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Three-The One

Three

“There is a hole in my soul,” I state. I lean my head on the back of the couch, staring at the white ceiling above.

“These are the things you are here to work through, to learn how to forgive yourself,” Doctor Whitman assures me.

“I will never forgive myself.” A tear falls from the sides of both of my eyes, splashing silently onto the couch.

“Eve, we are going to peel back the layers, find what is at the core.”

I sit up and wipe the tears from my face.  “I don’t understand. I don’t understand where this me came from.”

“Can you elaborate?”

“My childhood overflowed with love. My parents are absolutely amazing people.

“I have very fond memories of my mother loving everyone she encountered very well. She was always sure to tell the grocery store clerk, ‘God bless and have a great day.’ I was always so embarrassed when she did this but now see it as one of her most endearing traits. I will never forget the time she invited a cleaning supply saleswoman into our house for dinner, and she accepted. To this day, my mother has never uttered a bad word about anyone.

“She was so much fun and was always making us laugh at one hilarious antic after another. When just she and I would go somewhere, she would say, ‘It’s just us womens.’ She was the kind of mom who involved us in her life. She was mom the aunt, mom the sister, mom the daughter, mom the friend. We weren’t separated from who she was before us; we became a part of it.

“I was athletic by nature and from kindergarten until I was in 8th grade, I played softball. Many of those years I was coached by my mother, and if she wasn’t coaching, she was encouraging with her yells from the stands. My junior year of high school I ran track, and she was the only parent standing at the finish line, cheering her daughter on. She even ran the 200 with me, on the grass, yelling bits of inspiration the entire way.

“My father has a way about him that puts people at ease. Calm and humble, a laid-back man with smiling eyes and deep dimples. I love that I got his dimples, apparent from birth. He is such a hard worker and takes pride in what he does. As we grew, his words to all 6 of us were, ‘Find your passion and pursue it.’ Both my mother and he always encouraged us in that way.

“Even though it was a far drive, every spring break he would load all of us up in the car and take us to the Museum of Natural Sciences. Those are memories I will never forget. He is a smart man and shared his knowledge with us as we wove in and out of exhibits. One of us was allowed to go to work with him once a year; this place, a massive building of machines that he knew all about. To this day I can’t walk into a machine shop or garage without the familiar smell hitting me, picturing him underneath a car or with a tool in his hand.

“Time is what they treasured most; time that was always well spent. Both of them had these little ways of showing us how loved we were. All of those ‘little’ things ended up being sown together to make up an abundance of beautiful childhood memories.

“If our soup, which will forever be coined ‘squiggle soup’, was too hot, my mother would put in an ice cube to help cool it down for us. When we ate tacos, my father would always set aside a few tortillas so we could fill them with honey after dinner. When the six of us were still at the age when we took baths, my mother would put food coloring in so we could pretend we were sailing the seven seas or wading through hot lava. Usually though, we picked yellow so it looked like we were bathing in pee.” I laugh to myself.

“On our birthdays, my mother would bake a cake and allow us to decorate them for each other with as much frosting and sprinkles as we wanted. On starry summer nights, my father would pitch the tent in the backyard so we could ‘camp’ in the backyard. Every night, without fail, my father would sing ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’, chasing us off to bed, and after prayers, we would exchange the words of ‘Good Night, Sleep Tight’ with one another. I never figured out how they always landed on the last line, sending us into a fit of giggles while they tickled us. To this day, my mother and I will sometimes text or email those familiar lines to one another.

“I fell in love with my brothers at first sight, and I have always been very protective of them, but Rhett and I are the closest in age and relationship. One year we had a field day, I was in first grade and he was in kindergarten, and he didn’t get a ribbon. I was so bent out of shape about it, I gave him one of mine. Rhett and I did everything together and rarely disagreed. My freshman year of college I had to write an ode to someone, and it was he whom I picked, the love I hold for him is like no other.

“Church. Family. Camping. If someone asked me to describe my childhood in three words, those are the ones I would choose.

