In Memoriam: For Lillian On Her Birthday (July 9, 1925 – December 31, 2016)

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Prayer card from Lillian’s memorial service

This year I had planned to be in Savannah, Georgia at Bonaventure Cemetery spending today with you and Grandpa, preferably with my parents or one of my siblings.

You convinced me to keep writing when I wanted to give up.

You told me I could succeed.

You would have been 95 today. We celebrated our birthdays together: yours today and mine tomorrow.

At the time I thought it was weird that I didn’t have normal birthday parties. Instead, we had a big family dinner together on July 9th and then we’d do something together on July 10th. Sometimes whatever we did involved whatever children my family could scrounge together.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized this was a birthday party, just not the kind of birthday party most American kids have.

What I hadn’t realized was that every year you celebrated me being your birthday gift.

I was your surprise baby. Your impossible baby.


Impossible Baby

The story goes Mama was sick
Mama didn’t know I wasn’t the flu
A five month flu
Impossible flu

Two kids to chase
Two kids to follow

Too Sick, Too Tired
Mama didn’t know I wasn’t the flu

Doctor came in the room
Test Results Read
“Impossible”
She said

Ultrasound
Boy’s Name
Father and Grandfather
Dreams Come True
Finally
The fourth with their name

Grandmother’s Birthday
Too Early
Don’t Be Born
Baby — But
Mama can’t stop me
Born Just After Midnight
July Tenth
Belated Birthday Gift

But
That’s Not A Boy

No One Agrees:
Laraleigh – Laura
No,
Lo


Being born premature in 1989, my mother did not want to take baby pictures of me in an incubator where she could not hold me. She did not want to have pictures reminding her of what I looked like hooked up to a heart monitor and a ventilator with various IV bags flowing into me. She did not want to remember the hours and hours where she wandered around a hospital screaming because the nurses lost track of where they put me and forgot to tell her anything about my condition.

Seriously, you kids born premature after 1990 had way higher survival rates. One of the reasons my mom didn’t take baby pictures was because she was advised not to in case I didn’t live. That’s the sort of stuff women were told would be psychologically better for them in the 1980s. I swear my mother is one of the strongest women on this planet.

Because of this, I didn’t see a baby picture of me until I was 30 years old – this past February/March while visiting my parents. In the picture, I am almost 6 months old and my grandparents are holding me after my christening service at St. Matthews Church.

Christening

I didn’t see the photograph
Until age 30
Grandmother and Grandfather hold me
[The red brick of St. Matthew’s Church]
Smiling-
Laughing so hard
Their faces blur

The only baby picture

Mama didn’t want to remember:
Wires, tubes, monitors, screens

I don’t remember them either.


In my early twenties, I asked my grandmother for a picture of her and my grandfather for my birthday. I’m terrible at asking for anything, especially if it is something the logical part of my brain has deemed superfluous. What I didn’t expect was this.

It’s a picture of my grandmother and grandfather at Armstrong College in Savannah, Georgia. At the time, my grandfather, having just returned from World War II, was finishing up a Bachelors of Science in Meteorology. My grandmother taught chemistry. They fell in love with teaching, scientific progress, and each other.

They were the types of people that had trouble sitting still.

My grandmother was academically fascinated by her heritage. She honored her connection to the Douglas clan, but I would not call her proud. Often, she focused more on the deep connection it provided her to faith. Her expressions of spirituality changed so much even over the 27 and half years I knew her that it’s hard to say what she believed. What I can say is that she believed in showing endless love, patience, and understanding. We selected her favorite prayers and passages to include on the prayer cards.

Prayer cards from the memorial service for Lillian

What I want every person reading this to know is that though I have only spoken of a few moments, 91.5 years is a long time on this planet. Lillian danced through those years with a love of music, chemistry, objectivity, compassion, education, and love.

The last two gifts she gave me were her engagement ring and her last words.

My grandmother wanted to experience everything there was to experience on this planet. She liked to say, “Heaven Is Here On Earth.” She did not live an easy life – in fact, quite the opposite. Her life was by far full of emotional hardship.


The Last Memory

Restless loblolly pines
We sit
Dry docked green aluminum jon boat
He laughs with goofy faces
Old spice arms envelope me
Binocular eyes

“That’s the Hale Bopp Comet”
His voice is shimmering moonlight on bay water
His presence is my father’s smile

He still wears that 1970s brown and tan puffer jacket
A flare orange dog whistle on a braided leather cord
I taste fried fish tails
Bay water drains off the hull

My fathers hold me together
The child meant to be the fourth with their names
For that moment I belong

Together they point to stardust
Teach me constellations
How to find my way home
If I am ever lost at sea


My grandfather died in 1997 in the doctor’s office while getting dressed after a physical. He wasn’t feeling well and in between classes he managed to get seen. He didn’t make it to his afternoon lecture. In October, he would have been 100 years old.

