Tag Archives: Family

Happy Birthday #60, Mama!

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Me and Mama when I was in 5th Grade.

Me and Mama when I was in 5th Grade.

Today has been my beloved Mama’s sixtieth birthday. She completed her sixth decade in spite of fighting a terrible battle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD that saw her hospitalized for two weeks with two bouts that left her very near death’s door. More than once, I thought I was going to lose her.

Anyone who has known me more than an hour will know how much Mama means to me. She has been the one guiding star and constant throughout my life. Some people take being called a “mama’s boy” as an insult, but I’ve worn it as a badge of pride all my days.

One facet of our relationship that’s made our bond so strong is for many years at many times, we were all each other had. Mama and Daddy separated when I was five and finalized the divorce when I was eight. Today, people don’t think much about divorces but at that time (1977) in such a small town, I was the only one of my friends who entered kindergarten with divorced parents. Of course, by the time we graduated high school, several of my friends joined me on the Split Up Family Express, and I found out later I’d gone to school with other divorced kids, but I didn’t know any of them as friends so it wasn’t a great help to me.

The divorce was hard — way hard — on Mama. People didn’t know nearly as much about depression and its effects in those days as they do now. I have an early memory of sitting on her lap with her sobbing uncontrollably and I put my hands up to her face and said, “I’ll take care of you, Mommy.” Today, 35 years later, when she has an anxiety attack and starts smothering, I still put my — now much bigger — hands around her face and say, “I’ll take care of you, Mommy.”

What a lot of people don’t understand about Mama and me is how much I’ve felt her sacrifice throughout my life. In the picture of us on this page, I’m in 5th grade so Mama would’ve been about 28, which isn’t too old to start over by any scale and as you can plainly see, she was a beautiful woman. She had numerous suitors vying for her affection, but she always brought me out immediately in the conversation and any man who balked hit the bricks. She had more than one man of wealth who would have loved to marry her and make her life much simpler and easy, but she always put me before herself and my happiness before hers so she never took that risk. Security was one of the wonderful gifts Mama gave me.

Of all the things Mama gave me, though, the greatest was her faith. Mama gave her life to the Lord when I was barely three and it guides her still. I have a crystal clear memory of being six years old. It was summer. We were in the first trailer Daddy and Mama had bought and put on the homeplace in Gray Court where Mama still lives. I was playing in the floor in the living room putting together Lego blocks and I heard Mama crying in her bedroom down the hall. Like I always did when I heard Mama crying, I went to be beside her, but when I got to her bedroom door something made me stop. Mama was kneeling at the foot of the bed with her head resting on an open bible, sobbing. Through the tears, I could make out one sentence over and over, “I can’t raise him alone; You have to help me. He belongs to You, not me.”

Folks, I’ll be as honest as I know how. I’ve done a multitude of things I won’t mention. I’ve been a terrible person. I’ve been drunk, high, and stoned out of my mind. I’ve hurt people and been hurt myself, but no matter where I’ve been; what I’ve been through, or what I’ve done, I’ve never been able to get that scene out of my mind. More than anything else in this entire messed up life of mine, the reason I believe there is a God, a man called Jesus, and a place called Heaven is they’ve lived in my mother’s eyes since I was three years old.

One day, maybe sooner, maybe later, I’ll stand beside a pink casket over an empty grave next to Papa John’s in Cannon Memorial Gardens. I’ll read the 23 Psalm and the 31st Chapter of Proverbs before I say a prayer for Mama’s soul, and while I am completely certain my heart will be broken into shards t0o many and too fine to number, I’ll have the knowledge that I will see her again. Until then, however, I’ll cherish every moment with her.

I love her. She’s my Mama.

Love all of you, too! Keep those feet clean.

