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Father’s Day 2020

It’s been three weeks since my son Jeremy died. I haven’t yet responded to all the calls, texts, and condolence letters that so many of you have sent. I want to personally thank each one of you and will do so in the coming days. I’ve started to several times and found I simply couldn’t yet. This is a kind of grief I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Today is Father’s Day. It’s not much of a holiday this year. I usually have lunch with my older son (he’s still single ladies), Adrian, and let Jeremy spend time with his children. That’s how life goes. Our kids grow up and have families of their own and days like today are left to them to celebrate with the next generation. As it is, Adrian is on his way to Colorado to deliver Jeremy’s ashes to his mother and spend some time with her. She needs him now more than ever. Still, my children are absent, and my grandkids have no father to celebrate with. My heart is broken. I’ve had better Father’s Days…

Photo by Katy Hulsey

Over the last three weeks there have been many wonderful articles written or shared on the local NPR affiliate about Jeremy the artist. I’ve been so proud of him. To see the outpouring of love and appreciation for his talent and his work warms my heart. I know my son was loved by many. I am grateful for all of it, but it doesn’t talk about Jeremy, my son, and the father of my beautiful grandchildren.

One of the articles mentioned Jeremy’s art as his legacy. Apparently, the author wasn’t as good a friend as he claimed, or he would’ve known that Jeremy’s true legacy was his children. Thank you to all the subsequent writers that acknowledged the kids and Jeremy’s role as a father.

As I’ve sat here at the desk this morning, I’ve tried to put my emotions to paper, but I feel lost. There are no words. Jackson Browne came on my radio today. His words rang in my heart. If I were a better musician and singer, I’d sing this song for Jeremy. He’d get it…

Jackson Brown, For a Dancer

All of this being said, I want the wish a Happy Father’s Day to each of you Dad’s out there. It comes with a caveat – give your kids a hug and tell them how much you love them. Make this day about them. That’s what fathers do…

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A Pain That Doesn’t Go Away…

Friday, May 29th, was the most difficult day of my life. I received a phone call around noon. It was my daughter-in-law. She said, “I’m so sorry Pops, but they found Jeremy (my youngest son) and”. She couldn’t finish. The sobbing swept the words away and I knew…

I had filed a “Missing Persons” report the day before. No one had heard or seen him since the previous Friday, and friends and family were concerned. Honestly, I had a picture in my mind of Jeremy popping in with that big grin of his and asking what all the fuss was about. Then he’d be mad about the fuss. He’d been known to disappear for a couple of days before. He’d get a wild hair and go camping without telling anyone. Everyone would be angry with him for not letting anyone know. His response was always, “Why is everyone all bent out of shape?” This time it was different…

We had a photo shoot at Opal’s Farm last year. That day is full of happy memories…

His apartment manager found him the following morning. I don’t feel up to answering questions or discussing his death right now. I can’t even begin to describe the depths of my sadness and grief. Every time I look into the faces of my grandchildren – Baillie, Izzabella, and Lucas – my heart breaks down even more. He loved his children so much.

Fortunately for me, there’s much to do when a loved one dies – funeral arrangements, legal stuff, and so forth – busy is good. It keeps the grief from becoming completely overwhelming.                                        

Parents are not supposed to bury their children. They shouldn’t have to tell their grandchildren that Daddy isn’t coming home. I never thought I’d have to deal with this. Their adult children are. That’s the way it’s designed to work.

Unfortunately, designs and plans fly out the window when they meet the real world. I know I am not the first to lose a child (grown or not), nor will I be the last. That’s reality, but it’s my child, my son, and my heart has been ripped has been ripped from my chest…

Jeremy, Baillie, and our friend Kristen…

In the coming days, or perhaps the coming weeks, I will write about this. That’s what writers do, right? I need to tell you about Jeremy – about his impish humor, his incredible artistry, and the bravado that hid the tender soul that he was. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do so right now. There’s no timetable for grief. I’ll know when I know…

Right now, there are no words to convey the sense of loss our family feels. The family funeral is today. The local art community is planning on a huge outdoor celebration of Jeremy’s life when more of the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and it’s safer for everyone. Thank you to those who were close to Jeremy for helping the family through this.

