Archive for January, 2012

Middle school through sophomore year in high school, I went to church. I loved church and I really loved the people. It was always a safe place where I felt I could be myself and people liked me because of it.

When I first moved in with my mom, all I had ever known was small town life where people talked about God. My mom lived in a small city surrounded by other cities; you didn’t have to drive far to get what you needed and only a few kids at school talked about God. Instead of being open to my new life, I was closed minded and judgmental. I am ashamed to say that I even judged my own mom. But in all actuality, my mom judged me too. Because I went to church she judged me as a “goody two shoes.”

At the same time, I was trying to make her more of a stereotypical mother figure. I even started calling her mother, which she did not like. I bought her plain cotton shirts with pink flowers on them and asked her to cook cookies and things for me, because I thought that’s how a mother was supposed to act. Keep in mind that I only saw my mom every other weekend, which sometimes we didn’t because she was working or couldn’t afford the trip to small town, USA.

I really didn’t know her at all. In an effort to get to know her, I snooped through her room. From what I have heard from others, I’m not the only one who has ever snooped through their parents’ stuff. I still don’t feel right about it, partly because I found some very private materials, and partly because it’s just wrong. It was so disturbing; it shocked me and rocked me to my very core. So what did I do? I wrote about it in my journal.

After coming home from a weekend with dad, I walked in to a nervous woman pacing the living room floor. She was holding my journal. She had read everything. Apparently, I had written some pretty awful things about her and she was ready to confront me. My stomach hardened, my heart started beating quickly in my ears like drums, and I couldn’t catch my breath. I knew what I had done was wrong and I didn’t know what to do to fix it.

We yelled at each other for a very long time. She told me I was closed minded, judgmental, and a hypocrite. She also forbade me to go to church. Said I needed some time in the real world to soak it all in. This was a blow and it hurt. I didn’t know what to do so I yanked the journal out of her hands, fled the living room down the short hall to my tiny bedroom, and slammed the door. I heard the front door close. She left.

While she was gone, I started screaming and making horrible roaring sounds. I was overcome by emotion and panic. I frantically started searching for my new journal, the one I had just started. What she had found was a complete journal that I had had since I moved in with her. A whole year’s worth of crazy emotional teenage rants.

I couldn’t find my new journal; it wasn’t in my room. I immediately forced open the door, marched across the hall, and stood in my mom’s room. I don’t know how I knew, but I lifted up the mattress on my mom’s futon, and found my new journal, hiding beneath it.

Ugh! More roaring sounds; to rid myself of the pain and embarrassment, I ripped my old journal to shreds. Even the cardboard cover was no match for my rage. I ripped it too. But for my new journal, I ripped out the first few pages that I had written, but saved the journal. I still have it today. My small bedroom floor was crammed with shredded paper in a perfect mountain. I grabbed a white trash bag and filled it with my judgmental thoughts and closed minded feelings. By the time I was finished, my mom was home. I grabbed the bag and marched out of the apartment and through the front door, straight to the dumpster. When I returned, shaking, red faced, and exhausted; my mom hugged me.

By the end of our first year together, I started buying her halter tops, asked her to buy the cookies, and went back to calling her mom.
I stayed away from church for seven years. Even though she made me quit church, and I’m sure it’s frowned upon, but in a way I’m grateful. I really did see the world as a horrible crazy sinful place, which it is, but I didn’t understand it. Now I understand it, but have a Christian worldview instead. I’m no longer judgmental, closed minded, or a hypocrite. I’m a part of this horrible crazy sinful place.


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I feel guilty for eating peanut m&m’s that I have literally craved for several days. Not just crave, I mean I think about them before I fall asleep crave. Why am I dreaming about peanut m&m’s all of a sudden? I don’t get it. My dear husband brought home a ginormous bag of dark chocolate peanut m&m’s. I am painfully indulging; or am I binging? Can I really take the blame for these calories? Or blame it on the ridiculously delicious peanut m&m’s for throwing themselves at me before I fall asleep.

This is not the first time I have been attacked by a craving. During our “recession,” my mom and I craved nacho cheese chips and jalapeño cheddar cheese sauce. We could actually put down the whole bag and can of cheese sauce in no time at all. (Okay, I still do.)

