoon mask across her face. Maggie was half Catahoula and half coyote – rebel was an accurate adjective, and her wild side was endearing to anyone who met her. Squirrels knew better than to set foot in our yard!

Maggie was my dog. She tolerated everyone else, and could even be affectionate toward them, but she loved me, and I loved her. She would curl up beside my desk and follow me everywhere I went – especially if I was going to the kitchen. We learned quickly not to leave anything we intended to eat on the counter. She assumed it was hers – even the birthday cake Margaret made for a friend. Maggie had an incredible radar for food. She could be outside and no matter how quietly I crept into the kitchen she would be sitting there waiting before I had a chance to finish opening whatever I was going to cook or eat.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving last year, she walked in and laid by my feet. I reached down to pet her and noticed her eyes didn’t look right. I knelt and took her head in my hands to love on her. She started to have a seizure and died right there in my hands. She was only five years old. We suspect she had an aneurysm.

I wrapped her in a blanket and gently carried her out to a place by the garden close to wear my Sheltie, Missy, is buried. I cried quietly as I laid her to rest. Sadie, our other rescue was her “sister”. I looked out the window later and saw her sitting and staring at Maggie’s grave.

I’m trying not to get tears on the keyboard as I write this. The last two years have been marked by some devastating losses – my son, my best friend, and others who I came to know and love over the last twenty years or so. Maybe Maggie’s Song will lead me through the grief even if it doesn’t fill the hole in my heart.