We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support so many have given. There will come a time for the thank you letters and emails. As it is, we can only put one foot in front of the other and wander through the dark days that are no longer filled by Jeremy’s smile.

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Several of our farm volunteers have asked if we will be working today, Memorial Day. The answer is a definite yes – if the weather cooperates. It didn’t. I woke to sounds of raindrops hitting the air conditioner. The farm doesn’t grant many days off or holidays this time of year. There’s too much to do. Add to the mix COVID-19 and social distancing and typical holiday get-togethers are out of the question. However, I will take a moment, rain or no rain, to stop by the cemetery today to honor my father, grandfather, and two uncles who served in the military during a time of two world wars.

My Grandfather fled an abusive homelife at the age of fourteen, lied about his age, and became a “Doughboy” at the tender age of fifteen. He soon found himself on the front lines of World War One. His experiences there left him skeptical of a government that asked him to risk his life in combat and promptly forget about him when he came home. That’s probably why he was a life-long Democrat and ardent Republican hater.

He became a contractor and later owned a nursery and landscaping business. I found one of his old business cards from the fifties. He had spared no expense on the color, double-sided card. The back of his business card said:

LANDSCAPING—GRASS SODDING—I NEED A JOB

Eisenhower is my shepherd. I am dire in want. He maketh me to lie down on park benches. He leadeth me beside still factories. He restoreth my doubt in the Republican Party. He guideth me in the paths of unemployment for his party’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the alley of soup kitchens, I am still hungry and do feel evil, for he is against me. His Cabinet and his senate discomfort me. Thou didst prepare a reduction in my wages, in the presence of my creditors. Thou anointest my income with taxes; my expense runneth over. Surely hard times and poverty shall follow me all the days of the Republican Administration, and I will dwell in a rented house forever.

Loan Me a Dime – eh. “Me” no wineo, Thanks.

Shepp’s Nursery

I have a feeling that he contributed to my leftist leanings…

I remember sitting in his old work truck as a kid, listening to his stories, and watching him chew his White Owl cigar to a nub (and wondering why he never spit…). He’d survived a gas attack during the war and couldn’t smoke. It was lip cancer, not lung cancer, that took him in 1972. Dad told me many years later that we sat in his old work truck because he didn’t want to be in the house with that crazy old woman (my mother’s mother), but that’s another story…

My Dad was the youngest of three boys. He didn’t get drafted until the war was over and served in the Army Air Corp stateside. However, his brothers were not as fortunate. Uncle Don served in the Army Air Corp as well – a Bomber Ordinance Unit in the South Pacific – while Uncle Bynam, the middle brother was in the Army in Europe. Uncle Don came home. Uncle Bynam did not. He and his entire squad were killed at Anzio, Italy in 1944. The invasion at Anzio, called Operation Shingle, was one of the most ill-conceived operations of the war. Risk-taking is always easy for officers in the rear…

I did not serve. By the time I was of draft age, Selective Service registration was suspended. Everyone wanted to forget the Vietnam debacle that had cost over 58,000 American lives. They also wanted to forget the veterans who came home with wounds that couldn’t be seen. I know. As a college intern in a congressional Veteran Service office I heard stories from forgotten, broken young servicemen and tried to help them navigate a Veterans Affairs system that could care less. Don’t get me started…

My father and uncles are part of what has come to be known as the “Greatest Generation”, and rightly so. They lived through the Great Depression and the horror of World War Two. They saw the burst of economic growth that followed the war. They handed my generation a better life (at least for some of us) than they had lived. Their war seemed to make some sense. It’s no wonder we romanticize them as the “greatest”.

The rain looks like it’s going to stick around for a while. I’ll grab my jacket and head over to the family cemetery plot. My Grandmother Joel purchased the plot on her meager seamstress’ salary when Uncle Bynam’s remains were returned from Italy in 1947. It took over fifty years, but Grandmother and her boys are all together again. It was just my Grandmother and her three boys from the time my Dad was ten. They were extremely close knit family.

I’ll stand quietly for a moment looking at each of the gravestones. Uncle Bynam and Uncle Don both have military markers. My mother opted to have matching markers for her and my dad. She joined him a couple of years ago.

