The Church of Bacon

I guess it was inevitable.  The dog is off the wagon again.

Her drug of choice? Bacon-flavored dog snacks.

Last summer, I stopped buying her favorite treat.  After all, it doesn’t take much for a squat,  old Beagle to gain weight, particularly one that is all nose and stomach.  I feared that the smell of bacon flavored strips in the house would drive her insane and removed the temptation. At the age of sixteen, I believe that she’s ready to go to the Great Beyond and if we let her out without her leash, she would do what a lot of old dogs do….find a spot under a tree and take an eternal nap. Dogs are smarter than humans, after all. They totally get how important having a good quality of life is. In fairness to humans, I suppose a lot of older people would do the same thing, given the opportunity.

But then, last week, the Male who lives here went grocery shopping and came home with more Beagle Crack and Maggie’s dietary downward spiral started all over again. Because, here’s the deal.  She doesn’t just like bacon flavored strips.   She ADORES bacon flavored strips in a way that borders on a canine religious experience.

And so, we keep the bag up high in the pantry and dole the gross, pink planks of fake bacon out sparingly.  Some afternoons, I find her alone in the kitchen, in solemn prayer, in front of the pantry door. She is  a hopeful soul.  Each evening,  when I start dinner, she waddles in and assumes the position, waiting, hoping that I will open the magic door, reach up to the top shelf, and present her with what her heart so desires. She tries to use telepathy by staring at me, too, her sad, beagle eyes imploring me to “open the door…..open the door…oh, please….open the door” as I move from the fridge to the sink on the other side of the kitchen.  She thumps her tail on the hard linoleum if I open the pantry to grab a can of something or other that has nothing to do with bacon.  Her ears perk up and she watches every move I’m making. If  I finish whatever I’m doing and close the door without reaching high for the bag of dog treats, her ears droop and the tail quits thumping and she sighs, loudly, so that I’m sure to understand just how disappointed in me she truly is.

This week we will all begin a bright new year.  There will be a lot of resolutions made on New Year’s Eve that will more than likely be broken by President’s Day.  The only one I’m making this year is to take that bag of bacon flavored strips down from the shelf more often in order to give an old dog a little joy in whatever time remains for her.

After all,  I can think of a lot of worse ways to go than death by bacon.

Particularly for a beagle such as ours.

Happy New Year!

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A Wonderful Life

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

(Clarence, the Angel, from “It’s a Wonderful Life”)

The tree is up.  The cookies are baked and decorated. The presents are wrapped. Plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners are set.  And my kids are home for what may very well be one of our last Christmases together as the family of four that we’ve been to each other for the past twenty years.  This is because they are grown ups, now, not children.  If my daughter’s plans work out, she could very well be celebrating Christmas in a country far from home by this time next year.  And even if this doesn’t happen, I know that our days are numbered because I made the mistake of raising two young people that other people think are pretty awesome and I’m afraid that at some point, they are both going to fall in love with people who recognize this fact. Then they will have to CHOOSE where to spend each holiday.  Because, let’s face it. That’s what happens.  And then, when that happens, there will be holes in my holidays where my children used to be.  If we’re lucky, and we behave ourselves ( and they fall in love with someone who is from some place not too far away) we will still have them home for some holidays, I know.  But then, they’ll bring along those people they fell in love with and so it will be nice, but different, for a few years.  And then, if we’re really, REALLY lucky, there will be grandchildren, eventually, to spoil, like we did their parents.

It is all too much, this thinking about the holes that are left when people leave us, move on to other things, other places, other people.

I try to explain this to my kids, the anticipatory grief I feel for a future that none of us can predict, and they look at me and sigh. This is proof that I may be as addled as they think I am since, of course, they understand what it means to experience loss, having had their own life scripts rewritten at birth.  Even so, they humor me and tell me it will be okay. They pat me on the shoulder and promise that they’ll still come home to visit their gloomy, neurotic soul of a mother.

And so, I’m trying to remember to live this holiday, this day, each moment, more fully.  I’m trying hard to be content with the knowledge that this is just how things are supposed to work if you do it right.  First, the empty spaces…and then, the new faces around the tables of our lives.

 (For Jean, whose life touched mine in a million different ways both large and small.  In love and gratitude, T.)

The Sandpaper Man

Sandpaper Man has returned.

I found him living in a cardboard box filled with old family photos.  He has been AWOL from the Christmas tree for over a decade.

My son made the gingerbread man-shaped ornament when he was in elementary school.  He is adorned with lines and globs of red and white puff paint, a piece of red yard strung through the hole in his head, and my son’s name scrawled on his backside in red crayon.   Sandpaper Man’s younger brother (made by my daughter the year she had the same second grade teacher) has been unpacked, hung, and packed back up every year since she brought him home to meet the family. After all this time, it’s nice to have the older one back where he belongs.  He’s hanging out on a branch right next to his brother. They look glad to see each other.