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They Say It Never Rains In Upstate South Carolina

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Actually, what “they” say is, “Seems it never rains in Southern California.” Still, I think it’s apropos, especially considering the rest of the chorus of that Albert Hammond one-hit wonder goes

Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California
But girl, don’t they warn ya
It pours man it pours

Well the last three weeks, it has POURED. Literally and metaphorically. I’m talking frog-strangling, log-floating, fish-choking deluges of biblical proportions and at the moment, Father Noah is awol and they’s nary an Ark in sight. I mean, I’ve been through some rough patches in my life. It happens to us all. I understand that. The Bible says the Lord makes it rain on the just and the unjust alike. We all take our turn in the barrel as the old crude joke punchline says. Here lately though, I think I’m getting my rain and someone else’s monsoon to boot.

Let me give you, my beloved readers, a quick rundown on the last three weeks around Chez Wham.

  1. I lost or misplaced or had my iPod stolen. It was old, but it was mine and it had all my iUni podcasts on it.
  2. Budge’s pool, or as I like to call it “that godforsaken swamp in my backyard,” has eaten chemicals like I eat wintergreen Lifesavers. I hate that pool.
  3. Daddy had to go to Charleston to have a heart cath because his last nuclear stress test wasn’t what it should have been. Turns out he has a touch of heart damage at the bottom of his heart so he’s going to have to add some heart medicine to his daily regime.
  4. My nephew, Mason, had a horrendous allergic reaction to an antibiotic he was taking and for three days, Nick and Sissy though they were going to have to hospitalize him. He was head to toe red welts. He’s better now, but it was terrifying.
  5. Mama’s home healthcare nurse sat her down and explained that her C.O.P.D. has reached the terminal stages. She’s not going down without a fight, but I’m afraid most of the fight has gone out of her. I’m looking at life without my Mama sooner instead of later.
  6. Budge has been gone for two weeks this summer in the midst of all this mess going on and anyone who knows me KNOWS how well I do when I don’t have my Budge around to moderate my moods for me.
  7. Our DSL and phone lines had to be replaced because they were slowly giving up the ghost. Some people might say home internet is frivolous; those people are not teachers.
  8. The pastor on staff at church whom I was always closest to and would have turned to in the midst of all this mess was dismissed from the staff for good cause. To quote Forrest, “and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.”
  9.  I got a surprise from the IRS in the form of a tax bill to cover a mistake I made two years ago. Uncle Sam wants about $3000 of “his” money back. People in Hell want ice water, too. One more payment a month.
  10. Three of four tires on my beloved Honda Element have picked up nails or screws in the shoulders beyond the range of the tire company’s ability to safely patch them. The fourth tire was already patched. I don’t have road hazard protection on them. Lately, I’ve been riding around with an air compressor in the back.
  11. The back porch at the Ancestral Manse (Mama’s house) caught on fire and burned 1/4 of the structure. It’s now unsafe to walk on, much less get Mama’s wheelchair up or down. Estimated cost to replace? Somewhere in the $1K to $3.5K range depending on lumber costs.
  12. JUST LAST NIGHT, I was washing clothes and the sink and both tubs started gurgling like a demon had possessed them. I went in our bathroom to see what was wrong and met an inch of water standing in the floor with more coming from the porcelain throne. It was all thick with lint and suds. Septic tank’s full after 16 years. Cost to get it pumped? At LEAST $350. Might as well be three million.

Now I didn’t tell you all that to get pity and I don’t want anything from anyone. I just had to get all this off my chest or I was going to explode. I’m a talker and sometimes I just feel better getting everything out. Kind of like squeezing a boil.  It has LITERALLY been from one thing to another this entire summer. Like I said before, poop happens. I know everybody’s got troubles. I also know that misery loves company and, sweet brothers and sisters, I could use some company right along now.

Still love y’all and try to keep those feet clean!

For Want of a Code a Ham Was Lost . . . Almost

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The object of the quest!

This has been a rough couple of days.

Yesterday morning, I picked up my nearly-dead cell phone to discover a message from my sis-in-law, Missy, who had called at 11:30 PM the previous night in an attempt to relay the message that Dad had been taken to the hospital by ambulance because of chest pains which developed as he and Sandy, my mom-in-law, were watching the final minutes of “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?”

This was a cause of concern.