“Summers were either spent in the Blue Ridge Mountains or close to the Atlantic. My parents would wake before the sun came up and load us into the suburban to meet family at a donut shop before heading to our destination. While the Judds played on tape and my father spoke back and forth with the others on the CB radio, my brothers and I would awake from our slumber.  Every once and a while my father would let us talk to our cousins over the radio, the highlight of our ride. So many of those days were filled with jumping in and out of the swimming holes of North Carolina and nights sitting by the fire as the adults exchanged stories while we tried to keep our tired eyes from closing.

“I could never pick just one camping trip as my favorite, all of them significant for one reason or another, but the one I hold closest to my heart was my Papi’s last trip. He was my father’s father, and he loved his grandchildren well. The trip was to Pisgah National Forest. I don’t think any of his grandchildren knew it would be his last trip, and as adults, it makes the memories even more significant; my cousin and I acting much braver than we were letting on as we attempted to sleep in the picnic tent outside of the safety of our parent’s campers only to be scared back inside by a rambunctious raccoon; finding a private cove and swimming for days in the summer sun as my aunts tried a number of times to get into the water tubes, the rest of us giggling at every failed attempt; my grandmother finally admitting the heat was getting to her by jumping into the water, fully clothed, panty hose included; nodding off to sleep in beach chairs with sun burnt cheeks and noses, protected by the shade from Papi’s camper.

“Friday nights found us at my Nana and Pap’s, my mother’s parents. The sound of poker chips and laughter rose from the living room as the cousins ran about playing tag or hide and go seek. The one in search yelling, ‘Olly, Olly, Oxen Free!’ to indicate we were safe to come out of hiding.

“Later those nights, our parents would tuck us into one of the beds before recommencing their poker game. It didn’t take long for us to get up though and whisper to one another from our respective doorways, that is until we were caught by someone’s mother or father. Once their game was finished, each sleeping child was taken up into the arms of their parents and placed into the car to head home.

“Holidays, football games, parades, movie nights, and just because were reason for time to be spent with my mother’s parents. They were both very gentle and loving. Each grandchild was the favorite, both of them having this way of loving all of us individually and without condition.

“Christmas Eve, since the day I was born, has been spent at my father’s sister’s house. I have vivid memories of playing with my cousins and brothers as Christmas dinner wafted through the house, beckoning us to come eat. Gram Gram, my father’s mother, had a rule that we could not open presents until dark, so we would try our best to concentrate on the game we were playing to make the time go faster. Around Christmas time every year, she would stuff us in her apartment to decorate her tree and stay the night. Her way of showing us love was quality time, and growing up, she was always an integral part of our lives.

“I hold very few memories of my childhood which are absent of my cousins. We were always at one another’s houses, a time much more innocent than today, when our parents would send us off in the morning to embark on the many adventures that day had waiting for us, not to return until lunch time or later. We would jump on our bicycles and head to the dirt hills to see which one of us would be the first to catch air or race to the nearest gas station to collect as much candy as our money would allow.

“Most of my mother’s side of the family helped start a small Lutheran church just a few minutes from our house. I had faith like the child I was. I didn’t question Jesus or His love. Bible story after bible story was memorized all the way from Adam to Jesus and the cross. Songs like ‘Father Abraham’ and ‘His Banner Over Me’ rang from deep within me.

“I distinctly remember I was convinced the three ways to heaven were baptism as a baby, belief in God, and repentance and that Lutherans were the only ones going to heaven.  My parents played on the church softball team, we were a part of vacation bible school; every potluck, Sunday school, Lutheran Retreats, Christmas plays (at school and church), lock-ins, fall festivals; you name it, we were involved.

“My mother’s faith was evident. You knew Jamie was a Christian even if you didn’t know Jamie. She had knowledge of the bible like no one else, and as a child, I remember her holding her own with any Mormon or Jehovah Witness that came to our door, talk about an apologist. What a warrior for Jesus she was, bold and brave. She would now say that looking back, it was religion and today it is relationship with Jesus, but just watching her love showed me Who He was.

“My father’s faith was quieter and more internal. He was involved just as heavily as we were, but I wonder now if he knew something the rest of us didn’t; as we busied ourselves with tasks for Jesus, he seemed to be remembering God’s greatest commandment, to love one another.”

I stretch, yawn, and realize Dr. Whitman has been listening to me without a word for the last 30 minutes. Though I know the session has ended, I offhandedly say, “This me was created. I wasn’t born this way.” I stand and walk out of the door.

