Connection, Dogs, Emotional Health, Family, Gifts, Grief, Love, Pets, Rescue Animals, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Remembering Maggie

“I want to be the man my dog thinks I am” – Anonymous

I’m not sure how much more I can take. My “Coyotahoula”, Maggie, laid by my side as she breathed her last this morning. She wasn’t feeling well this weekend. She didn’t even come when the microwave beeper went off Saturday, so I knew she was under the weather. She spent Sunday evening curled up next to me at my desk. I thought I’d best take her to the veterinarian on Monday, but she couldn’t wait. She came by my side as I drank my morning coffee and never left. I knew. I laid down on the floor next to her and loved on her as she slowly passed on.

I’ve spent most of the day sad and exhausted. I buried her in the garden near her favorite spot. It probably violates some city code but quite frankly, I don’t care. This is where she belongs. If you’re not a dog person this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal – hey, it’s just a dog – but if you are you know the deep sense of loss that comes with losing your best friend.

We have two other dogs, Jameson (the Opal’s Farm dog!) and Sadie. They know Maggie’s gone. Sadie didn’t even bark at the lawn mower as I rolled it to the front yard. Maggie wasn’t there to bark with her. Some say we anthropomorphize our dogs. Animals are somehow absent human feelings. I’ve watched them all day and seen their sadness and grief and it’s as real as mine. I’m sure that there’s a reason “dog” is “God” spelled backwards.

Maggie keeping an eye on things…

All our dogs are rescues. Maggie was not even weaned when the previous owners took her mother and siblings to the shelter. We managed to rescue Maggie from the pound. Maggie was half coyote and half Catahoula. Her fate was in doubt at the shelter as a hybrid canine. We bottle fed her until she could do solid food. In fact, that’s how she got her name. She would suck on the bottle like Maggie on The Simpsons – the rest is history.

One month old!

Maggie made it quite clear that she was my dog. She was always quite the “daddy’s girl” and intensely jealous of the other two receiving any of my attention without first loving on her. She could sense a peanut jar opening from three rooms away and knew the I would always save a bite for her.

I could go on and on about Maggie. Pet parents know what I mean. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have as many, if not more, pictures of Maggie than I do my grandkids. Maggie, Jameson, and Sadie became our kids. Dogs are family and spoiled family members at that!

Maggie’s passing brought up all the loss of the last year-and-a-half, especially when it comes to my son Jeremy. He used to tease me all the time about how he was going to steal Maggie. He constantly tried to get me to let him have her. I’m not surprised. Maggie and Jeremy had a lot in common.

In fact, Maggie was my “Jeremy”. She had the same streak of wildness and freedom that Jeremy had ever since he was a baby. She was often too smart for her own good just as he was. She was independent, stubborn, and as sweet as he was. I think she made his passing a bit more tolerable. She always reminded me of him. I’d like to think they’re running around together today…

Today I lost my dog. It’s another reminder of the continual losses since this pandemic began – even when COVID isn’t responsible. I’ve lost my son, my best friend, and other folks that I miss daily. I guess Maggie brought it all to a head. Grief is a bitch…

Business, Choices, Communication, Community, Culture, Emotional Health, Family, Generations, Monday Mornings, Relationships, Seeing Others, Simplicity, Technology, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Technology? Yes and No…

(portions are rebloged from October 2018)

I was sitting here sorting through the various business cards and it occurred to me that I need a new Rolodex. Some of you know what I’m talking about: that circular file that holds your contacts, addresses, and phone numbers. I’m not sure people use them anymore. Everyone else seems to organize such things online. I guess my friend Gary was right. I’m a dinosaur…

It’s not that I’m technologically illiterate, mind you. Heck, I write and post a lot on social media for Opal’s Farm. It’s just that keyboards and screens feel so impersonal at times. Heck, I lost my phone one time and couldn’t call friends or family because their numbers were stored by the phone’s contact list. I can still remember my very first home number – GL (short for the Glendale exchange)1-0249 (and yes kids, there was a time when they had letters instead of numbers). I could tell you what part of town someone was calling from by the prefix, which was sort of Caller ID in the sixties. One memorized the important numbers in one’s life, wrote them in a phone and address book, or filed them on a Rolodex for future reference. Nowadays, they all go to the phone by name instead of having to dial. I was married two years before I could tell you my wife’s phone number. It was filed away by name on a contact screen. Sometimes smart phones make me feel dumb…

Don’t get me wrong. I love emerging technology and all the new toys. They make life, professionally and personally, so much easier. The world has become much smaller as a result, too. It’s nothing to be able to communicate, both audibly and visibly, with folks on the other side of the world at a moment’s notice. I usually find research on the internet (ever careful to check facts and sources) preferable to the long hours spent in the library, but the library smells of books and newsprint unlike the sterile internet. Unfortunately, technology is frightfully impersonal at times and that can be brutal on relationships.

