I don't know what to say. My husband Jon says I need to tell you how much you have meant to me, and I don't know how. I wrote an essay to my family for Christmas and I would like to share it with you. You have given me the strength to reach out to them. I should tell you I am the 7th of 8 children. We had a hard poor upbringing that seemed to separate us as adults. And when I told them I had cancer, it frightened them all a lot - to the point that they don't really talk to me anymore. But they are my family and I do love them still. You have given me that.
It's winter now in North Carolina. For those of you who have a real winter, you will have to excuse us Southerners. I sip hot tea and snuggle under my covers. Not so much that it's really so cold but because I am "recovering" from chemotherapy. The hot tea goes down easy and when I have dangerously low white blood cell count, it helps to keep me warm. But also, it makes me wistful of childhood when Dad would make hot tea by the pot full. Not in a teapot, there was no such thing in our house growing up. It was in a stockpot. The house was so cold that we would huddle around that pot and drink the tea, very sweet and warm.
There was no such thing as iced tea in our house growing up. Back then we weren't the southerners. We were the immigrants - The strangers. I think we all knew it in our own way. I didn't know other kids who had hot tea - it is not the southern way. But it made us, us. And now 30 years later, we are the southerners with our iced tea and our accents (you know who you are!).
The DYA - Department of Youth Activities. We used to get dropped off there for hours at a time to play. Probably mostly to get us out of the older kid's hair but I remember so strongly riding out there in the blue station wagon, in the very back. There was no air-conditioning, so there was wind constantly blowing. Rudy would drive Kathy and me there or take us along to pick someone else up. Rudy would take the car over bumps that made Kathy and me float up into the air and touch the roof of the car. We would giggle the way all little girls would; it was a big deal to touch the roof - when you touch the roof you were timeless, you were flying.
I have this image of a bottle of White Shoulders - a then expensive perfume that belonged to Annie. When she wasn't home, I would sneak into her room and up the bottle and take it out and spray a little on my arm. It still seems the finest perfume to me. Annie could take weekly allowances of 25 cents and gather it together just enough to take us on trips to the beach. We would pressure cook whole chicken on the bone and make chicken salad with egg sandwiches for the trip so she could worship the sun and we could play in the sand. She always knew exactly how much gas cost and how much it would take to get there. To me they weren't just excursions but adventures into the big wide world - no one else ever gave me that.
Jully always had this thing with doing gatherings. During Christmastime she would gather us all up and make us go caroling around the neighborhood. We always seemed so embarrassed to do it but we did it for many, many years. She always seemed to have this way of making you do the most embarrassing things and create the weirdest timeless traditions. Who do you think came up with the idea of getting in the Pecan tree on Thanksgiving to shake out the nuts? And what would Thanksgiving be without it? I was just thankful that we could pass the job onto our niece, Caleigh.
In Auguries of Innocence William Blake wrote,
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight.
Some are Born to sweet delight,
Some are Born to Endless Night.
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro' the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.
I was driving a car when I was fourteen. Suzy would let me take it out to pick up a free pizza from Pizza Hut occasionally. It was such a feeling of strength that has since never left me. Driving the car to get that pizza taught me that I could do anything that I wanted. Rules are really just guidelines. Life is mine to make of it - with a little free pizza.
Riding the bus in Junior High school was a real life experience - a tiny cosmos of life. You were supposed to know where to sit and who to steer clear of and even then there were times when you just couldn't avoid it. We had the real bus bully. He was crass, he was offensive and he routinely beat people up. And one day it was my girlfriend and my day. He started saying the most offensive things to my friend and in a moment of desperation I told him that if he did not stop that my brother John would beat him up. He scoffed, "Your brother was thrown off the bus." I was terrified because I had no idea whether John was there or not, whether he was thrown off or not and I hadn't really thought about it when I spoke. But just then very quietly John just stood up out of nowhere. The bully never bothered us again. Later the following summer, Dad and I were in a motorcycle accident and I remember someone telling me how John's car broke down on the way to the hospital and how he ran the last mile of the way there barefoot to get there.
I am the only big sister of one - Kathy. I have always wished that I was the teacher that I thought all my big sisters have been to me. Then I got cancer. Kathy came to visit me in the hospital during one of my first treatments. My hair was really falling out and I guess I did not say anything to her - it is truly one of the most unspoken humiliating side effects of the whole process. She was trying so hard to be my big sister, she offered to massage my head, to comfort me and I let her. And then I heard the gasp. A large clump of my hair came out in her hand and she was so shocked and I was so ashamed because I AM THE BIG SISTER and I could not offer her any protection from me. Kathy hid behind me and cried a little and then recovered herself valiantly. I guess these big sister things are really lines drawn in the sand.
I love this place. I love all of you.
This is home.
And I miss you. I wish you were here with me among the pine trees and the sunshine in our southern cold, drinking hot tea.