I called Sandy, who was in the room with Dad awaiting the team to come prep him for an exploratory heart catheterization. She said the procedure was scheduled for 1:00 PM. I assured her we would be there. Upon hanging up with Sandy, I waited for Budge to awaken of her own free will to tell her that her Dad was in the hospital about to undergo a bit of heart surgery.

She took the news quite well.

Dad's troubles lay in the LAD and the OM vessels.

We spent the rest of the day yesterday in the waiting room of the Heart Cath Lab at St. Francis Hospital in downtown Greenville. The procedure that was to start at 1:00 was delayed by a complete comedy of errors until 4:00 but the doctor managed to detect the blockages and place one stent into one of those blockages in the Left Anterior Descending Coronary Artery (the “LAD” for short). Unfortunately, the plaque dam in the Obtuse Marginal Artery would have to wait because of the deleterious effect of the acidity of the contrast dye used in the procedure. Well, in due time, in this case due time being 11:00 AM this morning, the second stent found its new home and Dad was taken to his room for a period of rest and recovery before he is released tomorrow.

Because of all that drama, I got stuck with ham duty.

See, we — that is to say Budge’s side of the family — planned to gather at Dad and Sandy’s tomorrow night for a Christmas celebration and the guest of honor was slated to be a patented Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham. The love Dad and Budge have for Honeybaked Hams is hard to overstate, which may have been partially responsible for those nasty blockages, come to think of it. Now, Budge and Sandy were talking in the waiting room this morning about shoes, wine, children, how Budge broke her toe the night before, etc, etc, when Sandy suddenly exclaimed, “Oh dear, the ham will be ready to pick up at 2:00 today.”

The ham. The Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham. Will be ready. At 2:00. TODAY.

Let me recap for you. Dad, Sandy’s husband, Budge’s father, my beloved father-in-law, is having heart surgery at that very moment. Everybody on board? Despite that little bump in the road, however, somehow, a HAM — that was to be served at a dinner that is now cancelled for obvious reasons — shot to the top of the priority board. I don’t know how. That’s not my area. I just know Sandy was worried about the ham so Budge put her at ease with, “We will pick up the ham.” Sandy felt this was a capital idea and wrote out a blank check for us to purchase the Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham. Apparently, the ham question was settled. Dad came out of surgery just fine; we all hugged necks and sent Dad off to his room with Sandy close behind.

Then Budge and I realized we were hungry.

So, off we went to Oriental House for lunch. En route, we contacted Erica who joined us for a fine lunch of some kind of meat liberally soaked in “white sauce.” For the record, I don’t know what kind of meat it actually is nor do I have much idea of the ingredients in the “white sauce.” I just know it tastes divine so I adhere to the Apostle Paul’s admonition in his First Epistle to the Corinthian Church and go on about my business.  After the meal, Budge and Erica decided to go see a movie. I reminded Budge that we had ham duty and was informed that now I had ham duty. They went to the movie and I went to pick up the Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham.

I managed to get to the Honeybaked Store on Pleasantburg Drive without incident. I managed to get across the parking lot in the driving rain without incident. However, I did not manage to pick up the ham without incident. I confidently strode to the counter under the “Pick up hams here” sign and a brightly smiling young lady with a beautiful cafe au lait complexion looked at me sweetly and said, “May I have your code please?”

I remembered Budge and Sandy discussing a code earlier. I even remembered the code they were discussing, so I blithely sang out “52252” and waited for my ham to appear.

My ham did not appear and it was here my troubles began.

Abandon all hope ye who enter herein without a CODE!

The sweet child said, “Um, that’s not one of our codes, sir. I need your official Honeybaked Ham code so I can get your ham.” (Incidentally, that code turned out to be the code to get into the garage within which dwells the extra refrigerator where the Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham — in a perfect and code free world — was supposed to be deposited)

I didn’t have a code. I had a blank check. I was to pick up a ham. This had seemed a straightforward transaction.

I told the sweet young lady that I had no other code but the ham was under Sandy Sims’ name at which point she smiled and said, “We don’t file hams by name, sir, just codes.”Once again, I explained that I didn’t have a code. I had a blank check. I was to pick up a ham.

