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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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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.

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Happy Birthday Lucas!

My grandson, Lucas, celebrated his twelfth birthday yesterday. I wish we could have spent some time together today, but I guess that will have to wait until the weekend. The temperature hasn’t been above freezing for the last two days and icy rain falls just enough to keep the roads dicey, especially at night. I’m not afraid of getting out. I learned to drive in Colorado and in blizzard conditions over the years. Commonsense seems to get me where I need to go. The truth is I’m terrified by the other drivers. North Texas has its share of boneheads even on dry and sunny days. Throw in a little ice and mayhem ensues…

Lucas looks exactly like his father. Jeremy couldn’t have denied paternity if he wanted to. I have a picture of Lucas in a tree in their front yard when he was five or six years old. You could photoshop Jeremy’s head on Lucas’ body and I’m not sure anyone would know the difference. His genes were awfully strong.

My oldest granddaughter, Baillie, takes after her father as well. Jeremy was living in Colorado when he found out about Baillie. He said her mom needed him to take a DNA test but when he showed me her baby picture, I told him he might as well save some money. There is no doubt who her father was.

I spent yesterday looking at pictures of Lucas (and you too, Izabella and Baillie) from the last twelve years. My grandkids have grown so much. Baillie is a young adult now. Iza became a teenager this year. Lucas will be next year. I keep asking myself where my grandbabies went.

All of this reminds me to slow down, treasure the moments with kids, grandkids, and family. That sounds a bit “Hallmarky” and cliché, but it becomes paramount as life takes another journey around the sun – and those trips are getting shorter!

I’m not qualified to give advice. I have no letters behind my name or graduate degrees that render me an “expert”, but I can share my experience. Take a little extra time with your loved ones, especially those babies – whether they’re six months or sixty years old. Sit back and listen and watch. Hug them a little longer. Keep them close. Do it today! Be as leisurely as possible on those trips around the sun…

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What Are Your Four Words?

It’s a cold, windy morning here in Cowtown. The “feels like” temperature won’t get out of the low twenties but by Tuesday we’ll be back in the seventies. The rollercoaster continues…

A friend posted a word puzzle on social media that said the first four words you saw were going to be your mantra for the new year. I’m the perpetual skeptic when it comes to things like this, but I looked anyway. I must say I’m pleased with the words I found. The order was:

The first one was love. I can’t think of a better way to begin the mantra. I strive to love better each day, but I fall woefully short sometimes. Fortunately, I have tremendous role models, mentors, and friends who help me along the way. My wife, Margaret, is my main role model. Her patience and acceptance of others is wondrous. Then there’s Ms. Opal. Maybe when I get to her age, I can love others as she does, but I have a feeling it’s something she’s been doing for a lifetime.

The second word was peace. Our home is a place of peace. We prayed over our home since we bought it eight years ago. We wanted our home to be a place where the spirit of peace abides for us and our friends. We live a predominantly drama-free life. We have our moments, but they are few and far between. I’m infinitely grateful God has blessed us with his peace.

I’m in dire need of having peace as part of my mantra when it comes to looking beyond our home. There is division and strife everywhere I turn these days. I sometime think of the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”. It’s as simple as that, but it’s certainly not easy. I think of Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God”. I pray that I become a peacemaker – not a peacemaker: one who exercises power over others to simply maintain order or someone who gives on everything just keep the peace.

Peacemaking is an arduous task and that brings me the mantra’s third word – strength. It’s not physical strength I need (although I might say different at the end of a long day at Opal’s Farm…), but spiritual strength to be the man God made me to be. Honestly, there are some days when my strength is completely absent and then I find the strength to do the next thing in front of me. I became acutely aware of this when my son died in 2020. God held me up then and still holds me up in many ways today I need strong emotional shoulders for others to better serve them. I need strength of character to be there for others and, to be a peacemaker.

The final word of the mantra was change. I had to think about this one for a while. Change is so difficult for folks to deal with. There was a time in my life I was sure nothing was going to change – but that had more to do with my fear, addiction, and depression – that life was a problem with no solution. I’ve learned differently since then.  