One of the things that always gets me is the dates on Uncle Bynam’s gravestone. He was born at the end of “the war to end all wars” and died in the next one. How many more lives are gone in the hundreds of conflicts since then? I pray for the day when young men no longer die for old men’s folly and self-interests; when no one serves in the military because it’s no longer needed. “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.

I probably won’t stay to chat like I usually do – the rain is falling harder – but I will take a moment to remember their service and sacrifice. I hope that each of you do the same. It sounds oxymoronic to say “Happy” Memorial Day, but it’s pure joy to honor the ones we ones we do today.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone…

Photo by u266b u266a on Pexels.com
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Sorrow and a Few Regrets?

Thoughts From the Porch

Winter officially arrived at 10:19 Saturday night. That must be why it’s not cold enough to freeze but still a wet cold that pierces the skin and settles in the bones. Such is winter in North Texas. I’ve been here all, but seventeen years, of my life and I’m still not used to it. At least it’s warming up for the rest of Christmas week…

A box with Christmas floral arrangements arrived the other day. My sister in Georgia sent them. She asked me to place them at the cemetery for Mom and Dad. My sister is far better at remembering things like that than I am. It’s not that special days aren’t special. It’s usually because I’m so forgetful. I never seem to think of birthdays and holidays until the day before or the day of. If I’m totally honest then I must admit sometimes the day passes and it doesn’t dawn on me until two or three days later. I’d love to blame it on my past neurological issues. The reality is that I’ve always been that way with holidays.

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

I go to the cemetery regularly. Sometimes it’s just a quiet place to pray and meditate, but mostly I go to talk to Mom and Dad. I’m quite sure they hear me loud and clear although their place in time and space limits my ability to hear them. I can only settle for memories of conversations long past.

I took the flowers to the cemetery. I went to place them in the vase above the headstone only to find the vase broken again. It had cracked once before and I guess I need a different epoxy glue for the marble marker. There were two arrangements, one for Mom, one for Dad. It didn’t seem right to only acknowledge their markers. After all, it’s a family plot. I certainly couldn’t overlook Grandmother, so I placed the two arrangements at opposite sides of the family headstone and stepped back to check the placement. Now everyone was honored…

I wished them each a Merry Christmas and tried to leave but I could not. I felt the tears well up and erupt in a sudden explosion of grief. Honestly, I was a bit shaken by it all. It’s been seventeen years since Dad passed and seven years of Christmas without Mom. My sister moved her to Georgia five years before her death since she required more care than I could offer here at home. At least I had some time to ease into the holidays without either of my parents.

“All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown…” – Harry Chapin

The cycle of life goes on. Birth, life, death. Rinse and repeat, right? It is what it is. We all die and experience the death of those close to us. I’m generally in acceptance of the whole affair. Grieving is something we all do. I still think about my parents on almost a daily basis, but it’s usually happy memories and I’m at peace. I guess that’s why I felt so blindsided by the sadness that poured over me. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Grief has a way of doing that…

When Mom passed in 2017, I walked through the grieving process with the help of family and friends. The strong relationship with God, forged by recovery, afforded me that opportunity. Mom got to watch the miracle of my recovery unfold in her later years. Staring at the headstones for the rest of those in our family plot, I realized no one else could say that (except for Uncle Bynam, who died at Anzio in World War Two – born at the end of the “War to end all wars” and died in the next one – the irony isn’t lost on me, but that’s another story for another time…). Sorrow and regret washed over me.

My life, for the most part, is free of regrets. Acceptance and a relationship with a loving God helped me deal with the demons of the past; especially those of my own creation…). Life doesn’t allow “do-overs” and I’m okay with that. I made amends where I could, accepted those I couldn’t, and received and gave forgiveness to others and myself to the best of my ability. Most days, I live in the present and the future is bright. It is what it is…

Standing there in front of the family plot reminded me of what I do regret, what I wish could have been different. I wish with all my heart my Dad, not to mention my uncles and Grandmother, could see me today. My faith says they do, but it’s not quite the same as having them physically here.

