Fourth grade was more than crafts and Valentines. One of my favorite memories is hearing my reading teacher Mrs. Reed read about Brer Rabbit. Brer Rabbit was one of the characters in Uncle Remus’s tales written by Joel Chandler Harris near the end of the 19th century. Many stories about Brer Rabbit were brought to America by African slaves as African folklore, according to Encyclopedia.com.
The dialogue in these stories were written in old Southern African-American dialect, and Mrs. Reed had the uncanny ability to read it as if she were Uncle Remus himself. Here’s a sample from the Tar Baby story:
“Brer Rabbit come prancin’ ‘long twel he spy de Tar-Baby, en den he fotch up on his behime legs like he wuz ‘stonished. De Tar Baby, she sot dar, she did, en Brer Fox, he lay low. “`Mawnin’!’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee – `nice wedder dis mawnin’,’ sezee. “Tar-Baby ain’t sayin’ nuthin’, en Brer Fox he lay low.”(source).
Of course, back then, in 1968-69, there was no political correctness, wokeness, or discussion of racial bias. Racial segregation in schools had only just ended. The tales of Brer Rabbit were pure entertainment and no one protested otherwise.
I don’t advocate or disparage the stories; I just loved to hear otherwise proper and prim Mrs. Reed impersonating a fictional character in the dialect it was written in. Please forgive me if this offends you because it is certainly not my intent. It’s just a fond memory of an actual event in my young life.
It seems that people have asked me how I managed to stay married to the same person since we celebrated our 20th anniversary. That was 21 years ago. When I mentioned to my class of high school seniors that I had been married for over 30 years, one of them piped up: “To the same man?” Yep. It’s rare these days.
Sadly, my husband Jimmy passed away shortly after our 41st anniversary in January. How did we manage to stay together that long? Especially when Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases began to steal him away from me? I have some words of wisdom, I dare say. I think I’m qualified after staying married for 41 years. So here goes.
After you kiss and embrace at the wedding altar, keep embracing.
Embrace commitment. Marriage isn’t all dress-up, cake, dancing, gifts,and honeymoon. After your one day in the spotlight life settles down with jobs, bills, laundry, and morning breath. And sometimes babies.
2. Embrace your differences. What you once thought was a cute quirk now annoys the heck out of you. Get over it. Do you really believe that nothing you do could possibly annoy your partner? Choose your battles. Does it make sense to argue over whether the toilet lid stays up or down? Does it really matter in the whole scheme of things? Imagine life without that person. Can’t you live with socks on the floor?
3. Embrace their family. When you get married, you marry the whole package: parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, children. They are now your family as well. You might as well accept it and stop complaining about having to visit them, buy them gifts, etc. They will be the ones who stand by you during hardship or tragedy, and believe me, there will be hardship or tragedy.
4. Embrace teamwork. It’s not all about you and it’s not all about your spouse. I once heard someone say that a marriage is 50-50, but it’s not. It should be 100-100 with each partner giving their all to the other. That isn’t a welcome thought in today’s what’s-in-it-for-me mentality, but I promise that if you give you will receive. I’m not advocating that you put up with abuse because that is a different matter entirely, but if you are willing to go above and beyond for your spouse, it is likely that they will do the same for you. Marriage is hard work and it takes both people to manage it.
5. Embrace not being happy all the time. Your goal shouldn’t be to find someone that will make you happy. This isn’t a Hallmark movie and marriage isn’t a fairy tale. Marriage is spending your life with someone else, and life isn’t a fairy tale or movie. Living involves ups and downs, heartache and disappointment, wins and losses. Being in a marriage means you have someone to share all of life’s hardships as well as the happiness. And happiness, by the way, is something that comes from within yourself, not from someone else.
6. Embrace challenges. There will be many. Jobs will be lost, cars will break down, appliances will shell out, friends and relatives will die. Kids will stretch your patience and finances to the limit. Plumbing will rupture, bank accounts will deplete, the house will need repairs. It’s life. It will happen. It happens to everyone. Look around you. People survive these challenges and you will, too. Not only that, but it is the trials of life that will strengthen your marriage. Stick it out during rough patches. As you get older you will reap the benefits.
7. Embrace being a couple. But find time to be apart sometimes. It is true that absence can make the heart grow fonder. My husband always encouraged me to spend time with my friends, to attend professional events, and to go camping. And I always encouraged him to go hunting, motorcycle riding, or to concerts with his friends. Small and occasional breaks from your spouse are good. They keep you interested and interesting and hopefully anxious to get back home and share your adventures with them.
8. Embrace growth. There is a line we often hear in movies or TV shows that is supposed to explain why a character wants to end a marriage: “we have grown apart.” What a load of baloney. Yes, people do grow, but people can also share their individual growth so they can grow as a couple. My husband was a warehouse worker when I graduated from college and became a teacher. Some might say that I “outgrew” him intellectually or socially. I never entertained that thought and our marriage grew stronger as we shared our lives and built our home and family together.