Christmas is coming. I am behind on almost everything this year even though I do about half the baking and shopping that I did when the kids were younger.  In the mad, glittery rush of the season and with a kitchen counter top full of flour and cookie dough, I am trying to keep perspective and appreciate more fully the small miracles hidden in plain sight all around me.  I’m trying to remember what matters.

Things like Faith and Family.  Traditions.  And a little brown Sandpaper Man painted carefully by the hands of a little brown boy so very long ago.

Merry Christmas.

Things seen and unseen….

Wally World.

If I ever lose it completely in a public setting, it will be in a Superstore.    The motion sensing lights that appear as you pass the frozen peas, the carts abandoned in the middle of every aisle and the leaning towers of toilet paper and apple juice jugs  make me itchy and mean, particularly during the holiday season.

By contrast, being in the company of children usually makes me less mean.  I think children are superior to adults in nearly every way. They are more interesting, for one thing. And cuter. And funnier. Except when they are in large superstores before dinnertime. Then, not so much.

Now, don’t get me wrong or think I’m being all judge-y.  I’m not. I raised two of these complicated little buggers myself, and remember the years when taking them anywhere in public when they were hungry or tired could turn into a scene from a disaster movie real fast.  But I was a quick study and while I didn’t know much as a young mom, it didn’t take more than one or two of these episodes to learn that what my little ones didn’t need one bit was to be taken to a Superstore at dinnertime, buckled into a shopping cart with their snowsuits zipped up to their necks, and wheeled through aisles of toys I wasn’t planning to buy.

These days, whenever I am in a store and I hear a small child teetering on the edge of reason in the toy aisle, I get irritated not with the child, but with the red-faced adult pushing the cart.  I  have to resist the urge to walk up to complete strangers, smack them and say, “what were you THINKING???? I mean, really. You had to do this today? Now? Take that poor child home and feed him supper!!” At times like this, I am my smallest, meanest, itchiest self because losing faith in humanity never feels very good, especially with Christmas carols playing in the background.

But today, in this season of silent nights and babies in mangers,  as I stood  listening to a really bad rendition of The Little Drummer Boy over the loudspeakers and the live, back-up chorus of miserable, hot, strung out toddlers in shopping carts,  I noticed a little boy and his young mom in front of me in the check out line. He was clutching a blue toy truck entombed in a plastic case,  and he was beaming.  Little rays of happiness were shooting out of his eyes. He was vibrating and joyful. When I looked at him, I swear I heard angels singing.

The clerk  finished  scanning everything else in his mom’s cart, and then stood there waiting to scan his treasure.  It was clear that he didn’t understand why he was being asked to give up his toy. He clutched it a little tighter and started backing away from the lady in the blue vest who was asking him to hand it over. For a second, his lower lip started to tremble.  I held my breath, waiting for the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then, the cashier did the most amazing thing. She stopped what she was doing and came from behind the counter. Then, she knelt in front of him and explained that she just needed to take it for a minute. The Little Superstore Dude looked unconvinced. She promised he could have it right back.

Then, I saw it. Faith. In a stranger. Right there, on the face of a four-year old with a plastic pod full of wonderfulness. He looked at the truck. He looked up at the cashier. And then, he handed it over.  There were no tears. There was no tantrum. He stood there watching, waiting for her to make good on her promise.

“Beep” said the scanner. “Here you go!” said the lady in the blue vest, as she handed the toy back to the small boy filled with faith.  He looked at the lady in the blue vest who had kept this most wonderful promise and smiled.  And then he thanked her.

The cashier smiled.  Mom smiled.  I smiled.

Faith. In what is seen, and unseen.

A little faith in humanity goes a long way, doesn’t it? Particularly at this time of year. Sometimes, if we are paying attention, we find it in the strangest places.

Things seen and unseen….

Wally World.

If I ever lose it completely in a public setting, it will be in a Superstore.    The motion sensing lights that appear as you pass the frozen peas, the carts abandoned in the middle of every aisle and the leaning towers of toilet paper and apple juice jugs  make me itchy and mean, particularly during the holiday season.

By contrast, being in the company of children usually makes me less mean.  I think children are superior to adults in nearly every way. They are more interesting, for one thing. And cuter. And funnier. Except when they are in large superstores before dinnertime. Then, not so much.

Now, don’t get me wrong or think I’m being all judge-y.  I’m not. I raised two of these complicated little buggers myself, and remember the years when taking them anywhere in public when they were hungry or tired could turn into a scene from a disaster movie real fast.  But I was a quick study and while I didn’t know much as a young mom, it didn’t take more than one or two of these episodes to learn that what my little ones didn’t need one bit was to be taken to a Superstore at dinnertime, buckled into a shopping cart with their snowsuits zipped up to their necks, and wheeled through aisles of toys I wasn’t planning to buy.