So, trying to be helpful, she said, “Well how many people are you serving? Maybe we can figure out the code that way.” I never realized it would take an advanced degree in cryptography to buy a ham.

Keeping my smile as plastered on as I could, I told the girl I didn’t have a code. I had a blank check. I was to pick up a ham. Furthermore, this time I added that as a MAN, did she really think I would have been entrusted with something as vitally important as the Christmas gathering guest list? So finally, she gave up and got the manager who came out and the first thing this bright apple did was say, “May I have your code, sir?”

I didn’t have a code. I had a blank check. I was to pick up a ham and instead ended up in a Monty Python skit.

At the end of my tether by this point, I told the man to just give me one of the biggest damn hams in the store and if it were the wrong one, I would eat the leftovers myself. This finally garnered me a bag full of a Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham at which point I went to the register to pay.

The young man had witnessed the entire fracas and so was most solicitous as I filled in the rest of the check for the ridiculous price they asked for a Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham. I handed him the check and he looked it over carefully. I was about to ask him if something was wrong when he looked at me most somberly and pointed towards four numbers neatly written at the top of the check in Sandy’s immaculate handwriting as he announced, “Um, sir, that’s your code.”

He managed to keep a straight face. I did not.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Larry!

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Uncle Larry circa 1978

I’d like to invite everyone to celebrate the birthday of a great man with me today. My Uncle Larry turns 60!

Uncle Larry is my favorite uncle and I’d say that even if he were not technically my only uncle. In a life that’s had more change than I would like, Uncle Larry has been a North Star; a guiding constant and a reminder that some things and some people really can be counted on in this life.

Uncle Larry is my Aunt Cathy’s husband. He married in to the family 33 years ago and the fact that he’s been able to put up with Aunt Cathy all these years and still maintain his sanity is a credit to his fortitude. (My aunt reads this blog and I dearly love poking at her! She’s precious to me as well.) When I say he’s been a constant, I have difficulty remembering a time when he wasn’t around. He and Cathy started dating in my earliest hazy memories. What I do remember is Uncle Larry was literally larger than life to me.

Most of the guys in my family run around 5’10” or so. Nick, my little brother, topped that, but before him, Uncle Larry was the only 6’2″ person I knew. To me, he was also Hercules strong. One of his favorite things to do when he came to see Aunt Cathy was to pick me up over his head. I was a chunky little monkey so the fact he could scoop me up and touch me to the ceiling was awesome in itself. I remember going to the SC Upper State Fair every September with Uncle Larry and Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry’s niece, Gina — who, incidentally, was the first girl I ever walked down the aisle! I loved being with Uncle Larry and if Aunt Cathy didn’t object, he was pretty much willing to take me anywhere.

That IS a Mako Shark Corvette; That is NOT my Aunt Cathy

Uncle Larry has always had a need for speed and for him, speed has always meant one word — Corvette. Before he and Cathy married, he would buy a new Corvette every two years. The first one I remember he had was a limited edition 1968 Mako Shark II with a 427 big block in Midnight Blue. That was a seriously awesome car.

Knowing how much Uncle Larry loves Corvettes, I offer this as proof of how much more he loves my Aunt Cathy. Most of his Corvettes were special orders from Keith Whitaker Chevrolet in Greenville. He had a car on order when he asked Aunt Cathy to marry him. When she accepted, he canceled the order. That was late in 1977 and the car on order was a Silver Anniversary Edition 1978 Limited Edition Corvette. That car is worth just south of $1 million dollars today. For years — even today — if Cathy and Larry had a spat or a little dust-up, my daddy — Cathy’s brother — would remind Larry, “I told you to keep the car.”

Uncle Larry traded THIS . . .

Uncle Larry hasn’t been just a good time charlie all these years either. One of my clearest memories involving him was on Aunt Cathy’s birthday when I was about 5, I think. Mama and Daddy’s troubles had begun escalating and things came to a head at Granny and Papa Wham’s the night we celebrated Cathy’s birthday. We’d eaten and I was playing with my Legos in the living room when Daddy and Papa got into a heated — and loud — argument. When I walked in to see what was going on, Uncle Larry knelt down and asked me if I would like to “drive” his car to the Snack Bar for an ice cream. Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle? Of COURSE! So he sat me on his lap and I drove — with a little help — to the edge of town and we ate ice cream and “drove” back.

