Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Today is Thanksgiving Day. The ham is glazed, the  topping is on the cheesecake and the rolls are going into the oven. In a few minutes, we will sit down for Thanksgiving dinner. Since I have not posted in a couple of weeks, I thought that this would be a good time to update my blog.

This has not been my best year, so what do I have to be thankful for today? Let's start at work. There are major changes coming at T&S in the next few months. My current job will cease to exist as I know it now. I will be able to stay if I will accept a position with less responsibilities and less authority. That all comes with a substantial reduction in salary. I doubt that I will stay under those conditions. So why be thankful? Over the last twenty years I have met some great people at work. Some are employees, some are customers and a few were salesmen for our suppliers. I have had some great learning experiences over the last twenty years. There have been more good times than bad ones. Overall, it's been a hell of a run!! I can get another job, they can't get another me.

Mom died three weeks ago. I am thankful that her suffering is over. I miss her badly. However, I am thankful for the 58 years that I had with her. A friend was only 12 or 13 when her mother died, so I guess that I'm pretty lucky that Mom lived as long as she did.

Saturday morning, we will gather at Philadelphia United Methodist Church in York for Mom's memorial service. Many years ago at First United Methodist Church in Tampa, the Reverend J. Gordon Ralls preached a sermon called "The Importance of Saying Goodbye". I am thankful that even today I remember that message. On Saturday, we will say goodbye to Mom so that we can go forward with our lives.

I started attending Buffalo Church almost a year ago. I am thankful that my life has regained some balance. Like many people, my spiritual life had fallen into a state of disrepair. It is better now.

From my friend Joel and his struggle with cancer to my current issues at work, I have come to appreciate the power of prayer.

I am thankful that my wife helps me with understanding our sons. I couldn't do that by myself. The boys are probably thankful also.

In the last year, I have discovered the value of friends. I am going to wrap this up with a "Thank You" to all of the following people for all that they have done for me.

Jesse Bledsoe- I'm making you earn that degree in pastoral counseling!
Lacy- The list is way too long. You're the best!
Jim Cox- Thanks for all of your help.
Wayne, Nancy, Ann, Joe, Clyda, Arlene, Sidney, Barbara, Mary Sue, Bill, Larry, Nancy, David and everyone else at Buffalo. Thanks for making me feel welcome.
Leo- Thanks for making my job easier.
Ginger- Thanks for caring.
Talmage- Thanks for your support.
Tom, Craig, Mary, Charlie, Betty, The Mikes, Peggy and Bobby, Anne and Charlie, Danny and several other customers- Thanks for being special customers.
Anna-  Thanks for being my "personal fashion advisor" and friend.
Loretta- Thanks for everything, my friend.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mom

A few hours after my previous blog post on Saturday, my mother died. She had spent the last three years struggling with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.

For you Yankees reading this, The South is a matriarchal society, women are the dominant family figures. Our family was no exception.

 My mother was married and divorced twice while I was growing up. Before her life was over, she had been married and divorced four times. A few years ago, Mom and I were discussing this subject. I told her that while I loved her, I doubted that she could pick the winner in a one horse race. She responded by pointing out that I had not inherited that trait as I had already been married one time for more years than her four marriages had totaled. In a moment of stupidity, I once asked my mother what caused a couple of her divorces. Her answer was entertaining, but so graphic that I won't write it here.

As a single parent, my mother served double duty as both mother and father. It was a struggle, but she did a great job. I tell people that I am opposed to the incredible surge in single women having families. I have been there as a child of a single parent and I'm telling you that most women can't handle that situation. Mom could.

My mother loved bright colors. Ours was the first house in the neighborhood with bright red trim. Of course, she was also the first to leave the Christmas lights up year round. When I was in high school, she painted the living room a "tangerine" color. Yes, there were days that I was grateful to have that color deficient thing with my vision.

Mom sewed a lot and made most of her own clothes. She took this talent to her grave as none of her children can do this. Wait!! My son William made his own Pope outfit for Halloween. I sent Mom a picture. She was impressed. She once told me that plaid shirts made me look fat. On my last visit with Mom, I wore a pink shirt the day that we went shopping. She told me that she loved it!! So there!

Several of my female cousins have discussed at family reunions that they learned to wear large earrings from Aunt Iris. Several years ago Mom had on a large pair of earrings at a family gathering. I inquired as to how many stations she could pick up on those satelite dishes hanging from her ears. Her response is unprintable, but we were both laughing when she told me.

Mom loved sports. She used to get me out of school to see the Dodgers play the Reds during spring training in Tampa. Once in junior high, she went to the school office to get me out of class to go to a game. The principal, John Marzolf, asked her "Do you have to take Gilbert to the doctor?" She replied "God no!! The Dodgers are in town. The game starts at 1:00." Later in life, she took my nephew to see the Charlotte Knights games in Fort Mill.

After moving to Fort Walton Beach, she became a Florida State fan. She would call me whenever FSU beat North Carolina in football, a fairly common event. I would always point out that I'm not a Carolina fan, but she didn't let that stop her.

She loved NASCAR. Mom's favorite driver was Dale Earnhardt. She called me crying when he died. Once, when she was visiting us, we were watching a  NASCAR race on television. At one point, she shook me and told me that if I was going to sleep that I needed to go to the bedroom. Apparently my snoring was interfering with her watching the race.

Mom was still collecting baseball cards into her seventies. I used to love it when someone would ask if I collected sports cards and I would say, "No, but my mother does."

My mother was always an aspiring author. She took a lot of writing classes over the years. She wrote hundreds of short stories and poems during her life. Some will be read at her memorial service. Those reading this blog are left to their own opinions as to whether I inherited that characteristic.

 A few years ago, she wrote "Herstory, Part One". It's  her life story. "Herstory" is not a typo, it's a feminist play on "History". I guess that if anyone is going to finish "Herstory", I'm going to have to do it. I don't how I will do that as I can't read Part One without crying. I'll try anyway.

She also wrote her share of "letters to the editor".  She encouraged us to do the same. I wrote a letter to the Sports Editor of the Tampa Tribune, Tom McEwen, when I was in the sixth grade. Yeah, I have written a few more since then. Several years ago, I had a lengthy letter published in Restaurant Hospitality, a national trade publication. I sent Mom a copy. She was thrilled.

My mother was a proud Southerner. When I was in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, she would attend the meetings when she was in town. She's been to more Civil War sites and battle reenactments than I have and that's a bunch! She also wrote a lot of poems about the war. You can tell by her writing that she was a true Southerner.

Mom was a very religious person. Over the years, she had changed denominations several times in her search for answers. After starting life as a Methodist, she tried many churches. Among them were Episcopal, Lutheran, Catholic, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, and in her last few years, back to the Methodist Church. She studied her Bible everyday until the end. I was always impressed by her ability to quote obscure passages from the Bible.

I loved my mother. She was always encouraging and supportive, especially during dark times. She was also brutally honest, though she would temper that by waiting until a crisis was over to tell you. We had some large disagreements over the years, but we were able to resolve them. Over the last three years, I went to Florida to see her as often as I could. Visiting with  her was always worth the long ride. Life with Mom was never dull.

In a couple of weeks, we will gather at Philadelphia United Methodist Church in York to celebrate Mom's life. Several years ago she had planned her memorial service. That eliminated a lot of things for us to take care of after her death. Just a warning for the politically correct among you, the closing song is "Dixie".

Goodbye, Mom. I love you. I miss you already!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

It's times like these.......

I'm sitting in front of the computer, trying to type this, while I watch my phone and wait for it to ring. I know that sometime in the next few days, the phone will ring, and my sister will tell me that my mother has died.

I went to see Mom last week. Her health had taken a downturn, so I decided to go see her while I still could. We had planned a trip to Pigeon Forge for vacation, but the Smoky Mountain Knife Works will be around next year and my mother won't be. So off we went to Florida to see Mom.

It was a good trip. We took Mom out out for dinner one night and out for lunch one day. At dinner, Mom just picked at her food until my dessert arrived. I asked her if she wanted a taste of my coconut pie. I turned to talk to my sister and when I turned back around, my pie was gone. I'm guessing that it was good. One night we had dinner at my sister's house. The dinner company was my mother, my sister Sheila, and my wife Susan. What a group! There were three women having some wine and me trying to choke down Florida tap water. The water would have been better had I just dipped a glass out of their pool. It was good to sit around the dinner table and swap stories of days past.

Mom and I did our part for the local economy by going to several antique stores and thrift shops. At one store, I filled a shopping cart with military uniforms and other military items. Mom looked at my cart and asked, "Gilbert, are you equipping some kind of militia unit at home?" "Not yet, Mom, not yet." was my answer.

On Saturday, they put Mom in the hospital for a blood transfusion and a couple of infections. She went home Sunday, but went back Monday when she fell and hit her head. She stayed there until they transported her home on Thursday so that she could die at home. The Emerald Coast Hospice people brought in a hospital bed and are providing care for her.

This has been my most stressful week at work in the twenty one years that I have worked there. There are a lot of changes coming at T&S, but that's best saved for another day and another post.

What's the good part of all of this? I have received more e-mails, phone calls, and personal messages of support and encouragement than I would have ever thought possible.  Jesse Bledsoe, the pastor at Buffalo has been a lot of help. Several employees (Linda, Talmage, Bobby, Eric, the Susans, Paula) have surprised me with their concern. Ginger stunned me with a phone call. The Queen has been a great source of support and help. I even had a call Thursday evening from my "only" friend, Ken Blitchington. If any of you read this, thanks!

 My favorite friend sent me an e-mail yesterday with two stories about things that employees had mentioned to her yesterday about me. She closed her e-mail with  "It’s times like these you know how many people care. So there." She's right, of course. It's times like these that try men's souls. It's times like these that make you appreciate having friends.