Where did I learn this behavior? My mom. Of course. Even before I was born, my older sisters in their elementary and middle school years, bragged about how my mom could put a whole nacho cheese chip, with dip, in her mouth. Amazing. I eat, just like my mom. I don’t succumb to this behavior very often, because it would be deadly. I do not buy chips and dip, unless it is requested at a party, and if there is some left, I will bring it home and polish it off. I literally cannot help myself. I know it’s bad and physically unhealthy, but I am proud that my family now brags about how I can put a whole chip in my mouth.

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When I went to high school, thrift stores were cool. T-shirts that made no sense became funny and no poor teenager could beat the price of only a few dollars or less. I was a thrift store junkie.

My mom and I were dirt poor. Eviction notices taped to our door, no electricity, and scarcely any food, we were poor; dirt poor. Never fear! For some pocket change, I could update my wardrobe periodically. During our “recession,” I managed to get a waitressing job at a family owned Italian restaurant. It was authentic, and yes the family was Italian as could ever be. I loved working there and the money was just right for my modest lifestyle.

That’s when I discovered thrift store t-shirts. My main focus was the little boy section. Yes, little boy section. Our scarce pantry allowed me to stay trim; very trim. For 25 cents I could get a little boy’s t-shirt that displayed some action figure or a travel destination.

I made sure to stretch my money as far as it could go. I once spent over an hour trying to spend five dollars. I managed to get three items, of which I still own today, one I still wear. Pretty good buy if you ask me.

My mom and I would spend hours combing the aisles at our local thrift store. We would spend majority of that time trying on clothes; hundreds of clothes. One very stressful occasion, I had a baby in tow. It was my weekend with the lifelike baby doll from child development class. She was a screaming dark skinned newborn with a vengeance. As I walked around embarrassed by the screaming child, my mom and I tried effortlessly to calm her down. This doll required a key to be placed in the dolls back and then turned when she cried. I put the key in, turned it and nothing. The baby kept crying. I held the key forever rocking the baby, patting the baby, even singing to the baby; like it could hear me. The baby kept crying. Finally the baby cooed and went to sleep. On a side note, the baby turned out to be a baby exposed to crack while in the womb. That explained everything.

Being as poor as we were, it was short lived. Our electricity was off for two full weeks, the eviction notices didn’t stop and we ended up renting a house for free in a nearby city, but the pantry always stayed scarce. We just never had any money. Mom worked as an aid for a family with an elderly man who could no longer take care of himself but didn’t want to go to a nursing home. She worked full-time for them and fell in love with the family paying no mind to the modest paycheck; she was happy with that job. I worked at the Italian restaurant for two years which allowed me to purchase some food, keep gas in my car, and purchase little boy t-shirts from thrift stores.

Thrift stores also have come in handy for many more needs in my life. Random dishes, gently used of course, stocked my cabinets when I first went out on my own. My roommate when I was 18 did a great job stocking our kitchen, but when she moved out, it was my turn to stock the kitchen; so I went digging for thrift store treasures. Hand crafted coffee cups are my still favorite thing to hunt for. My collection ranges from hand painted mugs to hand crafted works of art. Shot glasses, glass wear, and skillets also make up my collection. Majority of the cooking wear in my kitchen came from thrift stores 7-10 years ago. What a treasure! I love things that last long.

My mom always loved buying clothes from thrift stores. Some of the things she would find looked like something already in her closet that she’d worn for years. Faded oversized t-shirts, jeans with holes and worn bottoms, tank tops, and jean shorts were her favorite clothes to buy. She also enjoyed the book selection. Tall crates full of books waist high would be scattered in the back half of the store. Mom would dig in looking for self-help books. Her collection included books on how to apply make-up and look like a model, how to lose weight, what you should eat to avoid cancer, how to keep your plants looking fabulous, how to crochet, everything you need to know about dogs, money, how to look younger, how to work out.

Although majority of her books are outdated and dusty, it really paints a picture of who she was as a person. For instance, my mom loved to sit on the floor in front of a tall, leaning wall mirror and apply her make-up for hours. She would do it in such a slow charismatic way as if she were having a long conversation with the woman in the mirror. She would roll thick heavy sections of her coarse brown hair around large hot pink and red curlers. Smoke a cigarette. Pluck her eyebrows. Curl her bangs. Smoke a cigarette. Curl her eye lashes. Pluck any stray hairs on her face. Smoke a cigarette. Apply eye shadow. Smear on mascara, lots of mascara. Smooth on foundation. Dab blush. Glide powder over her face. Spread pale pink gloss over her lips, blot once, smooth lips together and smile. She would then take her hands up to her hair and flip her bangs on either side, to make them stick out by her eyes. Smoke a cigarette.

