Birthdays, Community, Family, Gifts, Grandchildren, Gratitude, Growing Up, History, Horses, Pandemics, Relationships, Role Models, Stories, Texas, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Thanks Dad…

Today would have been my dad’s 96th birthday. I found my biological father earlier this year and learned from his obituary that he died on January 16th, 2021. Hmm. One man was the most loving, selfless man I’ve ever known. The other didn’t even know I existed. I haven’t even tried to contact the half-sister I apparently have in southeast Texas. I think it’s better that way. Besides, I have a whole new family to get to know up in Kentucky.

I miss Dad this morning (my real or “adopted” father for clarification). When he retired from the railroad (early retirement at 57 and 40 years of service!) he stayed home for a couple of months and found retirement lacking many of the things he loved (Plus Mom couldn’t stand having him around the house all day). People for one, work another. So, he went to work for another ten years for a local developer and construction company.

He agreed to go back to work with the understanding that he would take a month off every January into February to work the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo (FWSSR). He and one of his oldest friends, Jesse, worked security at the vendor’s and exhibitor’s gate. They’d go to work the week before the show started and work twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and for minimum wage, until the stock show was over. For one month he was no longer a Human Resources professional for a big firm in East Fort Worth – he was the guy in the Stetson hat that greeted you at the entrance.

Dad loved the Stock Show. It was a constant stream of people in and out and he knew them all. He used to bring huge amounts of food from the bakers, caterers, and food vendors for the show. I don’t think Mom had to go to the grocery store for a month! We never celebrated his birthday until the show was over, but he never minded. He was always the happiest working the FWSSR.

The FWSSR or “the Stock Show” as it’s more commonly called, began in 1896. The Southwest Exposition and Livestock Show (formal name) is longest running stock show in the country. It’s always been a big deal here in Fort Worth. I know few Fort Worth natives that haven’t been to the FWSSR. If attendance records are any indicator, even the new transplants to Fort Worth come in droves. I’m not sure if Dad would’ve liked that. He was the man who had one bumper sticker his entire life and it read: “If you love New York take I-30 East”. He was a bit “Texophobic”…

When I was young, the Stock Show was the highlight of the year. The Fort Worth schools even gave a day off for students to attend. We went every year to tour the livestock barns (especially the horses), the exhibit halls, and the show arenas. Dad would get us tickets to the Saturday matinee rodeo. Paradise was three weeks long on an annual basis. Attending the Stock Show was one of my first (and happiest) memories.

 My Grandmother was a seamstress for “The Army Store” downtown (they sold army surplus and work clothes – I could wander the store for hours!). Her boss, Mr. Wimberly, owned champion Appaloosa Horses he both would show and race. His top show horse, Rustler Bill, pulled in awards from the stock show (and nationally I might add) every year. He was a beautiful horse and I wanted more than anything to ride him.

My father and I walked to the horse barns to look for Mr. Wimberly. I stared at this incredible stallion ignoring the conversation between Dad and Mr. Wimberly. My trance was broken by Mr. Wimberly. “Do you want to ride him son?” If I had died that moment, I would have died the happiest kid on Earth. I almost yelled “of course” and he helped me up onto the horse’s back. Handing me the reins, he said to walk him around the barn. I walked him slow so I could stay on him longer.

from the Rustler Bill website

It’s been fifty-plus years since that day. I continued to make the FWSSR every year until the boys grew bigger. They weren’t interested in the cows, horse, and other livestock anymore. They’d grown out of it they said (My oldest son worked training cutting horses for a few years though). I took the grandkids several times, but they too, have lost interest as they’ve grown.

As for me, Opal’s Farm and family keep me busy. I never seem to have the time. I don’t do large crowds well anymore, especially during the pandemic. I thought about going this afternoon It’s tradition after all, but I’d rather have my memories than current experience. It’s just not the same if Dad’s not there…

A bit of Irony…

I mentioned learning of my biological father this past summer. According to the information and the obituary I found, he was quite the cowboy. He coached a local high school rodeo team in steer wrestling and team roping. He was a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Gold Card member, Original Team Roping Association, and the Texas Rodeo Association. The irony of his passing on January 16th isn’t lost on me. Could it be genetics…

Activism, Advent, Children, Choices, Christianity, Christmas, Faith, Family, Gifts, Grace, Grandchildren, Gratitude, Heroes, History, Hope, Humility, Peace, Persistence, Prayer, Quotes, Role Models, Service to Others, Social Justice, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch

Heroes…

One of the best things about working at the farm is the time I have for prayer. It’s been a difficult season for me. Christmas wasn’t the same after my father passed in 2002. Dad was our family’s Christmas spirit. Then Mom passed in 2017. My sister and her husband live in Georgia so there wasn’t much family left. I had Jeremy and the grandkids but negotiating holidays with different families often meant a quiet Christmas with my son Adrian. When Jeremy died last year, I decided the best thing about Christmas was December 26th

My family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. I was told that if Jesus’ birthday wasn’t mentioned by date, then we had nothing to celebrate. It was that old “we have the line on the truth” thing that the Church of Christ was known for. We didn’t celebrate Easter either even though the dates are obvious – even if it is on the Jewish calendar – but that’s another story. I feel a little cheated to be honest. Presents are nice but it wasn’t the same…

Anyway, I’ve grown and changed over the years. I may not have much Christmas spirit – the whole tree, family, and presents thing – but I feel a deep gratitude and joy over the birth of a Savior. I’m especially fond of Advent. It was thoughts of anticipation of Immanuel – “God with us” – that stayed in the fore front of my mind today as I worked and prayed.

My thoughts turned to the “heroes of the faith” – at least my faith. I thought of Ms. Opal (she said I don’t have to call her Dr. Lee…) and all the years of service as not only a civil rights activist, but as a Deaconess in her church. I thought of her mantra – “If someone can be taught to hate they can be taught to love”.

I thought about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker – “It would be foolish to pretend that it is always easy to remember [that Christ is present in the ordinary stranger] … If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as St. John says, with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet [Revelation 12:1], then people would have fought to make room for her. But that was not God’s way for her, nor is it Christ’s way for Himself, now when He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.”

– Dorothy Day, “Room for Christ,” Selected Writings: By Little and by Little, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 1992), 96.

I thought of Father Daniel Berrigan. I had the privilege of being arrested with Father Berrigan at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Facility at a Plowshares demonstration. I don’t know why I thought of that: especially since I came to be very ashamed of all the times I went to jail for reasons I’d rather not recall – addiction sucks…

He was on my mind when I got home and went through email and found this in my inbox:

“So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ — the life of the world.”- Daniel Berrigan, “Advent

I may lack Christmas spirit this year, but I’m not confused by the gift given to God’s kids on that night a little over two thousand years ago. I’m waiting in quiet anticipation for the birthday of Jesus Christ – “the life of the world.

May you all be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus. May the new year bring justice and peace for us all.

Belief, Children, Choices, Christmas, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Generations, Grandchildren, Gratitude, Grief, Letting Go, Love, Monday Mornings, Opioid Epidemic, Parents, Recovery, Relationships, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch, Truth, Writing

Quitting Smoking, Grief, and Christmas

I finally rained here in Fort Worth. I’m not sure how much. It’s still dark outside but the weather folks are calling for light rain and possibly sleet throughout the morning (it is forecasted to be eighty degrees by Thursday…), so I thought I’d take advantage of the stillness and wet weather to catch up on “Thoughts From the Porch”.

I haven’t shared many thoughts from the porch lately. I haven’t been on the porch to do much thinking. I quit smoking two weeks ago (two whole weeks so far!) and the porch is a trigger for me. I guess I shouldn’t be overly concerned. Everything is a trigger these days – being alone at the farm, volunteers who still smoke, my kid who is recently out of college for Christmas break, the grief that seems overwhelming this time of year…

Jeremy was my Christmas present in 1982. His death and the absence of the grandkids since Thanksgiving leaves me bereft of Christmas spirit. Climbing in the attic to get Christmas decorations is the last thing I want to do, but my wife loves Christmas and I’ll do it for her later today. Doing for others makes the pain a little easier to bear.

The triangle could always be found in his artwork – Baillie, Lucas, and Simone (Iza)

The morning weather report was followed by a news story about opioid overdose deaths this past year. It’s become the leading cause of death for people eighteen to forty-five – more than suicides, COVID deaths, and car crashes – almost 79,000 in the past year. The statistics seem overwhelming and abstract. My son was one of the statistics. He’s one of the 79,000 other faces behind each of those numbers.

I’ve shared much about my son over the last year-and-a-half, but this is the first time I’ve talked of his cause of death. I simply haven’t been able to talk about it. His friends and family have known all along and I’m sure those in the art world of which he was a part have their suspicions if they didn’t know it for a fact. His art was often a reflection of his struggle with addiction – both his and mine. I still wonder how things would be different if he hadn’t grown up with an addict parent. I still wish I could trade places with him.

