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.

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Just Like Her Mom

They say if a man wants to know what his future wife will be like, all he needs to do is look at her mother.

That can be good OR bad. Some women might not want to be like their mother, but for me, I hope I’m exactly like my mom.

There is something about moms that make everything okay. I’m 44 years old, but when I feel like I’m going to puke, I want my mom. When something makes me sad? I want my mom. When I have good news?

Okay, first I call my husband, and then I call my mom.

But what if I need to complain about my husband? Who do I call?

Yep.

My mom, who everyone calls “Ninny”.

Banma, Mom, Me & Cathy, 1969

Banma, Mom, Me & Cathy, 1969

She is one of the funniest people I’ve ever known, and most of the time it’s completely unintentional. We have always had many different ways to communicate – and not just looks or cryptic sounds. She actually taught us the sign language for “Watch out – Daddy’s about to blow his top” so that we would know without words when Daddy was in a bad mood.

Ninny learned everything from her own wonderful mom. My grandmother, Banma, is probably the sweetest person alive. She is 94 years old and still living on the farm she grew up on, going to the same church she was baptized in, and a friend to everyone she meets.

My mom said that she never heard Banma raise her voice. Clearly, that gene did not flow down to my mother or my sister or me. We have no trouble raising our voice but hopefully we got some of Banma’s sweetness.

Throughout their 52 year marriage, my parents have always been there to support each other. Ninny was a stay at home mom when I grew up, and my father happily worked because he loved his girls and wanted her to be at home with us.

Ever since we found out about my father’s cancer, I have been amazed not only with my father for fighting the cancer so hard, but I am in awe at my mother’s strength. I always knew she was strong, but to be strong enough to care for my dad, as well as her own mother, could easily cause an IronMan to crumble…but not Ninny.

To know how much Ninny is loved and needed, you only have to look as far as this Mother’s Day. I offered to stay with my dad, who has been sick from the chemo treatments, so that my mom could visit Banma for Mother’s Day. But he declined and said “No offense, sweetheart, but I need my Ninny”, and then went on the long drive with her to Mississippi even though he was feeling terrible.

I get it. She can make anything better.

And I thank God every day for her.

When I go to my final resting place, I can only pray that someone will give me the greatest compliment I can imagine.

I hope they’ll say “She was just like her mother.”

Mom, Banma, Me & Cathy, 2011

Mom, Banma, Me & Cathy, 2011

Daddy’s Little Girl

All of my life my dad has been my hero. He was always there for me growing up and is still here for me now that I’m an adult. The strength and stability I always felt being in my Daddy’s arms can not possibly be measured. He would carry me on his shoulders when my legs were tired. He could do the best cannonball into the pool out of all the dads. When I was in trouble, he could put the fear of God into me with just a look. And when he’d jokingly ask me “What am I going to do with you???,” I’d say, “Just keep me and love me,” which he still does. 4887_94743471098_643154_n

And over the past year, he has fought cancer by having a stem cell transplant and will continue treatments for many years to come. He has always been strong – not only physically, but mentally – he’s a judge as well as retired military. (Yes, my upbringing was a little strict!)

Knowing that the next few years are going to have their ups and downs, there are some things I want him to know to help keep his spirits up. So this is for my Dad…

Dear Daddy,

I want to thank you for being so strict with me when I was a teenager. I used to think you were the meanest dad EVER for giving me a curfew of 10 p.m., but now that I am a parent, I realize that what you always said is true: “Nothing but trouble happens to a teenager after midnight.”

Thank you for letting me be Daddy’s little girl, but also Daddy’s little tomboy. Thank you for making sure I could take ballet and sewing classes, but I’m sure at some point you wished you had a son. I was as close to it as you got. I love going camping and doing everything outdoors because of you. You encouraged me to go outside and play so I never was really interested that much in TV -except for “The Donny Osmond Show” of course.