I know longer fear change (most of the time), but welcome it. My walk with God encourages me to grow, to change, and to be the special, unique man God made me to be. I look back over a lifetime and the only constant has been change – some good, some bad – but always know that the God of my understanding has walked me through each one. He always has my back, so I don’t have to fear. Maybe that’s why “Be not afraid” is mentioned so many times in the Bible…

I also pray to be an agent of change – to be part of the world around me no matter how big or small that world may be. I have a quote from Mother Theresa at the bottom of each of the emails I send, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one”. I may not be able to do for the hundred, but I can be the agent for change for one person. I may never know that I was, but each of our actions has influence and consequences. You just never know how you can change the trajectory of someone’s life.

The mantra now made complete sense. If I walk in peace, rely on God’s strength, and be an agent of change, then I will automatically love better.

“But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” 1 Corinthians 13.13 (The Message Bible)

Photo by Shamia Casiano on Pexels.com
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Resolution, Smezalution…

It finally feels like January here in Cowtown. It went from seventy degrees early yesterday afternoon to a wind chill eight degrees by midnight. This morning brought brilliant sunshine, calmer breezes, and crisp, clean cold air. I finally traded the shorts and t-shirts for sweatpants and long-sleeves as I sit here drinking my coffee. I may have to buy new thermals for the expected series of cold fronts coming this week. As it is I’m perfectly contented to look out the window whilst enjoying the delights of central heating…

The New Year is supposed to a time of resolutions. I’ve never been big on them. Most are broken before February. If resolutions are to be made, they should only be made for today. Several years ago, my mentor and friend Jim once suggested (Actually, he told me. I’m not sure he ever “suggested” anything…) that I take a piece of note paper and tape it to my bathroom mirror. The note should ask one simple question: “If you were absolutely positive that today would be your last day on Earth, would you be happy with the way you spent it?”

I followed his instructions. The note was placed on the mirror. I thought of it frequently until I didn’t. I moved several times since that day long ago. The note never survived the moves. It crossed my mind a few times, but I never put it on another mirror.

Sitting here this morning I thought of his “suggestion”. Maybe it’s time to remember that it was more than a suggestion. When Margaret and I bought our home several years ago I told her that the next time I move out of this house it would be in an urn or a pine box. I can’t think of a better place to put that note up again. It won’t get lost in a move…

My life is drastically different from the life I was living when Jim told me to do this. I was new to recovery. Addiction has its ways of hurting everyone I loved and even those I didn’t. It was a constant reminder that I didn’t have to live that way. I needed that constant reminder and I do now even though my addiction is in remission, and I’ve gone on to a life that I never could never have imagined possible.

Life isn’t perfect. It still shows up in ways I’d rather not have to deal with. I’ve learned what real grief is over the last year-and-a-half since my son Jeremy died. I’ve lost close friends. I’ve cried, been irritable (truthfully, I’ve been a real pain in the ass) and withdrawn from people close to me. I’ve often substituted work for the drugs – usually with the same consequences. “The more things change, the more they remain the same…”. Fortunately, they’re only moments now instead of a constant way of life. Jim also reminded me that life is about “progress, not perfection”.

When I get up from here, I’ll take my note to the bathroom. I’ll take a good look and think about how I can spend my day – not my year. I’m going to be more loving to my wife. I’ll spend some time with her. I’m going to pick up the phone and tell my friends and family how much I love and appreciate them. I’m probably going to be irritated that there’s dirty dishes in the kitchen but remember that the dishes are not what’s important. The person that left them there is – imperfections and all.

I’m going to think about Jeremy. I’m also going to remember the gift he left for me – three beautiful, smart, and in my book, perfect grandchildren. I’m going to cry if need be and let someone know I’m hurting. I’m also going to let those grandkids know how much they’re loved.

I’m going to love better and accept that I don’t always do that to the best of my ability. I’m going to find the joy in the little moments that every day brings – that is if I look for them. The glass of a calm river by the farm, the coyotes that visit every morning, the flowers blooming in the winter…

On the way to my Kentucky Home

I’m not going to be so hard on myself. One of the things Opal’s Farm has taught me is that nature has its own time and it’s not mine. I tell that to others all the time. Yet, I’m the first one to forget that when the “To Do” list is staring me in the face.

I’m going to find the joy in the little things that fill my day. I may or may not leave the house today. Joy surrounds me here…

Resolutions don’t quite cut it for me. I’m not sure they work for anybody – at least not those I’ve observed. However, I know that looking at what I can enjoy and do better on January 2nd does work. It’ll work again on January 3rd, on January 4th, and everyday after if I simply remember that simple question – If I was “absolutely positive that today would be my last day on Earth, would I be happy with the way I spent it?”