It wasn’t always that way. Jeremy became a recovering addict shortly after I did in 2005. He stayed clean for six years and became a respected member of the local recovery community. He had two more children and his oldest lived with him during a difficult time for her mother and grandmother. He worked fulltime and found time to paint and create. Still, there was always the underlying fear that his art would suffer without the drugs to fuel his creativity. Seeing the art he created proved that to be an unrealistic fear.

Life showed up -work, kids, parenting, bills – all the things everyone lives with. Time spent with others in recovery became short. He gradually and unintentionally moved farther and farther away from the recovery community and the support that held his addiction in check.

I won’t go into all the details. This isn’t about war stories or moralizing a disease. Addiction can cover up the heart of the addict and Jeremy’s heart was never defined by addiction. We had many “f*** you fights” over the last couple of years before his death – addiction wreaks havoc among families – but they were always followed by moments of kindness and love. That was my son.

I often wonder if he knew what lie ahead. In the last few months of his life, he struggled to make amends and heal relationships with so many family members and friends. In our last phone call, he asked if we could make a recovery meeting the following week.

I’m sitting here this morning and my heart hurts. Grief is a bitch. It comes unannounced whenever it wants and usually at the most inconvenient time possible. I never asked to join this club of parents, sons, daughters, husbands and wives, and the hundreds of friends and family left with the emptiness in their souls – a deep, aching, grief that never goes away. That’s something statistics don’t measure. They may tell of the deceased, but they never measure the sorrow and brokenness that’s left behind.

I wish I had more hopeful words to share this morning. There are so many things I’m truly grateful for. We’re about to celebrate the greatest blessing of all – Immanuel “God with us”. Still, loss is overwhelming, and we’ll celebrate the second Christmas without Jeremy. Please remember that 79,000 other families with face Christmas without the one they love. Keep us in your prayers and be kind to one another…

Adoption, Belief, Children, Faith, Family, Generations, Gifts, Grandchildren, History, Love, Relationships, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch

Why This Birthday is so Special…

Saturday was my birthday. I turned sixty-three. I have no qualms about sharing my age. I never thought I’d live this long. My stubbornness, denial, and rebelliousness followed a downward path long past their expiration date. God had other plans and well, here I am – blessed to be one of His kids and grateful for the love, mercy, and grace He filled my life with.

I’m not big on birthdays. They’re just another day in my book. The farm still must be tended, chores still need to be done, and life doesn’t go on hold because its’ my birthday. However, this one was different. It was truly extra special.

I awoke to a message from my birth mother wishing me a happy birthday. I never thought that day would come. I called her later in the morning. She couldn’t believe the day had come either. Tears welled up in my eyes when she told me she had prayed for sixty-three years to be able to wish happy birthday to her firstborn.

Much has transpired since our initial phone call. We speak regularly. She’s waiting for the opportunity to gather my half-brothers and sisters around to tell them about me. Such things are better done in person. Once they know about me, I’ll be taking a trip to meet her soon. I’ll also be able to share more of the details of this miraculous time in our lives…

I learn more and more about my family history every time we talk. I’m constantly amazed by the synchronicities of my birth and adopted families. A bond has developed in a very short time.

She told me that August 17th was the birthday of her favorite nephew. Through family circumstance he became more than merely a nephew. He’s also sixty-three this year. She told me she often thought that God knew the pain of giving me up for adoption and placed Michael in her life to help deal with the loss. She told me that God sees us through loss in a loving and caring way. Her child was gone and yet she was given a special relationship with a nephew born days apart from me.

I thought about that a lot this week. My parents are both gone. Dad passed in 2002; Mom in 2017. My youngest son, Jeremy, died last year. God didn’t “take them” from me. The cycle of life goes on. Yet, God placed my birth mother in my life at just the right time. I’ve been given a special, special gift.

I’ve missed Jeremy terribly over these last few weeks. It was his constant urging that led me to find my mother. I wish he were here to celebrate this joyous moment together. I don’t know what it’s like in the world he finds himself in, but I do believe he knows. I did it Jeremy. Thanks for pestering me about it…

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Adoption, Aging, Children, Choices, Culture, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Gifts, Grandchildren, Gratitude, History, Monday Mornings, Patience, Prayer, Relationships, Respect, Responsibility, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, Truth

She is My Mother…

It was a typical hot July morning last Wednesday at the farm. The heat and humidity was already oppressive and it was only nine AM. I’d just set up the pump and started the irrigation going. I drove down to the section I’d be irrigating and got out to move the hoses, muttering all the while about the sweat that had already soaked my t-shirt. It was going to be triple digits that day. “Summer’s finally here!”, I exclaimed and started down the walkway between sections. That’s when the phone rang.