Thank you for insisting on meeting my (and Cathy’s) boyfriends, and giving them the kind of handshake that could break their hand and letting them know they were in for it if anything happened to me. Thank you for telling me straight off which boyfriends you liked, and which ones you clearly DID NOT. Looking back on several of my dating mistakes, I realize you did know what was best for me after all…if only I had listened!!!

Thank you for teaching me how to drive a stick-shift. Learning how to drive an “H” shift was pretty tough on the old F150, especially since it didn’t have power steering or power brakes, but I think it is something every girl should know how to do.

Thank you for teaching me manners. I have come to realize that “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir” were not only polite when I was younger, but beneficial to me as an adult. These are traits I have passed on to Matthew as well and he, too, has seen how people react when they are treated with respect. 4887_94991191098_2137511_n

Thank you for loving me enough to give me boundaries. Although I didn’t get in too much trouble (because I was terrified of getting in trouble with you), I know I was not the easiest teenager to bring up. I got your stubbornness so I’m sure you saw some of yourself in me! And even though I never wanted to hear it, I thank you for loving me enough to tell me “NO” some times.

Thank you for teaching me to be financially responsible and hiding my first credit card from me when it came in the mail. You taught me that if I can’t buy it with cash, then I don’t need it. This is a lesson many never learn until later in life. You taught me that just because my friends may have new cars, big houses and go on luxurious trips, they are also probably swimming in debt. Because of you, our only payment each month is for our house, and if we don’t have the cash for other things that we want, then we save up for them.

Thank you for teaching me how to stand up for myself. As a single mom for almost 10 years, I had to handle things that can be foreign to many women, such as getting work done on my car. If you hadn’t taught me how to watch when someone was about to screw me over, I would have probably would have been financially taken advantage of numerous times.

Thank you for showing me what true love is. After 52 years of marriage (and counting!) you and Mama have shown me that marriages have good times and bad times, but you stick with each other and are there for each other no matter what. Watching you reach over and grab Mama’s hand just while driving in the car makes me smile.

Thank you for teaching me to treat everyone with the same respect. The circle of friends you have surrounded yourself with come from every race, gender, and sexual orientation and EACH ONE of those friends considers you to be a very good friend to them. What an amazing example you lead!

Thank you for teaching me right and wrong. Even when Mom got a speeding ticket in a different city, you never even considered contacting the other judge to get it erased. Instead you told her that since she was in fact speeding, that she needed to pay the $250 fine. I respected that so much more than you will ever know. So many others in your position would have “called in a favor” but you didn’t – and I love that about you.

Thank you for trusting me when I announced ‘I’m getting married!!!” only four weeks after meeting Dale. Although I’m sure you ran a background check on him, you still trusted me enough to officiate our wedding ceremony. To this day, that memory makes me smile. And thank you for setting the kind of example a good husband is. When I first met Dale, I was amazed at how many similarities the two of you share and I knew immediately that if he was anything like you, I had a keeper.4887_94743461098_2165253_n

I hope you are proud of me for what I have accomplished in my life. Everything I have in my life, in some way or another points back to you. Your guidance has led me to where I am and who I am today.

And although we know the next couple of years are going to be both good and tough, please know that I plan on taking care of you and Mama as you have ALWAYS taken care of me. Cathy and I will be the strong ones for you this time.

I’m all grown up now, but I am and always will be, Daddy’s little girl.

Let me carry you on my shoulders now.

Confessions of a Former Dating Loser

I met my husband three years ago on Match.com.  Many times when I tell people that they get this shocked look on their face as if to say “What were you thinking by dating on-line????”   Well to be honest, it wasn’t my idea.

I was a 10+ year Realtor who was suddenly faced with limited commissions when the housing bubble burst. I had a client who wanted me to list the house I had helped her purchase five years earlier because she had gotten engaged.  I met with  her and we talked about the house and our lives.  She said she had gotten tired of the single life and her teenage daughter talked her into going on Match.com.  I just giggled and thought to myself  “I may be a total dating loser, but I could never do that.”