Contrary to popular belief, “time doesn’t heal all wounds”. It merely closes them up, scars over, and aches from time to time It’s like my knee surgeries. I’ve recovered from the injury, but they still hurt from time to time. Grief will come at unexpected times and with no expiration date stamped on it.

When it does it’s often accompanied by regret, but my perspective has changed. Instead of the old “if only” inner dialogue, I’m reminded I can’t correct the past, but I can change my future: a future I’m pleased to live out under the gaze of those I love.

I stood there until the tears subsided. I said my goodbyes and wished those I love a Merry Christmas. I would’ve wished them a Happy New Year as well, but I’m convinced that has little meaning for them now. God’s time is measured differently.

As I turned to leave, the wind, which had been absent a moment before, blew fiercely through the surrounding trees. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that when a great a soul dies the winds blow mightily. It happened on the night of my father’s death and every time I’ve visited the cemetery since. I like to think it’s his way of saying, “I’m proud of you, Son. Keep doing what you’re doing”. The tears began again. This time they were tears of gratitude and joy…

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8.28

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Bittersweet Moments

Down on the Farm: August is a busy month at Opal’s Farm. The Texas summer reaches its apex in August and the Spring garden crops are beginning to peter out. The summer squashes have about run their course and the purple-hulled and black-eye peas are slowing in the heat. We’ve been extremely blessed this year to have only had seven one hundred-degree days. The average number by this time of year is eighteen. We’re very careful in the heat: slow down, drink lots of water, and take more frequent breaks in the shade of our only tree. When the “feels like” temperature is in the triple digits it’s better to be safe than sorry. Heat stroke is no joke!

The high temperatures haven’t deterred our volunteers. A huge shout out to Harrison, Chuck, Becca, and of course, Brendan for helping with harvesting and helping plant the new Fall crops. As we transition to our fall planting there are beds to be cleaned out, prepared, and seeded with all the great veggies that come in the Fall. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love and appreciate our volunteers and fellow “farmers”.

That’s why it’s difficult to write today’s blog post. Many of you know one of our volunteers (and my trusted assistant), Brendan O’Connell. Brendan has been with Opal’s Farm since we began building the first beds and planting the first seeds. Not only has he put countless hours of physical labor into the farm, he’s also shared ideas and opened doors that have made our first growing season a success.

When Brendan contacted me about volunteering back in March, I had no idea how important he would become to Opal’s Farm or how much I would come to value his input, appreciate his hard work, and depend on him. For the first four months, it was Brendan who was right in the thick of things whether it was plowing, planting, or marketing.

Our First Cowtown Farmer’s Market

One day he mentioned one day that his school needed a title or job description for his volunteer work at the farm. He wasn’t sure what to put down on the paperwork, and quite honestly, neither was I. “Farmhand” was an understatement. He was far more than another hand. I wasn’t sure what to tell him. Until it dawned on me: he was the farm co-manager! It would be unfair to call him anything else. His sense of commitment and dedication to the mission of Opal’s Farm is indescribable.

Couldn’t have done it without Brendan – getting ready for our first crop!

Unfortunately, I knew his time would come to an end. You see, Brendan leaves next week for the next step in his life at Cornell University. He’ll be stopping by Cowtown Farmer’s Market briefly on Saturday and leaving Tuesday. It’s a bittersweet moment for those of us who’ve come to know Brendan over the last few months. We are extremely happy (and a bit proud) for him and his new adventure, but it’s hard to see him leave (even if we do get to see him at winter break).

Part of me is jealous, Brendan. For those of you who don’t know, Cornell is in Ithaca, New York. Although Brendan will be studying hard, he’ll be enjoying much cooler weather than those of us here at the farm! Moreover, Ithaca has an actual Fall season and with it, the accompanying explosion of color that will awe any good old Fort Worth native.

Winter will be a bit different from Fort Worth (what’s that white stuff called again?), but I’m happy to hear you bought your winter coat online rather than here. There’s not much of a market here for the kind of coats one you’ll need in New York…

Brendan, thank you for everything you’ve done for Opal’s Farm and thank you Mr. and Mrs. O’Connell for sharing your son with us. God’s blessings upon you all. We wish you adventure, happiness, and success in the coming school year. We look forward to seeing you this winter but please know you will be missed and thought of often.