. . . for THIS. Right choice? Probably 🙂

When we got back, Daddy was gone and Mama was red-eyed. It was a few years down the road before I realized Uncle Larry — who had been through similar circumstances — was trying to preserve my innocence for just a little longer.

Of course, when it comes to driving for real, I never would have gotten my license if Uncle Larry hadn’t taught me how to drive a car. I didn’t see Daddy enough at the time and Mama was terrified of the thought of me driving, so Uncle Larry shouldered the load. Of course, learning to drive in a ’78 Camaro with a Corvette engine and transmission was a little tricky in places. I didn’t quite understand the concept of “ease on the gas” as much as I should so I left a few black marks around town in my early attempts. I remember being 14 with no sign of a permit, much less a license, driving down I-385 with Uncle Larry. We passed a highway patrol car and I asked Uncle Larry what to do if the cop turned around. He smiled and said, “Put your foot on the floor!”

Uncle Larry couldn’t afford a ticket because he was a truck driver. He went to work on the dock at the Roadway terminal in Greenville when he was 18. He started driving a few years later and now at 60, he’s the #1 tenured driver in South Carolina. When I was little, I used to think every Roadway truck I saw was Uncle Larry. It took Mama and Cathy forever to get me to understand that Roadway had lots of trucks and Uncle Larry drove up north mostly.

Uncle Larry and Aunt Cathy at Zach's Wedding.

The real measure of a man is how he treats others. I don’t know of a single person or animal my Uncle Larry has ever mistreated. He especially loved my Granny Wham. When Papa passed and Granny became unable to live alone, Uncle Larry told Cathy to sell their house and move to Fountain Inn to live with Granny so she wouldn’t have to leave her home of so many memories and years. By that time, he wasn’t going on long hauls anymore so every morning on his way home, he’d stop by the Hardees on the exit to Fountain Inn and get Granny Wham a biscuit for breakfast. Cathy said Granny would stand at the kitchen window waiting for him to arrive and he and Granny would eat breakfast together before Uncle Larry went to bed.

Happy 60th Birthday, Uncle Larry! You wear it well.

When Granny finally had to go to the nursing home because her medical needs were too great to tend at home, Larry would ride down to see her in Laurens just about every weekend. While Granny was in Martha Franks, the Greenville Roadway terminal closed and Larry was transferred to Columbia. Rather than move and upset things, he would drive 100 miles to Columbia from Fountain Inn three or four times a week to pick up his truck and run his route. Every time, either coming or going, he would stop in Laurens to check on Granny Wham. I’ve known a lot of men in my life. I’ve known my share of scoundrels and saintsalike. In all that time, I’ve been privileged to know few men of integrity to match my Uncle Larry and none — famous, infamous, or unknown — who would surpass him.

He is one of my childhood and adult heroes.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Larry! Love you!

And love to all of you as well! Keep your feet clean until next time.

Deuce Part Deux — Laura-Lou Got Married

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Laura and her mama, Connie.

So for several years, Laura (Deuce), Budge, and I pretty much hung together non-stop. Laura had many other friends from the school district and Starbucks. She even kept in touch with a good many of her high school friends who moved away from Ware Shoals. She has one high school girlfriend named Shaye Hall whom I am quite ready to meet and ask a question or two about a certain New Kids on the Block concert, but that is a story for another time.

We were together a great deal, but not exclusively. We would usually eat together on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the week and at least once, if not twice on the weekends. We also had long stretches when we didn’t get to see much of Deuce. She’s a pretty amazing actress (but what else can you expect from Drew Barrymore’s bestie?) and a member of the Laurens County Community Theater.

Some members of the LCCT. Laura is the cow.

For about a month each fall and spring, we’d be lucky to see her once a week because she’d have to sandwich rehearsals between two jobs. The shows have always been worth it. Her portrayal of Olene Whiffer is especially memorable. Think Steel Magnolias meets Gypsy Rose and you’ll have a pretty fair picture of Ms. Whiffer.