Mom always worried about her weight. She was never fat and always at a healthy weight for her age and height. We both seemed to be linked when it came to our weight, even after we went our separate ways. When she lost weight, I lost weight. When I gained weight, she gained weight. She was obsessed with trying new fad diets and investing money on pills, shakes, videos, and equipment that would only keep her interest for a few months until it was tossed aside.

Mom was also a health nut, well I guess not the kind that actually is healthy, but the kind that is unhealthy but always researching how to be healthy. She liked researching different foods and how it helped make you healthy. She especially loved plants, such as fruits and vegetables. She became especially intrigued by pineapple and started growing one four years ago. I have it now. She told me it takes seven years for a pineapple to grow. I guess I will see if she’s right in three years.

Mom loved her plants like children. She talked to them and cared for them every day. Plucking leaves, repotting mature starts, watering with grower; these weren’t the only ways my mom cared for her plants. She understood them. She understood their light temperaments, their behavior pattern for growing, and their water intake. I have 17 of her plants and more to come my way as my grandma replants starts from some of my mom’s plants. I must be honest, I don’t talk to them, I barely remember to water them, and I have no idea how much light or water each one is supposed to have or when to repot them. I don’t even know their biological names. I wish I had had more of an interest in horticulture because maybe I would know how to continue caring for her other children.

All the books my mom had in her collection relate to her life in some way. She loved to crochet and made me a large white blanket with pink doily trim, and little green baskets holding pink flowers all over the blanket. She did it all by crocheting. She also made me a matching blanket and pillow for my doll. I still have the blanket and my step-daughter has the doll blanket and pillow. I will cherish them always. My mom had a lot of dog books because she was a dog groomer and liked to learn about different breeds, different styles, and tools to use. Mom also read a lot about money, probably because she never had any.

I never knew mom as well as I think I know her now. Her life was one of dreams and wonders that she loved to read about and plan. Majority of them never were started, but some of her plans worked out. She was very thrifty and taught me to live life no matter what the circumstances. Even when we were dirt poor, we still had fun and laughed a lot. She taught me to always preserver even when I feel like giving up.

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I have always been raised loving music. My dad is a well known musician in our community and surrounding communities. My maternal grandfather was also a well known musician. My dad’s family still owns a music store, repairing stringed instruments.

When the radio is on the car, I’m in control. I love every song on the dial and know every word; old and new.

“Ooh! This is my favorite song! Turn it up!” I yell every time I’m in the car.

“Every song is your favorite song,” my husband reminds me.

Although this may be true, there’s a great explanation for why.

My mom loved her radio and blasted it every time I was with her. We always had “favorite” songs. During one summer in middle school, my mom’s favorite song would come on and the very next song would be mine. It happened several times. We would giggle with joy, crank the volume, and sing our hearts out; windows down and all. The passion for music only grew as I got older.

Since mom has passed, I have been hearing nothing but her favorite songs on the radio. I tell myself its how she connects with me down on earth. I know she has no control over the radio stations and what they play, but it sure seems ironic that all her favorite songs are constantly being played on the radio; or she just had great taste in music.

The most recent song I heard in the car was called “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes.

Mom would always belt out, “Hey yea a yeaaa, hey yea a yeaaa, I said hey, what’s going on?!

This song made another appearance while I was driving my mom and my aunt from Texas to a nearby hospital to be with my maternal grandma as she underwent brain surgery to remove a 3.3 cm tumor behind her right eye. My mom was very advanced in her lung cancer at that time and her color was starting to change from an Indian tan to a pasty gray. All worries aside, we headed to the hospital, when “What’s Up” came on the radio. All three of us belted out, “Hey yea a yeaaa, hey yea a yeaaa, I said hey, what’s going on?!” Brought goosebumps to my arms; it was magical.

Although my grandma’s five hour surgery went perfect, my mom’s heart began to race half way through the day. Luckily we were at a hospital, so we just wheeled her down to the ER. It was there they discovered fluid around her heart. Little bits of her 9.9 cm tumor at the top of left lobe was moving and irritating the sac around her heart forming fluid. When she arrived at the ER, her heart rate was 174. The normal is 50-100. They dismissed her from ER after monitoring her for five hours. I put in a 14 hour day that day at the hospital. Head throbbing I brought my mom home to rest.

