My Not-So-Typical Christmas Tradition

Christmas.  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.  I love the beautiful decorations, the food, the parties, the food, the excitement of opening presents, and of course, more food.

Growing up, December was always a special time for me.  We would decorate our tree on my father’s birthday, December 9, (and many years later would celebrate my son’s birth on that same day!), and then we would celebrate my mother’s Christmas Day birthday.  My grandfather used to tell us the story of how Santa Claus brought my mother down the chimney to him, which, as a child, made me extremely jealous.

Christmas was full of love and happiness.  I was blessed!

Then, the unthinkable happened to my fantasy Christmas:  I got divorced.  Not just some easy-peasy, that-was-mine-this-is-yours divorce, but the “I kind of wish he’d get hit by a bus” divorce.

In an instant, my holidays were totally disrupted.  Suddenly, I only had my son with me for the first half of Christmas vacation, after which he would go to his father’s house at noon on Christmas Day.  Then he would return home after New Year’s Day.  It was agonizing.

One day, while visiting my eighty-something-year-old grandmother, she asked why I hated my ex so much.  I explained all of the reasons, and she listened quietly before saying, “What does it matter?  You’re divorced, but you have a child that loves you both and needs you to get along, especially now that the holidays are close.”

So, I went back home feeling like a first grader who just got scolded, and spoke with my ex.  After deciding to meet at the library (so we couldn’t yell at each other), we had a much-needed, long discussion.  For the first time since our divorce, we both agreed that we needed to put aside our differences and be parents to our son.  Civility wasn’t always easy, but we did it.

By then, he had married a very sweet lady and had a precious daughter, and one day, my son made a comment of how hard it was having to split his time between his parents on Christmas.  He wanted to spend time with us all, but having a big Christmas lunch at my house, followed by a big Christmas dinner at his dad’s house was just too much for him.

So, after great thought, and a few glasses of chardonnay, I reluctantly invited them over for Christmas lunch one year.

I know, I know….I can just hear many of you now saying, “I could never do that!”  But, let me tell you, when you know you’re doing something for your child, you can literally do ANYTHING.  It wasn’t easy, and there were times during dinner that I was tempted to stab my ex with a fork…but I digress.

It worked.

And just like that, we began a new Christmas tradition.  Each year, we would all have Christmas lunch together:  my son and his sister, my ex and his wife, my parents and grandmother.  When I remarried many years later, my sweet and understanding husband accepted our arrangement like it was no big deal. He saw that it was a good thing and welcomed my ex and his family into our house like they were old friends.

A few years have passed since we shared our last Christmas together.  Our son is nearly 23-years-old, and is venturing out as a young man, with a wonderful girlfriend who I hope will become part of our family one day.  My father passed away last year, and my mother moved to live with my 97-year-old grandmother.

Christmases are different, but I will be forever grateful for those wise words encouraging us to set aside our anger, forgive past mistakes, and put our child first.

After all, isn’t that what the holidays are really about?

 

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The Lunch Date

I’ve been trying my hand at writing short stories…Here’s my latest. The challenge was to write a short story on this prompt: When a man takes lunch to his wife’s office, he’s told that she hasn’t worked there in weeks.

THE LUNCH DATE

The smell of garlic wafted behind him as Roger stepped into the elevator. He pressed the button for Karen’s floor and stepped back and waited. He impatiently switched the bag of food to his other hand.

His heart was beating heavy in his chest like the bell sound the elevator made as it passed floors. He was both nervous and excited. He loved bringing lunch to Karen because it always seemed to give her such joy. Her co-workers were playfully jealous, and often praised him for what a great guy he was. They used words such as “devoted,” “loving,” and “thoughtful” when describing him, and it was good for his ego. He smiled as he stepped into the lobby and waved at the receptionist, who was on the phone and was too engaged in conversation for him to stop and say hello.