The last four years, we’ve also had the ritual of sitting with Laura while she was dead panicked about having a job at the school district, which has been her main source of income and benefits. With all the cutbacks since the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008, she’s never been sure if her job was next on the chopping block or not. So far though, she’s always managed to have a spot. It probably doesn’t hurt that the superintendent and the high school principal — as well as most everyone else in District 56 — loves her almost as much as we do.

The Gang from Starbucks

Work kept us apart, the theater kept us apart, and football season kept us apart. Once Laura started working at the high school, she took over the Spirit Club. As a “perk” of this office, she got to be at EVERY football game, fair weather or foul, home or away, heat or cold. When I was still at Bell Street, I’d come to a few games as well, but I never made the trek to Union or York. For the record, Union, SC is impossible to get straight to. It’s one of those “you-can’t-get-there-from-here” places.

But I digress.

One issue which never kept us apart, however, was Laura’s dating life. Without putting too fine a point on it, she didn’t have much of one. Now you might ask, as I did when I didn’t know her as well as I do now, how such a beautiful, classy, and outgoing young woman could NOT have three dates per weekend. The answer lies in which Laura shows up for the evening — Ware Shoals Laura or Simpsonville Laura.

See, Simpsonville Laura went to etiquette classes and knows which utensil to start eating with at the most swanky restaurants and receptions. Simpsonville Laura is demure, very sweet, kind, and forgiving. Simpsonville Laura drinks Blue Moon with an orange wedge on the lip of the glass.

This is Simpsonville Laura dangerously close to morphing into Ware Shoals Laura.

Ware Shoals Laura shoots tequila. Not often, but she does. Ware Shoals Laura is the slightly less refined and considerably more dangerous alter ego of Simpsonville Laura. Ware Shoals Laura also went to etiquette classes but she mostly remembers which knife on the table is sharpest and will cut a heart out best. The funny thing is, you could be sitting next to Simpsonville Laura one minute and someone — often me — would say something stupid and when you’d look over, you’d be sitting next to Ware Shoals Laura.

Simpsonville Laura has always loved men with dark handsome looks; Ware Shoals Laura has always loved men with barbecue sauce, Texas Pete, and a side of green beans. Not every guy, not even most guys, had what it takes to deal with sporadic outbreaks of Ware Shoals Laura. Thom didn’t, Eric didn’t, some guy from Greenwood who ate one dinner with us at Wasabi’s didn’t, and poor Pete (Pete the Dude, not Pete the Cat. That’s another story) CERTAINLY didn’t. He’s still got a few things to learn about himself I do believe.

But one did, and that’s where the buckeye comes in.

Laura and Mr. Dick, giver of the sacred buckeye.

Now why in the name of all that’s holy a MICHIGAN WOLVERINE fan would have a BUCKEYE in her possession was somewhat lost on me until I heard the story. Laura’s grandfather, Mr. Dick, had given Laura a genuine buckeye when she was but a wee lass and told her it was because she was greatly loved and very special and when she finally met a boy she loved as much as Mr. Dick loved her, a boy as special to her as she was to Mr. Dick, she should give him the buckeye and he’d be hers forever.

Deuce kept that buckeye a long time and might have kept it forever if it hadn’t been for the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Now this particular group of which Laura is but a junior member is worthy of a blog all their own, but for the sake of time I will summarize. The Ya-Ya’s are a group of young ladies and older women who regularly visit one another, but once a year, they have a Ya-Ya convention at the Beach. It was during one of these annual maritime rendezvous when one of the top ranking Ya-Ya’s mentioned she had a son she wanted Laura to meet.

Some of the Ya-Ya's in the Caribbean.

His name was Cameron Hall and his mother, Elaine, introduced the two of them later that summer. The rest, as the old story goes, is history.