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about relationships. For all the connectedness technology enables, it inhibits real relationship. One night shortly after Margaret and I started dating, she asked me to come to ‘family night’ at her house. As we all found our seats in the living room and turned on the movie, it became apparent that no one was either talking or watching the movie. Instead, everyone’s face was buried in a phone screen. I think they were texting each other across the living room. Just so you know, we have great, loving relationships with all our kids, but after that evening I became increasingly aware of the downside of technology – stifling relationships.

I’m not a big ‘phone guy’. I value ‘face time’, and not the iPhone kind, over phones calls, texts, and emails. One of the best pieces of advice Jim, my mentor ever gave me was to spend more time watching and listening. The experts say that much of our conversations are non-verbal. We say more with our body language and actions. Just ask my wife. She hates it when I sigh or roll my eyes and still say okay…

Something special takes place between people when they sit and share together. The closer my relationship, the more one is aware of the non-verbal cues between one another. My non-verbal cues often indicate a far deeper meaning than what I say. They often turn my “everything’s okay” into “what’s really going on”. As a result, my relationship with others, and with myself, deepens.

The ultimate face time takes place over the dinner table. In certain cultures, a meal is the most intimate offering one can give to another. To paraphrase another friend, “I don’t get to choose who I am kind to, but I do get to choose who I have dinner with”. Many of my best memories are of meals shared and friendship enjoyed. I guess it’s no wonder that Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with people over the dinner table…

I’m okay being a dinosaur. What all the great technology doesn’t do is help me be a better human being. I need other folks to help me get there. I need relationships and they are difficult to find inside a cell phone of computer screen. So before I get to the meeting, I think I’ll try the office supply store and see if they have a Rolodex…

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Adoption, Connection, Emotional Health, Events, Faith, Family, Generations, Gifts, Gratitude, History, Kentucky, Relationships, Stories, Texas, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Home At Last

We drove all night last Monday evening – or rather, my son Adrian drove all night. I sat in the passenger seat trying to process the events of the previous three days…

I’ve shared with you, gentle readers, that I’m adopted and after sixty-three years I found my birth mother. Last Saturday, Adrian and I went to Kentucky for a couple of days to meet her and my brothers and sisters (Mom says we don’t have “half” siblings, just family…).

I’ve spent this week reflecting on our visit. In a four-day trip my life came full circle. Everything makes sense. I call my birth mother “Mom”. It felt weird calling her by her name. “Mom” naturally rolls of my lips and Mom she is. I’m not confused by this. I’m doubly blessed to have two amazing mothers.

Adrian, Mom, and I

My mom was at the front door before I even got out of the truck last Saturday evening. I don’t know who smiled bigger – Mom or me. We hugged tightly for a long time, as though we had to make up for the years that had passed us by. She held me back and said, “I thought I’d seen a ghost. You look exactly like your Uncle David. You even walk like him”. No one has ever told me I have a family resemblance to anyone. That’s one thing adopted kids rarely hear. It was proverbial “music to my ears”.

My brother, Danny, lives with Mom and I met him right away. If families have “chemistry” then ours was strong. I watched Danny all weekend. The way he takes care of Mom is wonderous. His gentle spirit is what I always wanted in a little brother.

My sister, Dana

My sister, Dana, came by shortly after we got there. We had texted each other that we were both looking forward to meeting in person, but that it’s a little weird meeting your sixty-three-year-old sibling for the first time. I can’t speak for my sister, but any discomfort faded immediately. I belonged…

Belonging was always an abstract concept for me. I was as much a part of the Joel family as one could dream. My parents and Grandmother Joel made sure of that. Still, there was always that lingering question – “Where do I really come from?”

It hit home when I was tracing the Joel family tree on a well-known genealogical website. No matter how much I want to belong or how proud I am of my Joel family tree, the lineage isn’t truly mine. It in no way means I don’t take pride in the Joel history. In fact, I’m surprised by how many times it overlaps with my birth family.

The family all came together on Sunday for lunch at Mom’s house. My youngest sister, Anne, sat down at the kitchen table with us and promptly announced she had looked me up on the internet. I think I passed muster. One never knows what the internet has to say. Thankfully it wasn’t a mugshot that came up!

My brothers, Mark and Danny

Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and their kids filled the house. I stopped many times during the day to simply be amazed by the chorus of voices and endless activity around me. Family spoke loudly and Mom was the matriarch. Repeatedly I heard, “I wish you could have been here when…” I’m still feeling elation at being part of this family, albeit a recently recognized addition.

My sisters, Anne and Becky I have a beautiful family!

My brother-in-law took Adrian and I on a tour of town and our family farm. He’s a history buff like me and every place we stopped, I learned more and more of my family’s long history in Logan County. So much so that I still can’t completely process it all. The family has been there a long time and shares a multitude of cousins in Texas as well. The farm has stood since 1804. I know who my ancestors are. It’s a dream come true.