The next morning, her home health nurse stopped by to drain fluid from a catheter that stuck out in between her ribs on her left side, that drained the fluid from the sac around her lung. The nurse took one look at her and her vitals and called her oncologist. I drove my mom to the ER immediately. It was noon.

I left the ER at midnight when she was finally wheeled to a room. All I could think about was going to bed so I could get back there as soon as possible. I put in a 12 hour day at the hospital.

Due to the exhaustion, I over slept and made it to my mom around 11 am. I walked in, laid my bag down that housed books, magazines and snacks, and walked out straight to the nurses’ station. Something was wrong.

“Can I speak to the nurse for Diane Terry?” I asked the nurse at the desk.

A woman peeks her heard from around the counter, “I am, is there something I can help you with?”

I swallowed my tears and began to describe what I saw. “Is she on some new meds? She is acting really drugged and lethargic. She could barely open her eyes to talk to me. Her breakfast is still there, which shows me she is not eating. Can you just tell me what’s wrong?”

“Well, aside from a high heart rate, her vitals are steady. It may have been from the sleep aid that was given her early this morning.”

It may have been? “Okay, well I don’t think she should have that anymore, because she can’t even function as a person. Just last night she was sitting up in bed talking to me, now she can barely open her eyes.” I left in a flurry and headed back to her room, where I found her just the way I left her; asleep.

I curled up in the chaise lounge with a book and a blanket and tried to read. I read the same pages over and over again because my mind was with my mom, not in the story. I kept thinking about her behavior and how it was so much different than yesterday. Fed up with the nonsense in my mind, I called my dad’s sister-in-law who is a hospice nurse to ask for her advice on what I should do. I felt like the doctors didn’t understand my nervousness.

“Jessie, if it were my mom I wouldn’t leave her side. You need to talk to the nurse about staying the night with her.”

Settled; I was staying the night. I immediately called my mom’s boyfriend and her sister from Texas who was staying with them at the time, to tell them to come stay the night with me, it doesn’t look good.

Because it was the weekend, no one could do an EKG on her to get an idea of what was going on with my mom’s heart. They had received the images taken by the ER at the other hospital and were aware that there was some fluid around her heart.

I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I put together two chairs and some pillows to make me a comfy spot right next to my mom, my head at her feet and my feet at her head. My mom’s boyfriend and her sister from Texas each slept in a chaise lounge that pulled out in a bed. As they snored along with the humming fan, I sat there and stared at her, watching her breathe. Every once in a while she would open her eyes and reach out her hand to me; I would lean up a little to squeeze her cold, long skinny fingers. I swallowed large crocodile tears that tugged on my hangy-down-ball-thingy not wanting to give up the fight.

As she held on to my fingers, she would moan and gently move her head, still not opening her eyes. I felt that something was wrong. I leapt out of my cocoon of blankets and pillows and ran outside into the hall where her heart monitor was posted. Her heart rate had shot up to 161. I ran, not walked, to the nurses’ station to get help. She was already on her way down.

“I paged the on-call doctor, he will be down soon,” she said in a very calm smooth voice; she sensed my anxiety.

The on-call doctor stuck mini circles on her chest with tape, hooked up to a heart monitor that rested on the table next to her. Several times throughout the night, the monitor beeped loudly as her heart rate shot back up to the 160’s and then back down to low 100’s. Mom would moan gently, but never work up. I never slept.

The next day was the busiest and most stressful day I experienced at the hospital with my mom. Running on no sleep, I was beyond drained. I had managed to hold back any emotion in front of my mom. At that point my aunt from Texas called relatives in the surrounding areas to get to the hospital to see my mom, things were not looking good. As the room filled with family, I slipped out for some fresh air.

After the EKG, heart surgeons talked to us about conducting an emergency surgery sometime that day to put a catheter in the sack around her heart to drain the fluid. I was mortified.

“Can we talk in the hall?” I asked them. My mom was a nervous-nelly and did not want to know anything about her condition. I had to sneak around and speak to the doctors away from my mom so as not to worry her. As I listened to them explain the surgery and the severity of her condition, my mom simply covered her face and cried silently, agreeing that she should have the surgery. I sat there in silence fighting back fear and emotion. I was furioius.

When we got to the hall, it all came out. “I don’t think my mom can handle the surgery. She hasn’t eaten in four days and is very weak. Is this really necessary?” I sobbed and shook as they again told me how serious her condition was and that they needed to operate. The conversation got so intense that we had to find a break room where we could discuss the situation in private. I was convinced she would die in surgery. I knew she was getting close to death, and I just wanted her to pass peacefully at the family home in the country where she wanted to pass, and not during heart surgery. At the end of the conversation, I was unclear if they were going to conduct the surgery or not. So I left my mom with family and once again stepped out for fresh air.

While I was outside, my sisters arrived with my paternal grandma carrying pizza, sheet cake, cookies, and veggies. These are my half-sisters as I am my mom’s only child. We ate as I described what happened after the EKG. They agreed with me that this was a far too risky operation.

After I fueled up, I walked into my mom’s room to find her being prepped for surgery. I was beyond shocked.

“What? MOM! Really? You agreed to the surgery?!” I voiced my emotion for the first time in two months, since the doctors found the tumor.

“Well, Jessie! What do you want me to do?! Give up?! I’m not ready to die! I’m having the surgery!” My mom screamed at me the best she could, finally voicing her emotion since she arrived at the hospital four days ago. I sat in the chaise lounge, arms folded, tears rolling down my cheeks, and I pouted.

I followed her down as they wheeled her to the surgery floor. I sat in the waiting room choking back tears, imagining how pitiful I must look. Make-up cried off, bags the size of suitcases, hair a greasy disheveled mess. I was heart-broken and numb.

They finally called me back to sit with her as they prepped and got her ready for surgery. I just sat in silence in a chair so close to the head of the bed, my mom couldn’t see me. I cried silently, angry at her for doing the surgery. At that point I had been at the hospital for 28 hours and was not thinking clearly. I wasn’t taking into account that mom should at least attempt the surgery and have faith that she would pull through.

My mom tried to remain perky as they asked her questions and talked to her once again about the surgery.

“You don’t think I should do this do you?” She asked me in a hushed voice.

“No, mom I don’t. I have a bad feeling you won’t make it through. You already can’t breathe and they want to put you fully under for this surgery. It’s not like the other one for your catheter, this one you are fully under.” I started crying hysterically.

“Oh doodlebug.” My mom cooed as she held my hand.

The surgeon defended me and told my mom there were great risks and it was normal for me to have this fear. As they wheeled her out of the room and down the hall, we held hands and locked eyes until I couldn’t go any further. I don’t know who was crying harder, me or my mom.

The waiting room slowly emptied as I slept on a hard stained couch. When I awoke, my husband, pastor, and my mom’s boyfriend were with me. We tried to carry on conversations, but the effort wasn’t there. After a couple of hours, they came to get me; she had pulled through but was going straight to ICU for monitoring.

The nurse that led me to the ICU was the same nurse that had helped my mom through all her surgeries she had within the past month. She was a middle aged woman with short silver hair that was just coming back from her stint of breast cancer. She had won her battle, and worked everyday helping others fight theirs.

Before opening the door to ICU she took my hand, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Your mom is very sick sweet heart.”

“I know,” I mumbled, through wet lips, salty from tears. “I just don’t want anyone to sugar coat anything anymore. It seems all these doctors tell me what they think I want to hear. But I don’t want to hear sugar coated lies, I want to know the truth.” I told her trying to sound confident.

“She has a few weeks Hun, she’s very sick.”

“What about chemo?” I asked, alarmed that my mom would never be given the chance to even fight her cancer with chemo.

“She’s too weak for chemo. Her body won’t respond to it like it should. I’m sorry.” We hugged and she led me through to my mom.

Her bed was large and up high. The whole back of the bed was attached to tubes and monitors that were lined above her head, hanging from the ceiling. It was like an outer space sleigh. The ceiling was painted in an undersea scene. I felt like I was there because I kept her a bubbling sound, like a fish tank. I sat next to my sleeping mom and investigated what I saw. I had become a pro at looking at the medical equipment in order to get an idea at what the numbers meant. I had discovered what her normal numbers were for pulse, heart rate, oxygen level, and blood pressure. I watched those monitors like a soap opera memorizing every change and fluctuation. Her numbers were not the best. I also noticed a large, about the size of a quarter sea-green tube that ran out from under her gown and blanket, to a gentle vacuum at the foot of her bed. The water bubbled and made a gentle vacuum that drained the bloody red fluid from her heart. That’s where the undersea bubbles came from.

I grabbed her hand and she opened her eyes.

“You did it mom, you made it through!” I said calmly and full of tears.

“Mmmm,” was all she could say as she fell asleep.

I barreled out of there and allowed my other family members along with my pastor to come in and see her. She was more awake for them and was able to talk to them a little. My husband said she was adorable because she really didn’t make sense. She looked like a little girl in her dad’s big bed.

I asked her later if she remembered seeing pastor.

“I remember looking at his eyes, and I think I told him I loved him,” she laughed. She remained playful and cute throughout her journey with lung cancer.

That night ended just before the sunset, giving me a 32 hour stint at the hospital; my longest. My husband and I laid in bed and watched old black and white movies. Our drained minds couldn’t handle anything with a confusing plot or fast moving pictures; the simpler the better.

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My mom’s closest sister, well her only “blood” sibling, the rest of her 9 siblings are half or adopted, lives in Texas with her husband, and three daughters.

I haven’t been to Texas in 10 years. I was 16 the last time I went. I’ve only gone to Texas four times in my life. Since my mom’s passing, five months ago tomorrow, I have been planning a trip to Texas so my husband and 10-year-old step-daughter can make memories down south like I did. I want them to know some of my mom’s favorite people in Texas. As I plan this trip for my family in June, it has unleashed my memories of Texas with my mom.

My most memorable trip to Texas was when I was 10 years old and I got to see the Gulf of Mexico for the first time. I was more than excited to see an ocean; living in the heart of the United States hadn’t given me much of an opportunity to see an ocean. Being fair skinned, freckled, and a redhead, I was doomed before we even got there.

Mom, my step-dad, two of my cousins, and me headed for an island called Port Aransas. After a three hour drive, we were there. Before we even got to the ocean, I could smell salt in the air and see sand on the side of the road where dirt and grass should be. The land became flat and I could make out the curve of the Earth in the distance. It was breath taking.

As we got to the ocean, we had to ride up on a ferry to take us to the island of Port Aransas. The island was very small and housed businesses, restaurants, and the beach; that’s it. We parked our car right on the beach, set up chairs, lathered up with sun block, fed a flock of sea gulls, and ran for the ocean. I splashed around in the salty water for four hours before I finally came to shore.

Something happens when you are out in the water. I kept drifting to the left and even though the water was still only waste high, mom and the car seemed so far away. I never got nervous, nor did I pay much attention to the creatures swimming around me.

A middle aged gentleman with leathery brown skin and a gray beard waded past me with a large fishing pole. I had been fishing more times than I could count with my dad and never had I seen such a thick pole with a strange bulky reel and thick fishing line that I could actually see from far away.

As he waded by, I asked him, “What are you fishing for?”

“Shark,” was all he said as he kept wading forward.

Alarm bells never went off.

When I finally found my way to shore, the fisherman was talking to my family. When I arrived, they opened up the circle and revealed a baby shark. He had already cleaned it, but I was able to touch its smooth silky skin that had the toughness of leather. It still didn’t shock me, until I got older.

I swam next to a fisherman fishing for sharks; not just any sharks, baby sharks; wrong on so many levels.

We packed up and headed inland for dinner and shopping. We each got a t-shirt and ate seafood on a large covered dock. I noticed that my skin felt tight on my face, shoulders, and back. The sand inside my swimsuit was scratching and irritating me.

Upon further examination, my mom screamed out, “Oh look at my poor baby! You are so burned!”

I was accustomed to sunburns; being a fair skinned, freckled redhead, but never had I experienced sunburn like that. After we looked for sand dollars and watched the tide shift as the sun set, we headed home. It was the longest car ride of my life. I shivered and shook from the air conditioner blowing on my red hot skin. I ran my fingers gently over my shoulders and felt squishy firm lumps; blisters the size of dimes. I ran my fingers over my nose; more blisters. My cheeks, forehead, ears, back of my neck; even more blisters. I was miserable.

As soon as we got back to town, my step-dad and mom stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up sunburn creams and lotions. My two cousins and I waited in the back seat, in the dark, all alone. As we were drifting in and out of sleep, we heard a crinkling sound coming from the plastic bags of shells shoved in the back window.

“Did y’all hear that?” One of my cousins asked.

“Yes.” I whispered holding my breath trying to hear it again.

“There it is again!” My other cousin screamed as we heard the crinkling again. This time it lasted longer.

I took my hand and smashed the bag of shells over and over until my cousins screamed, “STOP!” Apparently they had failed to check the shells for crabs and they were crawling around like mad in the plastic bags.

That night I was covered in cold creams that only made me shiver more. We crashed fairly early and slept all night, and all the next day until sun set. We ate dinner, and went right back to bed; sun poisoning. We left the next day for a 13 hour trip home. It surpassed the trip from the ocean as the worst trip, it was more miserable than that. I was uncomfortable from the seat rubbing my Port Aransas t-shirt on my blistered back; the seatbelt irritated my burned neck and shoulder. I was so embarrassed by my blistered red face that I would even cry as we walked around gas stations, fearing everyone was looking at me and laughing. I had nightmares during the trip that my blisters were popping open and my shirt was soaked. When I awoke in a scream, my shirt was soaked; from sweat.

We did make it home and when my dad saw me, he was furious. He kept screaming at my mom, “She has third degree burns!”

Whether I did or not, it still was the best memory of Texas I had with my mom. It was my first ocean experience when I was too young to fear the vast waters and all the creatures in it. The next time I go to the ocean, I won’t enjoy it as much, because I will be mindful of the creatures living within its depths and fear them; I know too much.

We have planned a trip to Port Aransas with my aunt and cousins. I can’t wait to make new memories with my husband and step-daughter the way I made memories with mom. We will skip the sunburn and blisters part, but have fun non-the-less. Memories are memories, no matter how painful, literally painful they are.

To this day, I have very large freckles that outline where my swimsuit was when I was 10 years old. The freckles on my shoulders are just as big; I freckle more now on my face than I did before my trip to Texas. Permanent skin damage you ask? Most likely.

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I did it again. I went too fast while reading a recipe and left out a very important ingredient: baking powder. Anyone that bakes knows that cornbread without baking powder won’t rise.
It’s Friday. I’m exhausted; running on four hours of sleep and a dr. pepper. My husband asks, “What’s for dinner?”

Chili…baked…with cornbread.

Chili is my comfort food. Probably because chili was the only thing my mom knew how to cook that didn’t involve boiling water or a microwave. I always gulped it down, loaded with crackers. I would stick my spoon right in the steamy middle and shove the concrete cracker chili against the side of my bowl, until I found the bottom of my bowl. Then I would slowly eat at the cool edge of the chili while the center cooled down. I had it down to an art.

My most memorable bowl of chili occurred during an ice storm in 2001. In the Midwest, we are accustomed to ice storms, but this one caught us off guard. It was early on in the year, and school was canceled due to inclement weather. No school for me; mom called in to work.

As we watched Oprah and colored mom’s hair, the power went out. This would be around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Mom had just gotten in the shower to wash out the dye. I heard her scream and I ran in the bathroom laughing realizing mom was in pitch dark, blackness with a shower beating down on her. I would have screamed too.

Mom did her best to rinse out the dye while I ran to the fridge to see what I could salvage from spoiling. It was freezing temperatures outside. My plan was to put important food items that we just could not live without on the porch to stay cold.

There it was on the top shelf, front and center: chili.

My mom’s chili is very simple, but being the picky eater that I was growing up, it was the only thing my parents could get me to eat without a fuss. My parents divorced when I was 3 and I lived with my dad until I was 15. He even cooked my mom’s chili knowing it was one of the few things I would eat. I thought of my mom the whole time I ate her chili.  It included ground beef, kidney beans, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and chili seasoning. Oh and don’t forget the saltine crackers and lots of them; simple, yet perfectly delicious.

I immediately grabbed the shining silver pot, our biggest one we had in the kitchen, and buried it in snow and little ice pellets on the porch. I was not going to let that pot of chili spoil in the refrigerator.

The power was still out late in the evening. Mom and I piled every blanket we had in the house along with both of our cats onto the couch and we snuggled in candlelight. We lived in a basement apartment in a large apartment complex. The walls were brick and the living room housed a sliding glass door that led to our concrete walled in porch below ground. We had the coldest apartment on the complex.

There is something really daunting about sitting in the dark with no power; especially when the whole city is experiencing the black out. Windows of our complex glowed of deep orange and yellow from cold families like us huddled around candle light. The trees were heavily loaded with ice that had been falling for nearly 12 hours. The branches became too weak and started crashing down all around us. Every few minutes we heard loud crackling from the branches falling causing transformers to explode. Limbs falling and transformers and other things exploding, that’s what we listened to all night long. It was frightening.

The next day, a friend of my mom’s knocked on the door; he came to rescue us! I bundled up and grabbed my pot of chili. I wasn’t leaving without it.

My mom chuckles, “What’s that?” looking at the pot in my arms.

“Your chili! I don’t know about you, but I’m starving!” My mom was stunned and a little impressed with my impeccable survival skills.

My mom’s friend, his girlfriend, and her two daughters still had working gas at their house. I knew we could heat up the chili in no time! The ride over was dangerous and several times I wished we were back in our cold basement apartment. Tree limbs were down all over the ice covered roads. Road crews were out trying to remove tree limbs so the ice trucks could get by and plow and de-ice the streets. It took hours to get to a destination 20 minutes away.

That evening we huddled in the kitchen, cracked the windows, turned on the gas stove and warmed ourselves by the pot of chili. We ate and ate until the pot was licked clean. It was the best pot of chili I had ever had in my life, and now it’s the most memorable.

My chili tonight, baked with cornbread, turned out alright, despite the lack of baking powder. Although they didn’t rise, the cornbread turned out to taste the same, just denser. My husband asked that I skip the baking powder every time; tasted better.

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I awoke this morning crying out in a loud sob. I had just had a nightmare. It was the kind of nightmare that gets tangled up with a memory. The memory was my mom’s memorial that took place on August 13, 2011. The nightmare was the memorial playing out all over again, only this time my mom was in attendance.

It was a balmy summer day, only hot if you moved around a lot or were nervous. Needless to say, I was a hot mess. The ancient trees cast a shade spot large enough to hold all of my mom’s family and friends. A canopy shaded the antique refinished table which was the foundation for the ashes, photos, and flowers. The ashes were in one of my mom’s favorite elephant jewelry boxes, the kind lined in red velvet. It was a heavy, gray bulky thing with an elephant’s head and trunk as the lid. It reminded me of an old black and white photo of a circus tent. The flowers were all white to symbolize peace and tranquility.

It was a peaceful day, despite the circumstances. There were so many family and friends I had not seen in ten years. It’s sad that funerals and memorials become a place of reunion. Makes seeing each other grim, hanging on the memories of my family until I see them again, which I haven’t since the memorial.

After the memorial, my uncles got out their acoustic guitars and played joyous music for all to hear. We filled the porch from one end to the other, sweating, crying, and laughing. The covered front porch on the old family home stretches the width of the house, cooling off all who enjoy the creaky old porch swing and colorful lawn chairs. That day stretched on until night, until only a few were left, soaking up as much togetherness as possible before returning to their everyday lives. We decided to explore the back acreage that held a very small muddy pond, hidden in brush, tall grass, and trees. I in a skirt and barefoot, took off running. I hadn’t visited that old pond since I was in middle school. I couldn’t wait to see if it had changed. The tall grass and brush scratched my legs and feet, but I didn’t care. I ran as hard and fast as I could, dodging fallen trees, and large branches. When I reached the pond it was completely surrounded in trees and tall brush. I ran around to the back side and found an entrance, where I immediately stuck my toes in the mud and waded around in the water. When my family caught up with me they chided me reminding me of what kind of creatures could be lurking in the muddy water and mud. I ignored them while I closed my eyes soaking up every childhood memory I could that included this pond, this land, this house, and all the family in it.

It really was a pleasant memorial, but my nightmare was not. My mom was in attendance. She took her spot during the memorial right up by her ashes, just standing there, smiling, wearing an orange sundress; her favorite. When it was over, we hugged and laughed, catching up as if she were back. Her hair was long and brown with no gray that flowed down her back and covered her shoulders; her eyes large and shining, and her skin lightly tanned and flawless, not a wrinkle in sight. She looked young and happy. That’s all I remember from the nightmare but now that I focus on it a little more I realize it wasn’t a nightmare after all. It’s not my favorite dream, but it was pleasant in a way that I got to see my mom happy and healthy, looking really beautiful. It’s been a long time since I saw that.

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