Two-The One

It was my 14th birthday…

“Eve, tell Rhett it’s time to go,” my mom called from the top of the stairs, her words bounced off the walls on the way down.

I pulled myself up off of the couch, shut Looney Toons off, and shouted at my brother. After 10 seconds or so of no response, I opened his bedroom door to find him lying on his bed, eyes shut and headphones in. I wrinkled my nose at the smell of dirty socks and pre-teen boy. As I approached him and a crumpled mess of sheets and blankets, I could faintly hear Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit coming from his headphones. This was a band neither of our parents would approve of, but since Rhett and I had the same taste in music, we kept those kinds of things between us.

I pulled an earphone out of his ear, and his eyes popped open. “Dude, it’s time to go. Mom is probably already in the car.”

He looked up at me, smiled and belted out, “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous. Here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious!” then grabbed me by the arm, yanked me down, and gave me a noogie.

“Rhett! Exactly what I wanted right before church!” I yelled, smoothing my hair down.

“My bad, I thought that is what you wanted for your birthday.”

“Funny,” I said, then stood to walk out of the door.

“Eve, seriously, happy birthday.”

I turned back and smiled, “Thanks. Now let’s go.”

When we pulled into the parking lot, my mom turned to us, the fake leather under her made a noise that caused my younger brothers to giggle. “Ready for this?”

We were already a spectacle due to the fact that my parents helped found the church with my mom’s side of the family, but when the 8 of us walked in, heads always turned. Having 5 younger brothers that looked nothing like me didn’t help.

“Look at you! You look nothing like your brothers. My, where did that brown hair and those green eyes come from?”

Apparently, no one noticed I was a spitting image of my dad, and I am sure small-town rumors were flying.

I helped my mom get Garrett and Nolan out of their car seats, took Garret by the hand, steadied Nolan on my hip and walked toward the stained-glass doors, the rest of my brothers in tow.

Rhett pulled the door open with a grunt, sticking his tongue out at me as I passed.

“Rhett, please, we’re entering into the house of the Lord,” my father said with a grin.

“Sorry, Dad.” He pulled the door behind him once we were all in.

The narthex was filled with chatter. Toddlers with red Kool-Aid stained lips and half a cookie in their hand played with their friends while waiting on their parents to either leave or go into the sanctuary.

“Oh, Eve, happy birthday to you!” My Aunt Kim said as she wrapped me in a hug. The fur on the neck of her blouse was soft against my cheek and tickled my nose.

My parents both have large families, and my mom’s sister Kim is one of my favorites because she reminds me of my Nana. 

“Thanks, Aunt Kim.”

“I’ve got to go find those kids of mine, but you have a great day, honey.” As she turned to walk away, her perfume lingered in the air, taking me back to times when I would sit in my Nana’s lap, lean my head against her chest and listen to stories of when she was a young girl growing up in Colorado.

After an hour of the six of us either coloring or writing on our bulletins, Pastor Carson said the benediction, and we stood to leave.

Happy birthday wishes and hugs came at me from all sides as we made our way out of the sanctuary and narthex to exit the building.

“What did you guys learn in church today?” my mom asked, turning to us.

“Pastor Carson talks too long,” my dad said under his breath.

“Jesse!” my mom whispered, swatting his arm.

She looked back at us, waiting for an answer.

Rhett and I rolled our eyes at each other. Since we were packed in the back of the suburban like a can of sardines, we knew Mom wouldn’t catch it.

“We need to ask forgiveness for our sins,” Nathan responded.

“That’s right, even if you think it is just something little, you need to ask God for forgiveness,” she stated.

As she continued her lecture, I stared at the reds and oranges of the leaves, losing myself in the colors.

When we arrived home, my mom started making my birthday lunch-fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob.

After lunch, she brought out a homemade vanilla cake with vanilla icing that was clearly decorated by some of my youngest brothers.

Nathan stuck his pinky finger in it as soon as my mom set it on the table.

“Nathan! Please, darlin’, don’t stick your finger in the cake.”

He licked the icing off his finger, no remorse in his face.

As I blew out the candles and made my wish, I had no idea that this would be one of the last days of life as I knew it.