“Hi Cynthia,” he said to the tall, leggy blonde who passed him in the hallway. “Just came to bring Karen some lunch. I hope it’s still hot. Traffic was horrible on the way over.”

Cynthia, tilted her head slightly to the side and frowned at him.

“You’re bringing lunch to Karen?,” she asked curiously.

“Yeah. She said she’s been having a hard time at the office this week so I thought I’d surprise her. Maybe it will cheer her up a bit.”

The puzzled look on her face was fascinating to him. She looked up and down the hallway as if she were looking for Karen.

“Um, Roger,” she said slowly, “I don’t know how to say this… but Karen hasn’t been at work all week.”

“What do you mean she hasn’t been here all week? That’s ridiculous.”

He didn’t wait for her to answer. Instead, he brushed past Cynthia and barreled towards Karen’s office. The metal mini-blinds clanked loudly against the window as he forcefully opened the door. Even though the light was off, he frantically looked around her small office, as if she would simply appear out of nowhere. The small yellow light on her computer screen indicated that it was in sleep mode, and her chair was pushed in tightly up against her desk.

Karen was nowhere to be found.

He said nothing as he turned around to look at Cynthia, who had followed him into the office.

“Roger, Karen sent me an email last week saying that she had a family emergency in Charlotte and needed to take some time off. “

“Charlotte?,” he exclaimed, his voice grew higher as the panic set in. “She’s not in Charlotte! I saw her at breakfast this morning!”

He put the bag of food on the desk and reached into his coat pocket to retrieve his phone. Shaking, he clumsily tapped the screen on his iPhone and dialed her cell number.

Cynthia continued to stare at him as they waited for Karen to pick up.

“She’s not answering,” he said as he shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“Maybe she went to visit a friend,” Cynthia offered, trying to extend a glimmer of hope. I knew she was going to get caught, she thought to herself. I tried telling her that cheating on Roger would come back to haunt her. I don’t care how good the sex is.

Roger paced back and forth, calling Karen’s number over and over. Still no answer.

“Why isn’t she answering? She always answers when I call.”

He tapped his fingers into words on the tiny keyboard.

Where are you???

Cynthia stood silent as Roger tried to rationalize Karen’s absence. He scratched his head.

“You know what? I’m going back to the house. Maybe she came home sick or something,” he said hopefully.

“Yeah. Maybe so. Let me know.”

Roger’s torment was apparent as he forced a small, worried smile at Cynthia as the elevator doors closed.

But as soon as the elevator started to move, that worry turned into a sinister chuckle.

He knew exactly where Karen was.

In fact, he knew where she’d been all week.

She was bound with her lover in an eternal embrace, rotting at the murky bottom of Lake Lanier.

My Gynecologist Appointment With Doogie Howser

I went to the gynecologist recently for my yearly checkup. I’m usually a procrastinator in general, but making this appointment is rarely high on my list of priorities. I know that going to the gynecologist is for preventative maintenance, just like making sure you change the oil in your car every 3,000 miles but don’t most people try to make it to 5,000 miles before changing the oil?

Everyone knows it needs to be done, but nobody I know ever wakes up and goes “Yayyyyy! It’s gynecologist appointment day!”

I get to the doctor’s office and sign in, then head over to the waiting room that is currently hosting several pregnant women and now me. I feel like the new kid in school that everyone stares at because she’s different.

After 40 minutes or so (who’s counting?) the nurse calls me back.

We go through the typical steps. She checks my blood pressure. Normal. Pulse? Normal. Then I get on the scales. I drop my purse, jacket, and take off my shoes. I even remove my Pandora bracelet in fear that it will add another few ounces. I let out all the air in my lungs and lightly step on the scales, like it will take a pound or two off the final result.

“Oh, you’ve gained a few pounds since you were here last year.”

Seriously? Does she not realize that I don’t know my pants are tighter this year than last? Do I need the nurse at my gynecologist’s office bringing that to my attention? This appointment is getting off to a bad start.