Budge and I knew Laura was going out regularly with Cameron and I figured he had to be at least a decent guy because he was willing to drive up an hour and some change one way from Columbia every time they went on a date. I didn’t know HOW well they were getting along until Laura, Budge, and I were on the way to supper one evening last summer and she ended a cell phone call with “I Love You!” I automatically asked her how her daddy was doing because Mr. Ray Davis was the ONLY person Budge or I EVER heard Laura say “I love you” to on the phone. She was quiet for a minute then said, “Um, That wasn’t Daddy, that was Cameron.”

Wow. This was SERIOUS.

It was so serious she introduced him to Budge and I, which was something she’d only done on one other occasion and only because she wanted some good excuses to dump the Greenwood guy from Wasabi’s. It was SO serious that the night we went to meet Cameron and Laura for dinner at TGI Friday’s in Greenville, I not only traded my normal T-shirt and basketball shorts for khakis and a collared polo, I also wore BIG BOY SHOES instead of my neon colored Crocs.  Laura noticed immediately and later told Cameron that was a fairly big deal.

The minute I saw him I didn’t like him. He was handsome in just the slightly rough way I knew Deuce loved. He was a football fan and he liked USC and . . . well, he was just about as perfect a match as is possible in this fallen world of ours. I didn’t like him because I knew he was probably the one who was going to break up the band. Once I saw him look at Laura though, I had to get over it. He loved her and the way he looked at her proved it. What’s more, he’s a good and gentle man. Hardworking and kind and he treats Deuce as if the Sun and stars spun around her hair on a halo.

This Christmas, after a little more than a year together, Laura gave Cameron Mr. Dick’s buckeye.

The shoals that give Ware Shoals its name.

I started waiting for the inevitable call.

It came this past May after the Ware Shoals Catfish Feastival (and NO that is not a misspelling). Cameron had gotten Big Momma’s 100-year-old diamond ring from Connie, Laura’s mama, and had it reset for her. He, with some timely help from young Jacob, gave her the ring on the rocks of the shoals in sight of the house where Laura grew up near the middle of town she loves like no other place on Earth. My Deuce was getting married.

Cam's beard wasn't that grey when he and Deuce started dating. Just saying.

So, just a tiny bit more than one month ago today, I dusted off my wedding manual, checked over the procedure for properly endorsing a marriage license, and sat going over the vows and ceremony as Budge drove following Laura, Cameron, and Jake, Cameron’s son, down to the Isle Of Palms near Charleston. There, in a simple white dress and Cam in nice khaki slacks repeated after me in cargoes and purple Crocs their vows and “I do’s.” I made it through almost the entire ceremony without crying, but my voice caught just a bit during the prayer.

Last week, they moved in to their new house together in Laurens, SC and tomorrow night we’re gathering in Ware Shoals for a swanky reception. Hopefully, Cameron will let me borrow Deuce back long enough to show me which fork to use.

It hurts a little knowing I won’t get to see Deuce as much as we did, but I look forward to seeing what kind of beautiful love grows from that small brown seed from the Aesculus glabra 

It’s common name is The American Buckeye.

Love y’all!

What I Want for Christmas

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Today is Christmas and everyone who survived the rush and crush of people are gathered around trees or tables with friends and family swapping stories, opening presents, eating, drinking, and generally making merry. It’s been a common custom for people to exchange lists of gifts they would like to get from their significant others while children practice their penmanship on those all important letters to Santa. I thought that, in the spirit of the season, I’d like to make out a list of what I want for Christmas this year. Just for fun and variety.

I want to eat Christmas dinner at Papa and Granny Wham’s. I want Papa Wham to say the blessing — his blessing — the same one I can still recite in my head: “Father, pardon us of all our sins; we thank you for these and all other blessing, in Jesus’ name, Amen.” I want to eat Granny Wham’s bone dry turkey and her dressing that she never put onions in because she knew I hated onions. I want Granny Hughes’ English pea dumplings as a side dish. I want one of Aunt Nell’s cakes.

I want us all sitting around a huge table. I want Papa Wham at one end and Papa John at the other. I want Granny Wham to sit down and not walk around with the tea pitcher asking to fill everyone’s glass for the twentieth time. I want Budge next to me and Mama and Rob, Mama Lowe and Jessie, Travis and Dani, and Chloe stretching down from Budge’s side. I want Chloe to have a bottle of cereal held in two good hands. I want Daddy and Teresa, Nick, Keri, and Mason on my other side stretching up the table. I want Daddy to be holding Mason and genuinely happy, smiling and at ease instead of on a ragged emotional edge because of Vietnam rooted PTSD.