I’ve thought a great deal about the whole “nature versus nurture” argument this week. I’ve concluded that, for me at least, nature plays a huge role in growing up. There were always little things that couldn’t be explained in my life – missing pieces of a big puzzle, things that I knew and had no reason to know. There are simply some things in life that are handed down through DNA: no other explanation is possible.

My siblings all returned to Mom’s house Monday to say goodbye. This was a short, but necessary trip. Opal’s Farm was anxiously awaiting my return to Texas. It was hard to say goodbye after the last two days. I had sixty-three years of life to catch up on. To do so in a weekend was impossible.

Pictures were taken, numbers and hugs exchanged. One by one, my brothers and sisters left for their respective homes. It was time to go, but I wanted to stay just a bit longer. Adrian and I had a long drive ahead of us and time was growing short.

Mom and I hugged for what seemed like hours. Neither wanted to let go of the other. I got in the truck and watched her as we pulled out of the driveway and drove away. Part of me would love to come home, load up Margaret and a moving van, and head for Kentucky. The other part, and somewhat more rational one, tells me that Opal’s Farm is waiting, and God has important work to do in Fort Worth, Texas. Besides, Mom would want me here doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m sure I just need to take more vacations…

The drive home was marked by sporadic conversation and total silence: partly because of driving through the night, but mainly because there were so many emotions to process – both for Adrian and me. I called Mom to let her know we’d arrived home safely. The overall consensus among my brothers and sisters was that we are family. I couldn’t imagine anything better.

Adoption, Aging, Children, Choices, Courage, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Generations, Hope, Persistence, Prayer, Relationships, Stories, Writing

Are You My Mother? Part Two

I wrote “Are You My Mother?” back in May of this year talking about the search for my biological mother. I said I would share my journey and issue an occasional update. Life has been a bit hectic since then (it’s tomato season at Opal’s Farm). Today I find myself seriously (and somewhat fearfully) asking someone if they really are my mother.

I’ve learned a lot since that original blog. I had assistance in my search through an “DNA Detective”. Apparently, my DNA matches were strong. The closest DNA match turned out to be an aunt living in Louisiana. Not a maternal match, though. A series of connections traced back to what appears to be my birth father in southeast Texas. Unfortunately, he passed away in January of this year.

I did see pictures of him. My wife was astounded by the family resemblance. I may not have a definitive answer yet, but it’s looking that way. Patience, patience, patience…

It’s likely I have a half-sister and a niece as well. I’ve always had friends say something like, “I saw a guy in Dallas (or Houston or wherever) that looks just like you. He could have been your brother”. I’m sure that happens to everyone but when you’re adopted there’s always the “what if” question. I’m sure I have at least one sibling out there.

I finally received a maternal match and learned who my grandparents were. They even made an issue of LIFE Magazine, but that’s a whole other story. I’ll share it when the final confirmation is made. It appears their youngest daughter is bio-mom. All of the times, dates, and places match up. The DNA detective sent me pictures from her high school yearbook. They blew me away. I looked in a family mirror for the first time in sixty-two years…

The resemblance was remarkable. I grabbed a picture that sits in my office. It’s of my dad and I when I was a toddler. I held that one against the yearbook pictures. If the woman in the yearbook isn’t my biological mother, I’m sure it must be one of her siblings. Quite frankly, I was elated and terrified.

Final confirmation required contact with this woman I’ve never met. The DNA detective helped me craft a letter. I didn’t wish to open any doors that she wanted to remain closed. Unwanted pregnancies were looked at much differently in the waning years of the Eisenhower Administration.

I wrote the letter, sealed it up, and took it to the post office after a three-day delay. I sent it certified mail – return receipt requested. Now I wait…

I’m acting nonchalant about this whole deal, but inside I’m excited and scared to death. I’ve thought about being able to send this letter for the last forty-plus years. I never thought it would happen. I’m trying desperately to avoid expectations. The reality is that the response may never come and if it does, it may not be the one I want.

Regardless of the outcome there will be another chapter to this story. I’ll let you know how it goes…

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Belief, Communication, Community, Faith, Grace, Opal's Farm, Quotes, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

”Sometimes growing in God’s grace resembles fumbling around in a dark and shadowy room, unable to decipher what is right in front of our eyes.” – Angela Denker

I’ve taken a much longer break from writing than I intended. The farm has been unbelievably busy this year. I pray I haven’t expanded production too quickly given our labor needs. I’ve missed being here, being with you all, online. I still have time to read and catch up with many of you but often don’t have time to respond in the way I’d like. Now that planting season is over in for a couple of weeks (June 1st starts planting for Fall!) I’m hoping to sit down at the trusty old desk and touch base with you all.

I’ve tried to put out some of the quotes and articles I’ve run across lately. You know, just to be somewhat present…

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