She never remarried, but she was not broken. She mourned the loss of her best friend and celebrated his memory every chance she got. My grandfather loved fill-in-the-blank style Hallmark cards and writing her love poems. What I didn’t realize until I was a teenager was that she kept all of them and read his words every time she missed him.

Now, I find myself doing the same thing, even with her final words. My birthday buddy can never be replaced. I will celebrate her 150th birthday in 2075 just as I celebrate her 95th.

Terminal Lucidity

They said she’d never play piano again
Hematoma
Right side
CAT scan looks bad

We came to visit at the wrong moment
Right moment
The nurses couldn’t find the cell phone number
They wouldn’t let us in the room

We’d spoken to her that morning
We said we’d see her soon

You were out on the boat
Knee high in male bonding
Falling in love the only way
Our family knows how

We finally got you on the phone
But you never hung up

At 91 and a half
You and I argued
You insisted she was clear

We moved her to hospice
We prayed she’d tell us that we were wrong

Later that night
I sat alone with my other mother
She squeezed my hand
“I’m not ready”

She never spoke again.


As I conclude this memorial, I thank you for taking the time to be here with me. I recognize that it is not easy to be with someone in mourning. I recognize that it is increasingly unusual in America for people to grow up in a multi-generational child rearing situations where they and their siblings form these close bonds. Because of this, real family, the family that sticks by you and unconditionally loves you, will be my first priority in life for as long as I live. That’s what we were taught by our grandparents and our parents. I hope that this is a legacy my siblings and I can carry on.

With that, I close this with love to all members of my family.

“A good name is to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold” – Family Motto / Proverbs 22:1

To: Route 17 – A Poem

I wish you could know him
He’s everything you wanted

He dances with no music
And laughs at my jokes

And I would bring him home
Beneath the big Live Oak

There’s something so sick
About how I finally fit in

How you think you won
How you saved me from sin

“That’s not how this works”
I wish I could scream

But that’s not Southern charm
That’s not peaches and cream

So instead I battle with myself to be pristine
Debating what it means to be seen

Is it possible the land of my birth could change?
Can I assume anything stayed the same?

Imagining sandbars shimmering; seagull echoes
Restless feet in water with curious skates nibbling toes

I hunger for home and slowly die of starvation
But the wound is deeper than my severe deprivation

Yet, how grateful I am to have chosen family
Voices of the Richmond vortex’s gravity

Perhaps one day I will return
With so many stories we have yet to learn

Publication Announcement: Waking Up – Part 5

Deidre faces her mother in Waking Up – Part 5.

To read parts 1-4, visit my author page here.

**Content Warning:** This story contains depictions of and allusions to the abuse of vulnerable populations, such as those with disabilities, LGBTQA+, and children of abusive parents, and may contain content that some may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.

Remember where your happy place is!

Short Story: The Trout Princess

This is actually the Salmon River in Idaho, but I like showing off the beautiful parts of the PNW

The young woman waded out into the icy snow melt of the Blackfoot River and prepared her cast. Just like a metronome. Just like her father showed her. The fly soared through the air and danced with the surface currents. A trout jumped, then snapped.

“Reel it in, Honey!” Her father hooted from the shore, with hands cupped over his mouth; a beer between his knees.

Her smile widened to mirror this prize trout as it drew closer in the water. “Toss me the net!”

Her father threw the net while leaning into the bag next to the cooler to grab their camera. “You know the rule! You need a picture with your first fish.”

The net snared the writhing tail as she unhooked the big trout, retrieving her fly. Her father beamed as she waded over to the shore, her thick rubber slickers folding against the water and her bending legs.

“Ready for some pictures?” Her father held up the camera. She grinned, forgetting what it meant to be a teenager caught having fun with your parents.

She picked the fish up, staring at its gills – drowning in the air; red on the inside. Just like her. She smirked. “How about I kiss it?”

“Your mother will love that! Go ahead!” Her father laughed and readied the camera. “Ready?”

She held the fish up and puckered her lips dramatically. “Set!” She attempted to shout through her shmooshed face.

“Go!” Her father returned and took the picture. But the picture her father reviewed was of his mortified daughter kissing a very naked young man with a bleeding cheek.

“What the hell?!” She screamed as the young man fell to the ground, coughing the remains of the Blackfoot River out.

“Get away from my daughter!” Her father shouted, but he didn’t need that instruction. Sooner than he’d said it, the young man was gone. Stepping over to his daughter, he clapped a hand on her shoulder. “Sorry about your fish.”

His daughter shrugged. “It’s okay, Dad. There’re a lot of fish in this creek.”


I hope you enjoyed this short silly story dedicated to my dad for father’s day and our many father-daughter fishing trips. This is the product of a writing group I recently joined and have found is improving my creativity and writing skills drastically. The prompt was: rewrite a fairy tale based where you currently live. I am so grateful for Leslie, Susana, Miguelina, Glorya, and Emmie (I am terrified that I spelled someone’s name wrong, so I may come back and correct name spellings if I did). Being surrounded by powerful women is bringing out the best in me.