I’d say I want Mama and Daddy still together, but even my wildest fantasies have their limits. Also, wishing carelessly can reduce happiness as much as expand it. For instance, had Mama and Daddy not divorced, MAYBE some things in my life would have been better. Maybe not. However, no divorce would then mean no Rob. No Rob; no Baby Huey; no Baby Huey; no Dani and without them both I wouldn’t have my beautiful baby niece, Chloe. It would be the same story on my other side as well. No Teresa would mean no Nicholas; no Nick would mean no Sissy; no Nick and no Sissy would mean no precious baby Mason.

Unfortunately, Mason and Chloe don’t completely erase the pain, anger, and frustration of a busted up family and all the excess arrangements and holiday misery such a lifestyle brings with it — memory is a killing thing in that regard, but they DO give the pain, anger, and frustration new and happier context. They’ve given meaning to the madness. Having those two bright eyed centers of the universe giggling and laughing at the table make the tears worthwhile.

Then I want Aunt Judy and the family she’d have sitting next to Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry and Blake and Zack and Ashley. I want them all sitting right across from me. I want Granny Wham sitting next to Papa Wham and Aunt Mary and Uncle Carroll sitting — happily — side-by-side next to Granny.  I want Aunt Polly, Aunt Nell, and Aunt Mot — The Three Sisters — sitting together. I want Shane and Ashleigh sitting together nearby. I want little curly-locked Gabriel sitting on his all-grown-up Uncle Scott’s lap.

I want Dad and Sandy nearby — and quiet for a change. I want Missy and Charles and Jackson and Harry somewhere close by. I want Richard, bright-eyed, unhaunted, happy and sober, sitting next to Ki-Ki with Ryken on his lap. I want my beloved Kayla with her mom and stepdad, PJ and O.J,. there with the boys and Celeste, calmly smiling, eating and talking instead of screaming and fighting. This is another case of wishing for wholeness would mean wishing away much happiness. In some convoluted “perfect world” Rich and PJ wouldn’t have divorced and Kayla would have grown up in a stable family, made excellent grades, and gone to a fantastic college on a soccer scholarship. However, if that were true, Budge and I wouldn’t have Ki-Ki and Ryken in our lives, so — as painful as the road my be — I’ll take the demonic with the divine and keep on keeping on.

I want Laura and Rachel and Jen and the rest of Budge and my Florida family sitting with us around the table. I want to sit next to Grandma Sims and ask her if Dad was always as stubborn and hard-headed as he is now!

I want Papa John to read the Christmas story out of Luke from Papa Hurley’s huge family Bible. I want Uncle Claude to pray for us all after the meal. I want Aunt Mildred sitting with him, calm and well. I want Aunt Betty and Uncle Raymond and Rhonda next to Granny Hughes. I want Mama singing Christmas carols (instead of hacking and coughing) with Aunt Lib and Big Granny while Papa John plays his guitar and Aunt Margie plays the piano. I want Jenny there with Bubba and Diane. I want Bluford and Chad, Connie and Gen all sitting together. I want Aunt Margaret passing around her biscuits with one hand while holding Uncle Leroy’s hand with the other.

I want Brooke and Smallwood, Daniel and the Sledzianowski Brothers, Angela and Christian, and of course, my buddy Tina all sitting near me. I want Coach Candler and Mrs. McCuen and all the rest of my Woodmont family sitting around the table and tree with us. I want Maureen and her 3 boys and Dr. O and his three girls with Lance and my District 56 family with them too. I want my “sister” Laura sitting with Cameron and Jacob, smiling and not worried about paying bills or being alone anymore. I want Erica sitting hand in hand with David, happy and satisfied.

I want us all together and happy one more time.

That’s what I want for Christmas.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Hug and kiss the ones you love today. Next Christmas might be too late.