I’m serious, I was a LOSER.  If there was another loser within a five mile vicinity, I was completely enamoured with him.

After she realized I was still painfully single since the last time we had talked (FIVE YEARS EARLIER) she said “I won’t give you my house listing unless you promise to go on Match.”  I got nervous.  What if someone I knew were to see me on a dating site?  Would my loser dating status just be confirmed?  Would it be embarrassing?  What kind of guy would sign up for online dating?  A serial killer?  Someone already married?

Then reality kicked in.   I started thinking of the fact that my mortgage and car payments were coming up and how desperately I needed the commission.  I reluctantly agreed.

I put my profile together and realized that it was sort of like writing about myself as if I were going into a catalog.  Interests?  I like camping, triathlons, anything outdoorsy but I’m still girly-girl enough to enjoy getting a mani/pedi on occasion.  Smokers?   Nope – not interested.   I did want someone who went to church but not someone who was going to make me feel horrible about a cuss-word slip up or a glass of wine.  I was also very serious about my political views (but won’t post them here!)  but I knew we definitely needed to agree on politics.

For about three weeks I received messages from some of the most interesting people I’ve ever come across.  (One guy actually sent me a picture of himself dressed as Abe Lincoln ….and another wearing a Superhero helmet.  One guy sent me pictures of his house.  One sent pictures of his pit-bulls.  One sent a picture of himself from what appeared to be 1985 leaning against a Trans Am, looking like Tom Selleck with the thick mustache.  But at least I didn’t receive a message like another friend of mine who I later found out was also on Match – her potential suitor immediately wanted to know her weight because he needed to ensure that she wouldn’t put them over the weight limit on his motorcycle if they were to get together.  Nice.  That one was definitely a keeper…said no one.)

Just when I thought I was destined to be forever single, the picture of the one that would steal my heart popped onto my computer screen…and the rest is history.  I sent him a “wink” which is sort of a computer cat-call.  He responded within a few hours with a long e-mail, to which I promptly replied.  We began e-mailing each other several times a day and then within a week moved up to phone calls before deciding to meet in person.

We decided  to meet up at a park where we could be out in public but we could talk and see if there was any chemistry.  If we didn’t like each other we wouldn’t be stuck sitting through a very uncomfortable dinner.  Meeting at the park was perfect because I had just gotten out of a cast after breaking my foot but was still scheduled to participate in a triathlon three weeks later. We could talk and exercise at the same time.  If there wasn’t any chemistry, one of us could just leave.

When I pulled into the park, I saw that there were two vehicles matching what he said he drove.  Both drivers got out at the same time:  one was in good shape, had a great smile and was dressed in black, and the other guy was wearing a dirty t-shirt and cutoff blue jeans, and looked like the only exercise he got was lifting twelve Budweisers a day.   I remember saying a little prayer that the fit one was my guy…and thankfully he was.

We thought we were going to only walk about 2 miles that afternoon since my foot was still healing but when I turned on my iPhone and checked out my pedometer, I realized we had walked 7 miles.  As I got in my car to go home I called my mom.  I told her I knew this one was “the one” and we would be married within six months.  Little did I know…

A mere four weeks later we were engaged, and eight more weeks later we were married.  We will celebrate our third anniversary this week.

Wedding day

Some people might think it was crazy of us to get married after knowing each other for only 12 weeks, but somehow we both knew we were a match made in heaven.

Finding the love of my life at an online dating website is something that I never could have imagined.  I used to think online dating was for the most desperate daters and although I easily fell into that category, I was completely in denial.  Why do online dating sites have such a bad reputation?  It’s really isn’t much different than being set up on a blind date through friends.  People realize you have something in common and you meet.  Sometimes it works out – my parents met on a blind date and just celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out…but even then you at least  gave it a shot.

Who knows?   You may end up meeting your perfect match and living in your own love story.

And every love story is unique and amazing.  Ours is just my favorite.

Wedding day