If you can adopt these principles or habits, or whatever you want to call them, you may find yourself celebrating a milestone anniversary someday. Isn’t facing a long life together better than facing a life alone? Embrace that thought!
Remember when you last spoke to a loved one who passed on? Did you realize at the time that it would be the last time?
Life is full of last times. I’m sure there are others but the earliest one I remember is my high school graduation. As we hugged and said goodbye to our friends, we even said that it might be the last time we ever see each other, but at 18 does anyone really take that phrase seriously? So many of my classmates from the Class of 1977 have passed on, and most of them I never saw again after that last time, on graduation day in May of 1977.
What about when you’re raising children and you can hardly wait for them to be able to dress themselves, brush their own teeth, use the bathroom on their own? Suddenly they are doing those things and you don’t remember exactly when the last time was.
My granddaughter used to sit on the edge of my bed and look at the tiny charms on the rag lampshade on the nightstand. I never even took a picture. I used to take my grandson to a place called The Coop, which was a neat and safe indoor play area for little kids, and then I would take him to the play area in the nearby library. I used to rock my smallest granddaughter to sleep. All these things are in the past. I never realized the last time I did them that it was the last time.
The same goes for my husband. He worked as a night zookeeper and would call me in the evening during his lunch break. He would greet me by saying, “Hey, Nutty, whatcha doing?” When was the last time he affectionately called me Nutty? The Alzheimer’s took the affection away. Heck, it took everything away.
There are so many things we used to do together, or things that he used to say, which faded away as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s stole him from me. I wish I had known when they were the last times, but maybe that would have been just too sad.
Cherish your moments, the first times, the last times, and all the in-between times. You never know when they’ll never be again.
Already Spring is here. The lawn mowers have been brought out of storage and are humming throughout the neighborhood. Brown yards and fields are now green, red bud trees are blooming with their pink blossoms, and dogwood trees are poised for their white outburst. Eager gardeners already swarm the nurseries for tender plants they hope don’t succumb to a freeze before summer. I pull weeds, trim off dead stalks from old lantana and hydrangea bushes. Yes, I know it’s not the right time to trim hydrangea bushes, but mine become such monsters that I have to. Besides, I haven’t seen them bloom for several years. They have overstayed their welcome, I’m afraid.
So time marches on. It’s been two months since Jimmy passed away, and I’m doing okay, I think. I’ve kept myself busy with things like writing thank you notes, talking to friends and family, taking care of grandkids, and keeping house. I even went to Costa Rica for a week, courtesy of my son and his wife. The change of scenery, the beach, the ocean. . .all were balm to a battered soul.
Even after the memorial service, which turned out almost perfect in my opinion, I still feel in limbo. Unsettled. Unsure. Unprepared. I’m alone in this house, on this property. I alone am responsible for its upkeep, its repair. I am a widow. I make all the decisions now. I am a widow.
Spring speaks of new beginnings. So it does. Am I ready? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
Ready or not, here I come. No hide and seek here. I’m all in.
What about you? Is spring a new beginning for you?
I’m not going to blame January for my bleakness, but my present is bleak and it is January. Hubby passed away on the 16th, just after our 41st anniversary on the 12th and my birthday on the 6th. His suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is over, and his passing was peaceful, and for that I am thankful. I’m quite positive he is with the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven, and for that I rejoice.
However, all that doesn’t make the quietness of the house any louder, the days any busier, the nights any cozier. It’s just me and Stella the dog rattling around this old house now. I am grateful that it’s only 1600 square feet and not 6000.
I don’t have to figure out what to fix for supper and I don’t have to defer to his television choices. I don’t have to do his laundry and I don’t have to clean up his messes. I can vacuum the floors any time I want to without worrying about disturbing him. I can leave the house and not worry about getting home because he needs me. I can eat and sleep whenever I want. This is all because I am alone.
People ask me how I’m doing. I think I’m okay right now. I’ve always said I would be fine alone. I’m an independent person. Will I feel the same way next week? Next month? Next year?
Only God knows what happens next. He knew my fears about not being able to care for Jimmy or afford to pay for care, and that I wouldn’t have to worry about that very long. He knows what tomorrow and the next day and the next year will bring. I trust Him to bring it to pass. I choose not to worry about it. I’m really not alone. He is here with me.
What will I do? I will continue planning Jimmy’s memorial service. I will continue making phone calls to insurance companies, government agencies, and the rest. I will treasure the memories I have of our life together, and I will spend every minute I can with my children and grandchildren. I will thank God every day for blessing me with 41 years with a loyal, devoted, loving man, husband, and father. And I will miss him every minute of every day.