Normally, I won’t answer a number from out of state and with no identification. However, my insurance is in the same area code as the one on my screen. “This is Greg. May I help you?”

“Hello. This is ******. I received your letter. I am your birth mother”. (I’ll explain the ****** in a moment.)

I had to take a second to let it sink in. “Wow. Thank you for calling me”. Words left. Her voice. I heard her voice. I heard my mother’s voice. Sixty-two years of wondering. Sixty-two years of not knowing and dreaming about where I come from stopped with those words, “I am your birth mother”.

“I want you to know I’ve often thought about you, especially in August (my birthday month). I’ve hoped and prayed you’ve had a loving family and a good life.” Her voice was sweet and soothing, chasing away the doubt I often felt about being wanted.

Tears filled my eyes. My face flushed. Emotions went wild. She cared. She thought about me. I had no idea how much it meant to me.

I regained my composure and told her how blessed I was to have been adopted by two loving parents who wanted me so desperately. They told me I was adopted, that my birth mother loved me enough to give them a wonderful son. From the earliest I can remember, they read The Chosen Baby, a popular book among adoptive parents back then, to remind me how special I was to them. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. I hoped she understood what a priceless gift she had given me.

We talked for over an hour. She told me she had looked me up on the internet. People run so many scams on older folks I can’t rightly blame her. She must’ve seen an old newspaper article which quoted my mom about my gardening experience. It turns out I inherited some of my birth mother’s DNA for gardening as well. She’s no longer to work outside due to her health and she misses it dearly.

I asked about my birth father. She confirmed what I’d figured out through DNA Detectives, the folks that started me on this journey. I suppose I have a half-sister in Southeast Texas.

I asked if her family knows about me – that a child was given up for adoption. She told me that no one has ever known except one of her sisters. The pregnancy was hushed and never spoken of again. She was sixteen, Catholic, and it was a different time. Such things were best left secret. Add her father (my grandfather) to the equation and it all makes sense. He was an alcoholic. She never wished to upset him. I understand completely. That’s for the best in an alcoholic home. Apparently, addiction and alcoholic DNA skip a generation, but that’s another story…

She raised a family of her own. I have half brothers and sisters, but time and circumstances prohibit me from contacting. If things were different…

For this reason, my birth mom shall remain nameless for now. I’m careful to omit any details that might reveal who or where she is. It’s out of respect for this sweet woman who gave me life. I tried to have no expectations when I began this search. It could have gone in directions I’d rather not go. My letter could have gone unanswered or worse, I could’ve heard “please don’t ever contact me again”. Like my friend Edgar always tells me: “Pray for the best and prepare for the worst…”. My prayers have been lovingly answered.

Now I know. I wasn’t discarded or placed for adoption because I wasn’t loved. I was given a chance at a wonderful life by sweet, probably scared, sixteen-year-old girl because that’s just how it was sixty-plus years ago.

This might not make sense in today’s culture or to someone who isn’t adopted. What does it matter if anyone knows about it? For one thing, it was a closed adoption. Neither party knew little, if anything, of each other. That’s the way the system kept it. It was 1958. There were few open adoptions in post-WWII America and even fewer in 1950s Texas. Besides, adoption agencies often painted a pretty, but blatantly false and misleading, picture of the biological parents so the baby would be more appealing to the new family.

I had a Zoom meeting getting ready to start so I had to get off the phone. I had to ask, “May I call you?”.

“Of course, please call”. Her voice cracked just a bit and I heard, “May I call you, too?”

My heart leapt out of my chest. She wants to call me! “Yes, yes, of course. Please call me anytime”.

She softly said, “I love you”.

I managed to blurt out, “I love you, too” before I hung up the phone. The tears flowed freely. “I love you, too…”

I immediately called my wife. “You’ll never guess who I talked to for the last hour. My mother.”

“Wow”. She said all she could say was wow. I get it.

I’ve had some time to think about my next steps. In fact, I’ve thought of little else. I’ve started a list of questions. I also want her to know how blessed my life is and I have her to thank for it all. After all, she put the ball in motion…

Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash