Friday, April 7, 2017

Losing Loved Ones and Car Keys

"I'm sorry for your loss."

I can't even count how many times I've heard that platitude recently. It has been written in flowing script across sympathy cards, whispered by family, friends, and acquaintances with kind eyes, posted in digital form on my social media platforms. It's the go-to sentiment when people really don't know what else to say to relatives of the dead.

I "lost" my dad three months ago.

It's damaging verbiage, the language of loss. Because it isn't as if I lost my keys, or my wallet, or last month's bank statement. It wasn't an act of carelessness on my part. It's not like I set him down somewhere and forgot where I put him. It isn't even like that time I lost my daughter in Target, where I was frantic and panicky, in spite of the fact that she was safely reading in the book section.

I didn't lose my father. His death wasn't caused by any sort of error or personal shortcoming. It wasn't like losing a football game, where if I'd only played better I might have won. "Lose" is an action verb. It hints at responsibility. As if taking a different course might have changed the destination.

And by calling his death a "loss" it implies that I might be able to find him if I just thoroughly check between the couch cushions. If I were just more vigilant. Maybe if I tried harder, I could turn this lost into a found.

I didn't lose my father. He died.

But we are afraid of death. So much so that we sweep the word from our vocabulary. Instead of acknowledging death and its power, we trade reality for empty euphemisms about being "in a better place". By sugar-coating our expressions of death and grieving, all we do is perpetuate Society's phobias about death and dying. It is social decorum that keeps us from talking about death as a reality.

Maybe if we don't use the word, it's like it never really happened.

But it did. And the only thing worse than hearing the empty pity in the sorry-for-your-loss bromide is encountering the people who know but don't acknowledge. They want to avoid discomfort so they pretend they can't see the gaping hole in my soul. But it feels like they are actively denying that my father ever lived, that he ever meant something to me, that we can all just carry on as if nothing significant happened.

Our culture really sucks at coping with and acknowledging death.

We need better words. But we also need better ways of dealing with grief. My world is never going to be the same no matter how much we pretend, no matter how we try to act like life has somehow returned to normal. No amount of fluffy language is going to change that.

When my father first died, I fought the urge to slice deep grooves in the flesh of my arms, to somehow do something concrete and drastic with the emotional pain I was experiencing. Instead, I chopped off my hair. I cut it shorter than it has ever been, right up to the nape of my neck. It wasn't quite the drastic measure I desired, but it did seem a lot less destructive than knocking over a liquor store or punching holes in plaster walls.

My hair is growing back now. I don't think I'm ready to feel normal yet. I'll probably chop it short again.

I once lost my car keys at McDonald's. I frantically dug through my pants pockets in search of them. My oldest son dug through the soggy garbage and half-eaten burgers of the McDonald's trash can. The kids and I looked under tables and in the parking lot, thinking that the keys had been dropped somewhere when I wasn't paying attention. I was certain that I had lost those keys for good. We were stranded without them. Stuck alone in a dark fast food parking lot. I dialed my husband in tears to inform him of my loss, and just as he answered the phone, I found those keys.

They had been in my coat pocket the whole time. They were never really lost.

There's probably some grand existential message in that story. Maybe I'll think on it some more when my hair grows back.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How to Survive Your Oldest Child Leaving Home in 15 Easy Steps

One year ago today, my oldest child left home. With everything he needed packed into one small backpack, he boarded a bus (and then a plane) bound for Army Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Having a child grow up and leave home is a proud moment. It is that moment, looking at what amounts to a decent human being and a productive member of society, that you realize all of those poopy diapers, sleepless nights, grocery store temper tantrums, and insane grocery bills might have been worth it.

Having a child grow up and leave home is also a traumatic event. It is beyond difficult having someone you've been majorly responsible for keeping alive for almost two decades move hundreds of miles away, where keeping them alive is no longer within your parental power or control.

"How did I do it?" you ask. I have an easy 15 step program for surviving your oldest child leaving home.

Step One: Spend the last three weeks before he leaves trying to remember all of the important life advice you've forgotten to tell him over the past 20 years. Then tell him at odd moments.

Step Two: When the day of departure arrives, stall by taking copious amounts of pictures.

Step Three:
Attempt to put on a brave face and fail miserably.

Step Four: Hug the complete stranger, official-looking government employee who just put your first-born child onto a spite of not being a "hugger."

Step Five: When the complete stranger, official-looking government employee asks you, "Ma'am, are you going to be okay?" assure her that you will, even though you suspect you won't.

Step Six:
Wave at your son as the bus drives away. Remember when that very same hand waving at you from the window first curled around your fingers as you held him.

Step Seven: Have a good cry in the bread aisle of the grocery store, because sandwich rolls come in packages of six. You  realize you are now feeding only five people.

Step Eight: Express gratitude when your youngest child fills his empty seat at the dining room table with a large stuffed bear wearing a baseball cap.

Step Nine: Write to him every single day while he is in basic training, because you never want him to be without mail. (And it is the best kind of therapy to write about the things he is missing, and how much you miss him, and all of the memories that constantly flood you about when he was small.)

Step Ten: Linger just a bit outside of his empty bedroom every time you pass it.

Step Eleven: Tell yourself you won't cry when you see him at Family Day, but fail miserably.

Step Twelve: Feel like you will bust wide open at his graduation. Those aren't tears. They're liquid pride.

Step Thirteen: Brag about him incessantly to people back home.

Step Fourteen: Have him sharpen all of your knives, reach high things, and fill all of the empty spaces with his confidence and new muscles and his presence when he visits home.

Step Fifteen: Hug him tight every time you see him. Every. Single. Time.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dancing With Snakes in the Dystopian Age

"Where have you been?"

It's okay. You can call off the search party. Hold your emails. Call back the hounds.

I know I haven't posted much recently, and apparently some of you are upset about that. (Although I'm pretty sure that at least an equal number of people are excited and celebrating. You're welcome.)

I admit that I've been kind of hiding from social media. I didn't even know about the recent London attack until the bodies were already cold. I didn't witness any live streaming or hashtag campaigns about the incident. I think my sanity is in a somewhat better state because of my ignorance.

We are living in difficult times. My desire to be well-informed is in a constant battle with my desire to remain sane. Seriously, it's like an epic cage fight...terribly bloody. It would get great ratings on cable.

So, I've been kind of hiding under a rock, because every time I poke my head out, I seem to get blind-sided by some news story that leaves me feeling as if I'm trapped inside of a young adult dystopian novel.

Because now drinking milk is racist.

And the color of a teacher's skin is more important than his ability to actually teach.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a teenage boy is told by his principal to "tolerate" undressing in front of a (biologically) female student . . . to make it as "natural"as possible . . . because, you know . . .tolerance and maintaining an illusion of enlightenment and forward-thinking is far more important than our children's safety or emotional scars. But that's on them . .. I  mean . . . they should have been more enlightened and tolerant. There's nothing that won't be tolerated quite like "intolerance".

Speaking of intolerance, an Iowa high school recently had to issue an apology to an opposing basketball team because its student body wore patriotic colors to a game. The apology was issued because the opposing team had some refugee players who are somewhat delicate, and deeply offended by the sight of red, white, and blue . . . even though they are currently seeking refuge IN THE UNITED STATES.  I would tell them to "grow a pair" but that is horribly offensive and insensitive on several fronts.

"Dance? But I have two left feet."
If I were a more religious person, like the kind who yammers in tongues and dances with snakes, I would swear that we are living in the last days. Although, "the last days" of what, I'm not sure.

Because this shit is crazy.

But I don't dance with snakes, because I don't really dance unless I've had a few beers, and all of that dancing is kind of unfair to the snakes. I mean, the least that holy people could do is buy the snakes a drink before they bandy them about on the dance floor.

Or maybe it's because I really just empathize with the snakes. Because snakes are pretty quiet, and just want to be left alone.They want to crawl up under a nice rock somewhere or hide out in the grass and not be messed with. And here these people are, snatching them up, forcing them out into the public eye, making them participate in a dance that they want no part of.

I feel ya, snakes! Solidarity, bros!

That's why I'm crawling back under my rock for a bit. Maybe lay around in the grass. Y'all enjoy the crazy dance. I'll probably be back after I've had a few beers.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

There's No Time To Spare

My youngest child is trying to leave me.

Maybe I'm being just a little dramatic.

My youngest daughter is in the process of applying to an Early College program. If things go the way she has planned, in the fall, my home will be empty during the day. If she gets in (and chances are very good that she will) I will no longer be able to introduce myself as a "homeschooling mom". Cue the imminent identity crisis... or the killer mid-day party. I haven't decided which.

She is a very goal-oriented person, in spite of only being thirteen. She wants to get into this program something fierce, so she is tackling every aspect of the application process with everything she has. This week she was called into the school for an interview. A bundle of nerves and anxiety, she asked me to help her prepare. So, we ran some mock interviews in the living room with me asking her some generic questions I thought the school staff might ask her.

"What do you do in your spare time?"

Seems like a pretty standard interview question, right? Maybe not for the average homeschooler.

She gave me several seconds of a blank stare, before she screwed up her face in frustration.

"I don't really do anything. Sometimes I read or watch TV."

Which left me giving her my own confused blank stare.

"What about karate? What about mixed martial arts? What about archery tournaments and volunteering with kitten rescue and fishing in the river?" She is an incredibly active teenager. I couldn't figure out why she was being so dull and vague with her answer.

"But Mom, that isn't spare time."

That's when I realized that her definition of "spare time" and mine are very different. To me, and probably any interviewer, spare time would be any activity she does that isn't school related.

But that isn't how she sees life, and I think I like her view better. To her, spare time is just the tiny spaces of time between the activities she wants to be doing. Time spent training in martial arts isn't "spare" because it's a necessary investment toward a goal. The same is true of the hours she spends practicing with her bow to prepare for an archery tournament. And fishing and nurturing abandoned kittens isn't "spare time" either. Because she's busy doing things she enjoys.

It is actually a sad testament to the rest of Society's general mindset that anything outside of work or school is "spare time," as if the only important time is what is used to make money. Or as a minor, it's the time spent in school getting ready for the real world, which is basically prepping you for a career and a job and making money.

Anything else we choose to do as human beings, no matter how magnificent or productive or fulfilling or charitable is just relegated to whatever time we have to spare from our jobs. It's a pathetic mindset, really.

The truth is we don't have any "spare" time. We only have time. And probably not as much of it as we think.

There are so many worthwhile ways to spend our time that don't involve making money or good grades. The time we spend doing the things we love, that make us come alive, that propel us toward excellence in any field, even when it isn't career related... Maybe that time shouldn't be considered just leftover time. It's all just time. A minute spent making a paycheck is just as long as the minute spent reading a book or walking the dog or painting a picture. We shouldn't consider one minute to be any more important than any other.

This week, I'm trying to shift my attitude about time. I want to think more like my young daughter. I want to spend my time doing things that give me joy, make me come alive, propel me toward personal goals. Because that time isn't any different than the time I spend meeting responsibilities, mopping floors, or working a job.

All time is equal.

And there really isn't any time to spare.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Way to Spread the Hate - On The Walking Dead's 'Racist' T-Shirt

Gratuitous picture of Daryl. Because... Daryl.
Image Source: Casey Florig
It's super easy to offend people these days. In fact, trying not to offend is like tiptoeing barefooted in the dark across a playroom floor strewn with Legos and hot wheels and maybe even rusty razor blades (I don't know what children play with these days).

I am a Walking Dead fan. This will likely offend someone. Surprising, right? That a fantasy show with mediocre acting and unrealistic survival scenarios would actually offend anyone?

But The Walking Dead is so obviously racist.

Or at least its merchandise is.

British retailer, Primark, has pulled a Walking Dead t-shirt from its store shelves because shopper, Ian Lucraft complained. The shirt in question featured Negan's bloody baseball bat, affectionately named Lucille, and the words "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe."

Image Source: Twitter

Hold on to your pearls, Nancy!

"We were shocked when we came face to face with a new t-shirt with a racially explicit graphic and text," Lucraft told a reporter. "It was fantastically offensive and I can only assume that no one in the process of ordering it knew what they were doing or were aware of its subliminal messages."

Um... Mr. Lucraft, it is quite impossible for a message to be both "explicit" AND "subliminal". You might not realize that is an oxymoron because you are an actual moron. But keep misusing big words in attempts to look intelligent. It helps those who are weed out the posers.

Lucraft's wife, Gwen, added, "If I were black and were faced by a wearer, I would know just where I stood."

Actually, your statements are rather racist, Gwen. You shouldn't presume to know what a black person would think. Your white privilege is showing. Might want to keep that in check.

But I kinda get it. If faced with a wearer of that shirt, I would know exactly where I stood, too... I would, in fact, be standing directly in front of a Walking Dead fan.

Actually, The Walking Dead may be one of the least racist shows on the air. One of the baddest, most kick-ass characters is actually a black female (You rock, Michonne! I love you!).

Sure the main character is an annoying Southern cisgender white man, but nobody really likes him. We all wish Rick had been eaten 5 seasons ago.

And of course, the second most badass character is also a cisgender, white, Southern dude complete with a great white trash backstory... but I'm beginning to think Daryl might actually be gay. I've caught him sending a few loving looks Rick's way. It is at the very least an incredibly intense bromance.