I’m already in a bad mood lady just because I have to be here. Don’t push it.

I am led into a little room with all kinds of posters on the walls with pictures of vaginas, birth control, babies in the womb, etc. Wow. This is not helping.

The nurse lays out a gown and sheet and I’m told I’m supposed to strip down to my birthday suit and put on the gown.

After a while, my doctor and his nurse come into the room. He’s new to the practice so I have never met him before. He looks like he just graduated from middle school. And he’s so cheerful that it makes me want to slap him. I’m thinking, “Please don’t be this happy while you are looking up my vajayjay because it will make this experience even more uncomfortable.”

He asks me tons of questions.

How many children have I had? Am I married? What do I do for a living?

Sounds like I’m being picked up at a bar. I squeeze my eyes shut. Please stop the small talk and get this show on the road.

He checks my tiny boobies out to make sure there aren’t any lumps in there. My chest is flatter than the table I’m lying on, and all the while he asks me if I have dogs, isn’t the weather nice today, and whether or not I watch football.

What?

I lay back and he does the “other” part of the exam. My knees are like magnets. They instinctively keep closing back together. It is clear that I am not enjoying this experience.

Then he does an ultrasound to see what my baby makers look like. They are 47 years old so they are probably starting to look like shriveled up raisins, but he says that everything looks good.

“Just please don’t see a heartbeat in there”, I say.

“Oh, nothing to worry about. You’re getting up there in age so unless you are trying to get pregnant, you probably won’t.”

W.T.H???

The humiliating part of the exam is over. I can only compare a gynecologist exam to prostate exam. In theory of course, since I don’t have a prostate. You just had someone poking around in your no-no spots and he hasn’t even bought you dinner.

I sit up on the exam table and he asks me more questions.

“How old are you?’

“Just turned 47.”

“Ahh. Are you experiencing hot flashes? Weight gain? Mood swings?”

“Yes. Oh my God, am I dying? What do I have?”

“Oh it’s nothing. You’re probably just experiencing early menopause.”

Early menopause? Seriously? I’m 47! Not 107! Didn’t my grandmother just go through menopause? She’s 96. I’m too young to be going through menopause. Here I was worried he was going to tell me I’m pregnant, and instead he tells me my girly parts are antiquated.

I sit there, stunned, as he goes over other symptoms. These are just some of the fun features of menopause: Hair loss, loss of libido, brittle nails, anxiety, paranoia.

“Oh great”, I think. I’m going to turn into a bitchy, bald, edgy, sweaty, freaked out sex-hater. Sounds like my husband is just going to LOVE the new me.

He asks if I have any more questions. I mumble “no” as I’m still trying to process the fact that he not only insinuated that I’m getting old, but he also just had his hand up my hoo-ha. I sort of feel used.
I could use some chocolate.

And as I’m leaving, Doogie Howser hands me a slip of paper, smiles at me and tells me to have a nice day.

I leave the office and go sit in my car. I look down at the piece of paper.

That little bastard. It’s a prescription for my annual mammogram.

Home Really Is Where Your Mom Is

For all of the moms out there who are sending their kids to college…

Home Is Where Your Mom Is

Featured on BlogHer.com

Is this really happening?

I found myself standing in my son’s room today. Not in a creepy watching-him-as-he’s-sleeping kind of way. Just standing there, looking around at all of his posters tacked to the walls. I see the “Captain” stripes on his letter jacket gently strewn across the chair. Prom pictures of him and his girlfriend are stapled to the wall by his bed.

But something is different: He is leaving for college.

His Pink Floyd, Dave Matthews & Beatles posters are rolled up neatly with a rubber band keeping them safe. His guitar stand is sitting by the door and his guitar is nestled comfortably in it’s hard case. Two big brown boxes sit by the door filled with his lava lamp, some clothes, his x-box, favorite pillows and his Mac. There are no dirty boxer shorts or t-shirts tossed on the floor. There aren’t any empty Dr. Pepper…

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My Fatherless Father’s Day

This Father’s Day is going to be different for me. It’s the first time in 46 years that I haven’t had a Daddy here to celebrate.

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Daddy, me and my sister. Summer 1974

My father passed away after a three year battle with cancer, on January 27, 2015, but it feels like only yesterday that he was still here. How is it possible that five months have passed when I think of him every day?

The reality of his passing hits in the most unexpected places. Just heating up the grill automatically brings me back to my dad. We always grilled out for Father’s Day, because his favorite food in the world was a “nice, juicy hamburger, hot off the grill.” I think of him the moment I smell the smoky scent of charcoal in the air and hear the sizzle of the burgers as they’re cooking. (And I’ll always think of him as I load my plate with more French fries than I should.)

I think of him whenever I get a funny or a political e-mail, and then my first thought is always, “Daddy will get such a kick out of this.” Then I’m crushed when I realize that he’s not here to get my messages any more.

I want to call him whenever I have good news, and I always have to think twice about calling him to let him know I got home safely. But I guess my guardian angel already knows that I’m safe.

I thought of him last month as my son graduated from the Fire Academy, and as my nephew graduated from high school. “Papa” was always encouraging them to do their best and to “Study hard!” Education was always so important to him, so it was hard on us for him to not be there to see how his guidance and support had led his grandsons to accomplish their goals.

I felt him last week when my husband and I went to the Georgia coast.  Daddy had a little fish camp there.  It’s nothing fancy, just a place where he could go and relax. As much as I love it, I was filled with dread at the thought of being there for the first time without him, knowing that there would be reminders of him everywhere.  Even something as simple as finding his old sneakers sitting on the floor by the bed drove me to tears. One time, I asked him why he loved it so much, and he replied, “Because I fit in here.”

But, amazingly, this time something else happened there.

I found my peace.

My favorite picture of my dad.  Summer 1970

My favorite picture of my dad. Summer 1970

To me, Daddy was everywhere because it was HIS favorite place. Sitting out on the dock at night, I could feel his kisses from heaven brushing against my cheek as the wind blew the salt air on my face.

And I smiled. Finally, I knew I was Daddy’s girl again.

Living without my dad has been a work in progress. I’m a work in progress, and being without him has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I’m learning how to do it, because as he would say, “Life goes on. We’re only here for a little while, so make the most of it. Be a good person, and live your life well.”

This year, I will be spending Father’s Day without my dad.

But I know that my dad will be spending Father’s Day with his dad, and his Heavenly Father.

And as much as I miss him, I can’t be sad about that.

If Your Beard Is Real, You’re Too Old To Trick-or-Treat

Tonight is Halloween. It’s truly one of my favorite holidays. I don’t like all of the evil witchcraft and Satanic stuff that surrounds Halloween, but I love hearing the sweet little voices shout out “Trick or Treat” while they are wearing flowing Princess costumes or red and blue Spiderman costumes.

Each time the door rings, my dog goes utterly insane. She has on her Halloween “Security” costume but no one gets to see her because I have to put her in the bedroom and shut the door. She is only six pounds but she is scratching at the door like a caged tiger.

I drop handfuls of candy into pillowcases or orange plastic pumpkins, or even cute handmade Halloween bags that some overly-crafty supermom made and the children happily trod off across the lawn to the neighbor’s house to collect their next bounty.

As soon as I sit down, the doorbell rings 14 times. My dog goes crazy. I get up off the couch and go to the door thinking about what little crapheads the kids at the door must be.

I open the door and look down expecting to find three-foot tall goblins. Instead, I have to look up and find four teenagers (all taller than me) saying in deep tenor voices, “Trick or treat.”

Seriously?

For once in my life I am speechless.

Isn’t there an age limit on when you need to stop trick or treating?

I drop candy in each bag simply because I’m kinda scared of them and I just want to shut the door and lock it. I have pictures of CSI going through my head and headlines for tomorrow’s newspaper:

“Local Woman And Her Dog Murdered Over Twix and Kit-Kat Bars.”

I think that for next Halloween, I’m going to make a sign for my front door that reads “Don’t knock on my door if any of the following pertain to you.”

1. If you can grow a beard.
2. If your breasts are bigger than mine.
3. If you are driving yourself through the neighborhood.
4. If you have tattoos (because you have to be 18 to get a tattoo).
5. If you are a parent.
6. If you are smoking cigarettes.
7. If you understand what the word “pertain” means.
8. If you are walking around the neighborhood with a beer, and are of legal age to drink.
9. If you are old enough to vote in the Presidential election.
10. If you have your own apartment.
11. If that stripper costume you have on is one you use at work.

And for anyone ringing my doorbell next year that matches any of the above, please note that you won’t be getting any chocolate.

You’ll be getting a box of stale raisins.

The Big C

In honor of World Cancer Day, thought I’d share this one again. Get yourself checked!!

Home Is Where Your Mom Is

I am missing a big chunk of my leg this week. No, I didn’t get bitten by a shark or attacked by some criminal with a knife.

I saw my dermatologist.

As many of you know, going to the doctor in general isn’t one of my favorite things to do. It seems like whenever I go to a doctor I end up with something smashed, something violated, or something involving needles or x–rays.

I do not like going to the doctor. I cringe when I hear “This will only hurt for a little bit.”

Seriously?

I don’t want anything to hurt. Ever. Not even for a little bit.

I’ve discovered with age that I seem to be allergic to pain.

Years ago I had a zit on my nose that wouldn’t go away. The more I tried covering it up with makeup, the more it seemed to say “Look at…

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More Stuffed Than The Thanksgiving Turkey

Ahh the holidays. I love them for so many reasons but especially for the food. I love to eat, and holiday food is the best. Turkey and dressing, mac and cheese, desserts, and breakfasts with bacon and eggs.

Me looking at the scale after Christmas.

Me looking at the scale after Christmas.

From this past Thanksgiving through Christmas I ate like I was on death row and every meal was going to be my last.

Which is also why my pants began cutting off my circulation and my Spanx went on strike by the time New Year’s Day rolled around.

I had taken a hiatus from my dread mill, partly because of surgery to my leg last March but mostly because I was just about as productive as a slug.

So right after Christmas, when I put on a pair of jeans from my closet only to realize they were my husbands jeans – AND THEY FIT – did I decide I’d better actually honor my New Years resolution and start working out again as well as eating healthier.

Low-fat, low-carb…I cut down on bacon and other fatty foods. I’ve started eating so many nuts for snacks that I will probably grow a tail and climb a tree soon.

My new friends K and L talked me into going to the gym to do a “step” class. I don’t know if you have ever done a step class before, but it’s where an instructor has you stepping on and off a 6″ high platform while blaring music is pumped out of the speakers overhead and girls with stick-figure bodies in tight little workout clothes surround you.

I had taken step before a few years ago but I was not prepared for this one. Maybe I’m just getting old, but the moves were so fast that I’m pretty sure that I looked like I was doing “the Elaine” dance from Seinfeld while K and L were gracefully going through the movements with ease.

Me at step class

Me at step class

While they were going left I was going right. When they were going up I was going down. I was the complete opposite of what they did.

And with each break, I’d guzzle some water. Half-way through the class I thought my bladder was going to burst. I felt like a puppy near some new carpet.

After class, we decided to continue the workout with crunches. K showed me how to do sit-ups on a machine, and even though I had been doing crunches at home, it was clear that the ones I had been doing at home were the same intensity that a preschooler could handle.

The next morning, I had to literally roll out of bed because my muscles felt like I had been punched in the stomach. But, I went back two days later and my legs didn’t feel like they were full of lead anymore. And I actually enjoyed the class.