These days, whenever I am in a store and I hear a small child teetering on the edge of reason in the toy aisle, I get irritated not with the child, but with the red-faced adult pushing the cart.  I  have to resist the urge to walk up to complete strangers, smack them and say, “what were you THINKING???? I mean, really. You had to do this today? Now? Take that poor child home and feed him supper!!” At times like this, I am my smallest, meanest, itchiest self because losing faith in humanity never feels very good, especially with Christmas carols playing in the background.

But today, in this season of silent nights and babies in mangers,  as I stood  listening to a really bad rendition of The Little Drummer Boy over the loudspeakers and the live, back-up chorus of miserable, hot, strung out toddlers in shopping carts,  I noticed a little boy and his young mom in front of me in the check out line. He was clutching a blue toy truck entombed in a plastic case,  and he was beaming.  Little rays of happiness were shooting out of his eyes. He was vibrating and joyful. When I looked at him, I swear I heard angels singing.

The clerk  finished  scanning everything else in his mom’s cart, and then stood there waiting to scan his treasure.  It was clear that he didn’t understand why he was being asked to give up his toy. He clutched it a little tighter and started backing away from the lady in the blue vest who was asking him to hand it over. For a second, his lower lip started to tremble.  I held my breath, waiting for the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then, the cashier did the most amazing thing. She stopped what she was doing and came from behind the counter. Then, she knelt down in front of him and explained that she just needed to take it for a minute. The Little Superstore Dude looked unconvinced. She promised he could have it right back.

Then, I saw it. Faith. In a stranger. Right there, on the face of a four year old with a plastic pod full of wonderfulness. He looked at the truck. He looked up at the cashier. And then, he handed it over.  There were no tears. There was no tantrum. He stood there watching, waiting for her to make good on her promise.

“Beep” said the scanner. “Here you go!” said the lady in the blue vest, as she handed the toy back to the small boy filled with faith.  He looked at the lady in the blue vest who had kept this most wonderful promise and smiled.  And then he thanked her.

The cashier smiled.  Mom smiled.  I smiled.

Faith. In what is seen, and unseen.

A little faith in humanity goes a long way, doesn’t it? Particularly at this time of year. Sometimes, if we are paying attention, we find it in the strangest places.

Players

I watched the last two minutes of the Alabama/Auburn game last weekend. Maybe you’ve seen the replays of the missed field goal attempt in the last second of play by Alabama that resulted in the ball being caught in the end zone and carried all the way back for a touchdown by Auburn.

For the most part, unless the Golden Gophers are playing (and actually winning) I’m not much of a football fan. Furthermore, if my son and nephew hadn’t been caught up in the excitement taking place on the television last weekend, I wouldn’t know anything about any of this. In fact, if you’d asked me before last Saturday where Auburn University is located, I would have told you Georgia.

This is ironic, considering that I spent the better part of my career as an educator pounding grammar and punctuation into the heads of football players who could recite every team and player statistic without even breaking a sweat.

The students I taught back then are real live adults now, not college freshmen. Many of them keep me up to date on their college graduations, marriages, job promotions, and sometimes even the games they’ve won if the planets aligned perfectly for them and they still play the game they love.  Once in a while, late at night when I’m on the computer, a message will pop up from one of them just checking in just to say hello.

When I first knew them, I found that they shared many things in common besides their passion for the sport of football. For the majority of them, the absence of a father was one.  They were men raised by women.  Strong, loving, determined, Godly mothers, or aunties or often, grandmothers  who toiled and sweat and tried really hard to fill the gap for their sons and nephews and grandsons.

I think about those women a lot when I see the pictures my former students post of their own children.  Photos of newborns in the delivery room…and birthday pictures of toddlers covered in icing.  Family pictures and first day of school pictures and Christmas morning pictures of those young men with children they’ve not only fathered, but have stuck around to raise.

I know when I see these pictures that they know that there’s a big difference between a Baby Daddy and a Father. A huge difference.

These are young men who are in the game of their lives.  It’s called being a father. It’s no game of inches.  These are the guys who show up, suit up, and stay.  They not only pay for diapers;  they are man enough to change ’em, too.  They aren’t just passive spectators in the lives of their children.  They are the best kind of father.  The type every child deserves.  The kind that is there not just on birthdays, but every day.  The kind of father my father was…the kind my husband is…the kind I hope my son and nephew will be someday.

I never watched a single one of those football players play a game like the one I saw last Saturday, in a huge stadium. I never saw our community college hillside with its handful of spectators cleared and celebrating a one second victory on the field. No announcer ever predicted that any one of them would be named Player of the Year.

That’s okay.  I couldn’t be prouder of them than I already am.

Football is a game. College football is sometimes other things, too.  It can be a tool, a ticket, or a life ring thrown in the direction of a young man with very little direction or support who just might be looking to get an education, too.   Sometimes, the smartest ones grab that life ring and hang on. This changes everything.

I know this. I’ve seen it happen. These guys are proof.

And if there was a Heisman for fatherhood instead of football, I’d have a long list of young men I’d sure like to nominate this year.