And Lucille wasn't even covered in the blood of a black person. That's the blood of an asian and a white man... but I know its hard to tell since we all bleed the same shade of red. Which really might be the moral of the story here, but some people are too busy being offended to actually see it.

So one man in England is offended by a t-shirt with four little words...of a children's rhyme...recited by an egomaniacal psychopath...on a television show...about the zombie apocalypse?

What kind of world are we living in?

But thanks there, British dude seeking 15 minutes of fame. Everyone with internet access now knows the racist version of the rhyme, so it's certain to be making new rounds on playgrounds everywhere. Way to spread the hate.

So of course we'll all have to ban it. And where does that leave my family? How will we decide who gets the coveted shotgun seat when we go to the grocery store?

Now we'll have to resort to Rock/Paper/Scissors. And we all know its only a matter of time until someone is offended by that one, too.

You've completely complicated my life, you pompous, self-serving, easily offended, English twat waffle!

Wait! Is "twat waffle" offensive? I think I might have stepped on a razor blade.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Is DeVos Really The Greatest Danger to School Children?

According to my social media newsfeeds, we have something new to be upset about. I know that it's been difficult to focus. The atrocities keep popping up like so many kernels of microwave popcorn, the public ire and fear busting the internet wide open with each new Trumptopian development.

Betsy DeVos - businesswoman, billionaire, political campaign contributor, and grizzly-phobe - is the new United States Secretary of Education.  She is, of course, the bogeyman, striking fear in the hearts of teachers and parents across the country.

She lacks classroom experience, school administration training, or really any background in education. She has never taught in a public school, nor attended one, nor sent her children to one. It also seems unlikely that she has ever spoken to anyone who has. She has no relevant credentials or experience that would have prepared her for a position directing and controlling the almost 70 billion dollars in education funds this country doles out to public schools each year, not to mention the lives of more than 50 million public school students.

I can understand the desperation of parents and teachers. That's a lot of power and influence and responsibility for one unqualified, underprepared woman to wield. There is a real and tangible and founded fear that having DeVos in charge of the nation's public schools could inflict severe harm on our young people. The Department of Education with DeVos at its helm is obviously an agent of destruction.

But what a lot of people don't understand, or have conveniently forgotten, is that the Department of Education has long been an agent of destruction, that the country's public education system has a history of harming our young people through systematic failure.

Just in case you need some reminding:
If it isn't glaringly apparent that the entire U.S. system of public education is failing and failing hard, you're lacking some major critical thinking skills... which we can likely blame on your public school education.

The system is already failing our children, and it didn't need Betsy DeVos or Donald Trump to do it. 

Let's be honest, what's the worst thing that an incompetent, grossly inexperienced billionaire could cause? 

Only the complete and total collapse of the Department of Education.

Yeah... that's the "worst" thing that could happen.

Or is it really the best thing?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Don't March for Me, Marge and Tina.

(If you sang that title to a tune from Evita, we should be friends.)

I knew I was going to upset a lot of people when I posted that "I Have a Uterus and My Rights are Just Fine." It's why my finger hovered nervously over the mouse before I finally clicked the post button and sent it out for all the world to see.

I knew there would be backlash. I knew that people were going to leave nasty comments and send me hateful messages. That's not really what made me nervous, though. I knew that I was going to upset some people that I actually care about. (Yes, I actually care about some people. Not many, but a few. I'm not entirely evil.)

I understand that passions are running high. People don't just march on Washington in droves unless they really, REALLY feel strongly about something. I knew there would be some panties in wads. And I was right. The hate mail and personal attacks have come flying in. But in the spirit of open discourse (Sorry to all of the people who unfriended, unfollowed, or unsubscribed. You didn't give me the chance to prove points or explain. I suppose it's easier to ignore dissenting opinions than to ponder them.), I thought I would clarify just a few points.

First: I never said I was ungrateful to the women who marched for my right to vote. In fact, I am incredibly and eternally grateful for the protests and arrests and hunger strikes. So grateful that I regularly exercise that hard-won right, probably far more frequently than the average apathetic American. So, please don't assume I need a history lesson.

Second: Don't shut down my opinion because of my perceived "privilege." I know that I am just a "college-educated, middle-class, white woman," but I am still entitled to form opinions, even when they disagree with yours. Also, you shouldn't assume my background, because you are probably wrong. I grew up in poverty, with no electricity or hot water, and I've experienced poverty as an adult, too. As a child, I watched my father punch holes in the drywall inches from my mother's face. As a teenager, I lived in a neighborhood that was infested with crime and drugs and gang violence. And I've worked at a job where it was "okay" for rich men to grab my butt and ask me if I was on the dessert menu. How's that for "privilege?"

But isn't that how we shut down dissenting opinions, now? By pointing out the other person's "privilege?" Oh, that's right ... I'm just a woman. I'm not supposed to have an independent thought. I'm not allowed to think for myself...unless that thinking for myself brings me to the proper conclusions.

Third: While so many of you have promised to "march for me anyway," ...Don't.

Because we apparently have very different ideas about what basic rights are.

The Women's March and its collective demands for equality and women's rights left me scratching my head wondering "What more rights do we need?" Because, in the United States, women have the right to vote, hold public office, pursue higher education, and own property. We can marry or divorce, have children or not. We have access to birth control (although perhaps too freely and without acknowledging the dangers and risks of long-time use) and other forms of reproductive care. There are laws against sexual assault and female genital mutilation.

But you answered the question. You marched for free birth control and easy unregulated abortions and mandatory maternity leave. You marched for single mothers living in poverty and for government health care.

I know this still makes me the enemy, but I don't think the government needs to swoop in and solve all of our First World problems. In fact, the more power we give "them," even in areas we think are good and noble and beneficial, the less power we have for ourselves. That's how we become victims.

It surprises me that so many people fear a Donald Trump brand of fascism, a form of government power run amok, and yet we just saw hundreds of thousands of women march down the streets of our nation's capitol asking government to do something (whatever form they expect that "something" to take)...No, demanding that government do something. Government control is government control... even when it takes a form you agree with. And once you hand over control to government, it is nearly impossible to get it back.

And fourth: Just because I don't think government intervention is the solution, doesn't mean I don't feel empathy for those women who are struggling.

I do realize that this country isn't quite where it needs to be, that sexism is alive and well, and that women aren't always treated with the respect they deserve. I realize the scarring effects of sexual assault. But all of the legislating and politicking in the world won't solve those problems... because they aren't political problems... they are cultural problems.

So in that sense, I'm glad that the women who marched felt feelings of love and unity and solidarity. There is far too little of that in the world. And I admire that so many people joined voices and demanded to be heard. However, that doesn't mean I need to think like them. I don't agree with all of their platforms (for many reasons) or demands or concepts of fundamental rights.

So Ladies, go ahead and march for yourselves.

Don't march for me.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I Have a Uterus and My Rights are Just Fine

Public Domain
I didn't march on Washington.

I know that's surprising considering I possess both a vagina and a fully functioning uterus. But I just couldn't bring myself to join my sistren with their pink pussy hats and expletive-riddled signage.

I mean, I kinda get it. I'm no fan of the Cheez Doodle with a bad combover currently masquerading as president of the United States. But the official Women's March on Washington website claims that this is a "women's rights" demonstration, not a protest against The Donald, at least not beyond his previous, admittedly vile, locker room banter.

I know that many will consider me a traitor to my sisters and a disgrace to my gender. They may call me brainwashed, a misogynist (It wouldn't be the first time), or worse... a Republican (although I'm not). But I couldn't, in good conscience, don a pink pussy beanie, grab a pithy ovary emblazoned sign, and march through the streets of the nation's capitol, because I don't think I am treated like a second class citizen.

Shocking right? That the media brainwashing hasn't penetrated my cranium? After all, we've been hearing about the republican "War on Women" for years now. And that inaccurate statistic about women making 77 cents to every dollar a man earns, well that's universal gospel, in spite of all of the refuting evidence.

But I am not a victim.

I have the right to vote, hold a job, inherit property. I have the right to bodily integrity and higher education and to show my hair in public. I can marry or not marry, divorce if I want, heck, I'm even likely to get custody of my kids. I can defend myself and my property. I can even drive a car... down public streets... in broad daylight.

It's sad to me that hundreds of thousands of women, who woke up in comfortable beds on Saturday morning, ate decent breakfasts, dressed in whatever clothes they chose, boarded public transportation without being escorted by a male, or actually drove their own vehicles to a legal protest, somehow believe that they are oppressed because they are women.

This is America, not the Democratic Republic of Congo where women cannot even sign legal documents. This isn't Pakistan, where women are gang-raped to pay for men's crimes, honor killings are widespread, and there are no laws against domestic violence. This isn't Somalia, where 95% of girls face barbaric genital mutilation, usually between the ages of four and eleven. This isn't Afghanistan, where girls are discouraged, sometimes violently, from seeking an education and where rape victims are often forced to marry their attackers. This isn't Chad where children as young as eleven are forced into arranged marriages.

This is America. Women have had the right to vote for almost a hundred years. We've sent women into Space, seen them appointed to the Supreme Court, run for Congress, anchor the evening news, break Olympic records, and lead billion dollar companies. Women even earn more undergraduate and graduate degrees than men. What rights are we missing?

As mothers, we tell our daughters that they can be anything, achieve anything, become anything they want, and because we live in America, that's basically true. So why are mothers dragging their daughters to huge political protests, railing and whining about a system they claim holds them down simply because they are women? Those are some pretty mixed up messages. I assure you, ladies, the government is not responsible for your successes or your failures in life. You are. Stop blaming the government. Stop accusing "the man" of holding you down. You are better than that. You are stronger than that. Take control of your own destiny.

We don't live in a Third World country. Sure not everyone gets free birth control or cheap abortions on demand, but are those really basic human rights?

If you think so, you probably need some perspective. Take a trip. Not a mini vacation to Washington D.C., either... take a jaunt to Chad or Afghanistan. Ask those women what they think fundamental women's rights are.

In comparison to those women, we're all just whining and throwing little spoiled temper tantrums in our silly pink hats.

And we should probably be ashamed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lessons Learned Hunting With My Dad

My father died last week.

To make a long story short, he had a heart attack while hunting and was rushed to the hospital. My mother made it to the hospital to be with him while the doctors were running tests to find out exactly what happened (His EKG was normal and we wouldn't find out until much later that he'd actually had a heart attack). The last words he spoke to her were, "I'm ready to go home." Which would be all kinds of existential and stuff if he hadn't immediately followed it with, "They need to stop sending all these pretty nurses in here." His heart stopped twice while the doctors prepared to run tests.

When I found out, I sped to the hospital, some 2 1/2 hours away, in the middle of Virginia's recent blizzard. He was on life support when I arrived. He had suffered brain damage when his heart stopped on the CAT scan table. His kidneys were failing and his blood pressure was dangerously low.

Elk hunting in Colorado 2011
It is a grueling thing to decide to take someone you love so much off of the machines that are keeping their body alive. I put an old dog of mine down once. I thought that was the hardest thing in the world to do. I was wrong. But in what would be a great act of mercy, my father decided he would save us from that decision, and his body gave up on its own before we had a chance.

This week has been indescribably difficult. My father was my hunting partner, my fishing buddy, and a constant, predictable strength. It still feels like I am walking around in some sort of dream world or alternate reality. Other people's fathers die. Not mine. He was too stubborn, too ornery, too alive.

But he is gone. And I already miss him terribly.

Here is the essay I read at his memorial service.

Lessons Learned Hunting With My Dad

My family tree has a treestand in it.

Seriously, everybody in my family hunts. My grandfather hunted. Both of my uncles hunt. My father would have packed up his bags, headed into the woods, and stayed there if life would have allowed him and hunting season ran all year long.

I was born in early September, so  I was only a few months old when my parents first took me hunting. My mother claims I called in a curious doe with my baby whimpers and half-hearted cries from my cozy spot in the back of the nearby station wagon .

Before I was even three, I would spend late summer afternoons perched on an overturned five gallon bucket, short legs dangling, waiting for the doves to fly in. It was hard to sit still when I saw them, it was so exciting. “Here they come, Daddy!” I would say too loudly as I tried to whisper unsuccessfully. "Be quiet. You'll scare the birds," he would fuss.

But it was a long time before my Daddy actually let me do more than sit on a stand or in a blind with him. He claimed it was because I was always so small. He didn’t think I could handle a firearm. I was convinced he wouldn’t take me because I wasn’t a boy. So I pestered him obnoxiously until, like most parents, he finally gave in.

He took me squirrel hunting. I didn’t have proper hunting gear, so my mother bundled me in my puffy purple coat and I pulled on my flimsy sneakers. On our way out the door she hollered “Good luck.”

We would have the most miserable day ever. It rained, soaking my sneakers and my puffy purple coat. We forgot our lunch, leaving us hungry the whole day. We saw not a single squirrel. We got lost in the woods. And then, on the way home, the truck blew a tire, stranding us on the highway in a time well before cell phones.

Daddy blamed the whole thing on my mother’s “good luck” wishes before we left. No one, I mean no one, says “good luck” to a hunter. You might as well cast a voodoo curse on them. He was still cussing about how she ruined that hunting trip years later. Maybe even as recently as this past Christmas.

As you can imagine… I was completely hooked. He did eventually agree to take me deer hunting, but didn’t want to waste money on buying me hunting gear. He was completely convinced that I wouldn’t stick with it, that I was too tiny and tender-hearted to actually enjoy hunting with him. He figured I would abandon the notion and decide hunting wasn’t for me.

This was before all of the current pink camo hoopla or the special fashionable hunting lines for female hunters, so gear that would actually fit me, was hard to find anyway, but picture if you will, a much smaller, 85 pound version of me, wearing my father’s man-sized, hand-me-down camo. I had his old camo coat, an old pair of his camo pants that wrapped around my waist almost twice. I even wore a saggy pair of his old long johns. I might have been forced to wear a pair of his men’s size 12 hiking boots if Uncle Joey hadn’t stepped in and offered up a pair that Mikey had already outgrown.

I was 13 the first year he took me to George Washington National Forest in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains for rifle season. We had driven in his old Dodge D-50, arriving at our campsite well after dark. I hadn’t even gotten to see any of the mountains on the drive in. I was exhausted and just crashed into bed in Uncle Terry’s camper to try and get some sleep. Then well before daylight, he came pounding on the camper door to get me up. In those days, he believed the serious hunter hiked in by flashlight and hiked out the same way. So I dressed in the dark, then I scarfed down some luke warm oatmeal in the camp's kitchen tent while shivering uncontrollably.

Then we hiked, which sounds adventurous and dashing and exciting. It wasn’t. He hadn’t even bothered to give me a flashlight, so I just followed his bouncing light through the darkness, up steep terrain, gasping, my legs aching as his flashlight steadily got further and further away from me in the dark.

That flashlight did eventually stop, up high above me on the dark ridge. After struggling for several minutes more to reach it, he just told me “Sit here.” Then he left me. In the dark. Without a flashlight. I was thirteen.

I watched his light move off uphill, growing fainter and fainter until it finally disappeared over the top of the ridge.

I was alone in the dark. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and the exertion of hiking up terrain I was unaccustomed to. I was shivering and my feet were cold. I was scared. I was scared because I didn’t know what to do without him.

And I was angry. I was angry with Daddy because he had left me alone in the dark.. I was so angry in fact, that I decided I wouldn’t even shoot at a deer if one walked past me. That would show him.

I sat fuming and freezing in the dark, until I finally somehow drifted off to sleep, passing out from exhaustion, my back pressed against the hard bark of the tree where he’d left me.

Something startled me awake some time later. I didn’t really remember where I was, but as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I started to see what was around me. While I had been sleeping, the sun had come up. My father had left me in the perfect spot. The morning was all bright and glowing gold, and I had a clear view of the mountain dropping in deep waves of browns and greens down to a sweeping valley, where I could just make out a herd of cattle grazing. It was so stunning that it took my breath away. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Then I saw, working their way slowly up the slope toward me, a flock of turkeys, maybe as many as 20 (although more probably only 6 or 8. I am my father’s daughter after all), clucking and shuffling and scratching through the leaves. They came right past me, the flock splitting in half to pass on either side of the tree I was sitting under, like I was just part of the scenery.

Suddenly, I wasn’t scared or angry with him anymore, I just couldn’t wait to see him again so I could tell him about everything, the valley, the cows, the turkeys, and just how freakin’ gorgeous everything was around me.

He had known just the right place to leave me.

I learned a lot of really important lessons hunting with my Dad. I certainly was exposed to a very vivid and colorful vocabulary. But I learned a lot of other things, too.

Patience, for example. Sitting still in 18 degree weather, watching my breath fog, feeling my toes slowly numb, waiting for hours on end, hoping for even a glimpse of a deer is grueling. But there is strength and beauty in waiting for that single great moment. In that regard, Daddy was the most patient man I know. In traffic… not so much.

I learned that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. You have to get up early, work hard, stay late. Go in with a flashlight. Come out with a flashlight. Like my Daddy always said, “If it were easy, it would be called killing, not hunting.”

I learned that if there isn’t a trail, that I should blaze my own. Unless you’re in the mountains and see a deer trail cut into the side of a steep ridge. Deer are a whole heck of a lot smarter than most people when it comes to getting around in the woods. Aside from that,  the good stuff usually happens well away from where everyone else is traveling. So take the trail less traveled. It will make all of the difference.

I also learned confidence. He would get excited every time I bagged a deer or a turkey whether it was a little doe or an old longbeard. It didn’t matter. He would pat me on the back and say, “I’m proud of you.” He made me feel like I was competent and able, something that was reinforced when the meat hit the table.

And I also learned to not let an animal suffer, to make my kills quick and clean, that the worst thing you could do was prolong death.