And I’m determined to honor my New Year’s resolution until I can no longer wear the same size jeans as my husband, and am back in my old clothes. And if that’s not enough incentive, then I don’t know what is.

Smile For The Camera!

I absolutely LOVE taking pictures. Photographs of people, where ever I am at the moment, my dog, whatever. It doesn’t matter. I have tons of photo albums in my bookcase – years’ worth of memories, all bound into multi-colored books. I’m probably one of the only people left in the world who still prints out pictures and puts them in albums.

Before every cell phone had a camera, I used to take mine with me everywhere. Since I’m naturally blonde, I’d take photos to help me remember certain occasions.

Company trip or Girls Night Out? Whether they liked it or not, I was there taking photos. Many times this really came in handy if alcohol had been involved. Who was the guy Jill was dancing with? What happened to Nicki’s shoes? Why is Carl wearing a cape? Hmmmm. Well, let me just reference my handy-dandy digital photos.

Company having a party? Check. I was there, camera in hand, ready to document. (One of my coworkers nicknamed me the company “Documentarian.” I thought it she was kidding until I Googled it and realized that it’s a real word – someone who documents things.) Okay. That was me.

This came in handy each year when the company would take all of the employees to Florida. As usual, I packed my camera. And the crazy and fantastic group of people that I worked with always provided me with opportunities for great pictures.

I have to include a bad one of myself.  It's only fair.

I have to include a bad one of myself. It’s only fair.

It’s funny how people act like they don’t like getting their picture taken, but as soon as I would take a photo, people would want to see it.

“Oh, that’s terrible of me! Take another one!!!”

Now, that always made me laugh. If you didn’t like me taking a picture in the first place, then why do you want me to take another one?

It’s because PEOPLE LIKE PICTURES. They’re memories you can see.

V on a stuffed horse.

V on a stuffed horse.

My friend, E.Y.* says I have a knack for getting people to do things that they normally wouldn’t do, and then I take a picture of it.

“Hey E! Go stand by that fountain and it will look like you’re peeing!”

“Okay!!!”

Click-click-click.

“Hey E! Wrap yourself up in this beach towel and you’ll look like a baby!”

“Okay!!!”

Click-click-click.

Flying back from the Fla trip, the airline said babies could board first, so here E is acting like a baby.

Flying back from the Fla trip, the airline said babies could board first, so here E is acting like a baby.

What’s REALLY funny is that E doesn’t drink so these pictures were taken when he was perfectly sober.

E said that I’m the friend that will take really crappy pictures of you all year long and then give them to you on a CD as a Christmas present.

Yep. That’s how I roll. And now that I have a camera on my phone, those great pictures for next year’s Christmas CD are just a quick click away.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

*E’s name and people’s faces have been hidden to protect my life for including these stories in this blog post.

Bra size?  C - for cakes.

Bra size? C – for cakes.

It's a bird...it's a plane!  It's a man on a piano!

It’s a bird…it’s a plane! It’s a man on a piano!

Going Home

One hundred years ago, a little baby girl named Mary Evelyn Gunn, known to her family as Aunt Sissy, was born in a big white house in Enterprise, Mississippi. She was the beloved sister of her five brothers (two older and three younger), one of whom was my grandfather, Frank Carlton Gunn, affectionally called Bubba.

Riverside Plantation

Riverside Plantation

Little did her family know then, how many lives she would touch in her life time.

Many of those family members gathered this past weekend to celebrate her life and her 100th birthday at that same white house, named Riverside Plantation.

All week, I had stressed over how I was going to manage making it from Atlanta to Enterprise to join in the celebration. My husband is in the process of getting his masters and had a huge project due and we realized it would be too risky for him to make the trip in case he couldn’t finish his work on time.