When Daddy and I were hunting, we had a custom. We would do this weird little fist bump. He would say, “Racky tacky, put ‘em in the sacky.” He did it with my boys, too. They know what I’m talking about. It was our way of saying “Go get ‘em...Have fun… see you in a little while.”  (Because you never say “good luck" to a hunter. Right Mom?) Then we would head off to our own stands. In the mountains I would usually watch him slip over the top of the ridge. Then we would meet back up after the hunt was over, usually after sundown

I held my Daddy’s hand while his heartbeat faded away to nothing. But when he left, I didn’t say, “Goodbye.” Instead, I gave him that same weird little fist bump, our hunting fistbump, and told him, “Go get ‘em… Have fun ...see you in a little while.” Silas was there, and he did the same thing.

You see, he isn’t really gone. We’ve just parted ways for a bit, headed in different directions. He’s just slipped over the top of the ridge. We’ll be meeting back up after sundown.

Rest Well, Daddy. Love you. See you soon.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Don't Panic! Southerners Do Know How to Handle Snow

Right now the South is bracing for Snowpocalypse 2017. A few days ago, when the weathermen first dared suggest snow was on it's way, the entire population of North Carolina lost its mind. The mad dash to the grocery store for bread and milk ensued, and the aisles at the local Piggly Wiggly became the cornucopia scene from The Hunger Games. Hell hath no fury like a silver-haired old lady trying to grab the last half-gallon of 2%. Heaven has no rage like the mayhem on the bread aisle.

Like most of my neighbors, I've been stalking The Weather Channel for the past 72 hours like a psycho lunatic, monitoring the maps and hourly forecast, trying to pin down just when the flaky white stuff will make it's appearance. The projected time of arrival and amount of accumulation has fluctuated significantly, but the consensus seems to be that the snow will be preceded by some rain showers starting sometime after 7 PM (which will likely wash away all of the salty brine that was sprayed on the roads two days ago).

In a true Southern overreaction, the public schools have decided to close two hours early. Just in case they aren't able to get everyone safely home before it starts raining at dinner time.

This is why our Northern cousins scoff at us. We over react. Not just to snow, but to the mere mention of snow. Days in advance.

And then we don't know how to plow it, or drive in it, or send our kids to school in it. Just a few slushy flakes and we're declaring a state of emergency and cancelling everything. It's like we don't know what do with it.

But we do.

Sure there is a mad dash to the grocery store for bread and milk and alcohol, but it's mostly because we're preparing for a grand party. We know that life will basically stop for at least 24 hours (but probably more), that we will hunker down, wear warm socks, and binge-watch Netflix. It will be glorious as we stoke up a fire, eat some milk sandwiches, kick back and relax. We won't be able to go anywhere, after all. Everything will close. Everything. The stores. The schools. The highways.

But before the relaxing, we'll pile on 27 layers of thin cotton clothing and wrap our feet in plastic bags (There's really no reason to own snow gear when we only see snow a few days each year) to venture outside. We will pelt each other with slush balls and make icy, muddy snow angels. We will catch flakes on our tongues and make sad excuses for snowmen. We will find a way to sled on even a half inch of slushy ice, not on fancy sleds but on trash can lids and laundry baskets and cardboard boxes, flocking to the overpasses if we have to (Actual hills are hard to find in the South East). Or we'll just hook our kids up to an ATV or the back of a pick-up and drag 'em around. Southerners know how to have fun. (This is also why the local hospitals must remain open during snowstorms. No one said we were smart. Have you seen our standardized test scores?)

We all know that the snow isn't going to be that serious. Heck, the temperature is supposed to be back in the mid fifties by Wednesday. No one is going to be trapped inside for days, forced to eat their pets or burn the furniture to survive.

But there's more to life than just surviving, on a snow day or any day. It's something we Southerners understand. It's why life seems to move slower here. We know that life isn't always about hurrying to get somewhere you aren't. Southerners know how to have fun. We know how to party. It's a tradition we hold as dear as sweet tea, ball caps, and Mama's fried chicken. That's why all y'all (This is proper Southern grammar. Please hold your scathing emails.) head down here for Spring Break and Summer Vacation. We not only know how to "raise hell" but we also know how to relax, take things slow, appreciate the finer things in life.

This weekend those finer things will include homemade snow cream, hastily built snow people, rosy cheeks on happy children, and a day off. So scoff in wintry-driving self righteousness if you must, grumpy Northerners. But I think we Southerners know exactly how to handle snow.

Y'all should be jealous.


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