At the last minute, my son and his girlfriend decided to drive up from college in south Georgia to make the trip with me. He had never seen the old home place but had heard about it for years. I welcomed the company and was thrilled that they wanted to be a part of the occasion.

As we pulled into the grassy yard, Riverside stood tall and proud, albeit a bit weathered. Two tall white columns flanked both sides of the front porch, welcoming visitors into the foyer. Built in the early to mid-1800’s, it has seen better days but the sight of it still overwhelmed me. I had been to the place only twice before, but this time, I was older and truly appreciated and understood where I came from. Two chimneys flanked both sides of the house. The green shutters had faded as had the once bright red door, but the beautiful decorative transom windows were still intact. I could hear the squeals and laughter from children who were playing on the balcony above the front steps.

I thought of my grandfather and my great-uncles and Aunt Sissy as they played in the front yard as children. They had climbed the trees, worked in the garden, tended to the livestock, and swam in the Chunky River nearby. I was confident that if I listened hard enough, I could probably hear the ringing of the dinner bell and the voice of my great-great grandmother calling everyone inside the house for dinner.

My grandfather, Aunt Sissy and Uncle Kiddo on the front steps of Riverside.

My grandfather, Aunt Sissy and Uncle Kiddo on the front steps of Riverside.

As we walked in, Aunt Sissy sat in a chair in the very room that she was born in, grinning as those who came to celebrate with her stopped to wish her Happy Birthday.

The hardwood floors creaked as people walked around, soaking in the history that has made up the house, wishing the walls could tell us stories of those who lived here. Before the Civil War, the house was owned by a man who was a Mason. When Union soldiers took over the house, they found a box (supposedly full of valuables) wrapped in Masonic papers. With many Union soldiers also being Masons, they stood by their vow to never cause harm to a fellow Mason, thereby ordering the other soldiers not to burn the house or steal anything. They then turned the home into Union headquarters, where they planned the Battle of Vicksburg from the front parlor. The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is a book called Riverside Remembered by Wallace Neal Briggs, Aunt Sissy’s cousin, who everyone called “Buster.” His story tells about the times he visited his beloved Riverside, starting when he was only six years-old. For those of us who were not around during that time, it has been a beautiful way to learn about Mammy and Pappy, my great-great-grandparents, along with Allie and Cally, my great-grandparents. I have also learned about my grandfather as a young man, before he met my grandmother. What a rare gift to be able to treasure events in his life long after they occurred!

In addition, the book tells about Mattie Riley and her son Leroy, their black neighbors who helped at the house who were really just part of the family. Sissy and Mattie were especially close, since Mattie had taken care of her since she was a child.

One of the most cherished moments was when Mattie’s grandson, Floyd, arrived at the celebration and handed a photograph of Mattie to Sissy. I wish I could have frozen in time the moment Aunt Sissy saw the photograph – her delighted expression clearly showed the love she had for her and how much she missed her.

Throughout the day, all of the family laughed and told stories of parents and kids and simply loved being there. I hope Aunt Sissy looked around and realized that the people who were there, were there because of HER family – each one of us being a child, grandchild, great-grandchild, niece, nephew, cousin or other relative.

I watched my father laugh with his brother and sisters. I watched my son and nephews look for rusty old railroad spikes by the Chunky River. I laughed with my cousins, some of whom I had not seen in over 25 years.

My Great-Aunt Sissy with her brother Bubba (my grandfather's) kids - Aunt Carol, Daddy, Uncle Pat, & Aunt Polly.

My Great-Aunt Sissy with her brother Bubba (my grandfather’s) kids – Aunt Carol, Daddy, Uncle Pat, & Aunt Polly.

And as the children of my cousins ran through the house and people mingled about sipping coffee and eating birthday cake, I felt the house shake. Some would think that a 150+ year-old home shaking wouldn’t be a good thing, but I felt otherwise.

To me, it felt as if the home was happy and giggling because after way too many years, it was once again full of the love, laughter and life of the Gunn family.