Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A little birdie told me...

So I was going to write about my Mimi again today, but a little birdie told me a friend of mine is celebrating a special birthday. Oh well, it would be fine with Mimi to get "bumped" for this friend. She'd like him.

You see, Garrison Porter--that's him standing next to his dad--came into the world 18 years ago today. When he arrived, right away he had to start dealing with a couple of "things" that cause him to have to work a little harder than some folks.

But, instead of becoming angry, bitter, closed-off...Garrison has become more wise, more strong, more real than many of us. He's never let having to work harder get him down...or at least, if he has, he's never stayed down. And that in itself has encouraged the rest of us.

Garrison is one of the most passionate people I know...about things that really matter. He loves the message of the Gospel--he's never lost his fascination with the true but astonishing story that God wrapped himself in skin and came to earth...was born....showed us how to live...then died...then was resurrected back to life...all so that we could know this with this Jesus. Garrison's love of this timeless story makes me want to hear it with "new" ears.

Garrison loves his family. Every now and then, I get to peek in on the loving bond he shares with his mom and dad and his younger sister and brother.

Garrison loves his friends--of all ages--he even makes us "old folks" feel like we're still just a little bit cool.
Garrison loves to cook--something that definitely makes him a man after my own heart.

And he loves history...especially ANYTHING to do with the presidents who have led this great country of ours. One highlight of his life was when his dad, Richard, took him to the Reagan Library in California.

Often, when his mom, Dawn, tells me about one of Garrison's latest ventures, I remind her (and myself): "We're gonna say we knew him 'when' one day."

Of course, Garrison would be the first one to hop into this blog and tell you that his mama has been a loving, faithful, fearless warrior on his behalf these past 18 years. That's just what mamas do. (Dads too, of course, Joe Pack  ;-D.)

So, Garrison Porter, HAPPY 18th BIRTHDAY! We can't wait to watch you live out the rest of the amazing story God is writing on the pages of your life.

"For I know the plans I have for you, (Garrison)" declares the LORD,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future."
(Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Baptism of Uncle Bill

So, my brother made me cry this Christmas. Well...crying doesn't exactly describe it. I'm told I made "animal noises."

You see, at some point in December, he found Mama and Daddy's old slides. From these, Kevin created a 10-minute-long digital slide show, complete with songs that seemed to perfectly fit the memories captured by the fingers that had snapped all those pictures--most of them, no doubt, snapped by our Mimi. (That's her in the blue dress. That's my adorable cousin Patty with her hands over her eyes. I'll tell you more about the man in the picture as I go.)

Mimi was my daddy's only sister. She was born into a houseful of boys. She loved them all.

Her real name was Callie. But everyone called her Mimi. To this day, she remains a bit of an enigma to me. I sometimes find myself wondering how...why...a beautiful young lady who put herself through nursing school... served as a nurse in World War II... spent holidays with girlfriends in such places as Miami, FL, and Havana, Cuba...would then just...come home and devote herself to that same family of brothers and those brothers' children. Not her own.

Family rumors have it that a handsome Army captain broke her heart, and she never quite recovered. (I discovered a picture of him once--he looked like Clark Gable.) But...I never asked Mimi about him. I was afraid it would make her cry.

When I was 6 and my brother was 3, Mimi started hanging out with a man who would drive her to Kimberly in his truck. He was a widower, who had no children.

My first memory of "that man" took place in my mama and daddy's darkened bedroom, where we were watching Mimi's latest Kelley-Family-Movie installment on the white bed sheet Mama had hung on the wall.

I guess my then-three-year-old brother thought he better find out a little more about this guy who had started driving his Mimi around. So, Kevin crawled up in his lap and asked, "Uncle Bill, do you have a tally-whacker?"

Well, this question caused my Mama to Daddy to Mimi to laugh out loud...and my Uncle Bill to reply, "Well, buddy, last time I checked I did."

I've always thought of that moment as "The Baptism of Uncle Bill". Why he ever said "I do" to that wild, country bunch of nieces and nephews simply remains a mystery to me! He must have loved our Mimi even more than we did.

From the moment Mimi and Uncle Bill said, "I do," that quiet house in Hueytown, which had originally belonged to him and his first wife, was never quite the same. About every other weekend, some group of nieces and nephews--sometimes all 15+ of us--would descend on it. Every room filled with noise.

My brother's favorite room was the study--he loved to look at the old pictures hanging in there of Uncle Bill's life before the invasion of the Kelley clan. But my favorite room was NOT even a room--it was the bathroom closet. From that closet, you could crawl into Mimi & Bill's bathroom. I remember sneaking in there, hoping to....Well, come to think of it, I'm not quite sure what I was hoping. But, I felt sneaky and powerful. Almost every time, one of my cousins, Lisa or Denise, would find me, and I'd quickly hold up a finger to my lips and motion for them to squeeze in with me and listen to the mysterious, grown-up bathroom talk just on the other side of that wooden closet door.

Of course, Mimi would always fuss when she found me, which was almost every time. I guess chubby girls sneaking around in closets make more noise than we think. But, her anger never lasted long, which is probably why I kept crawling back in.

That Hueytown house became an extension of Kimberly, only more magical, more exotic. I can remember asking my friend, Julie Reno, "Wanna go to Mimi's house?" in the same way you'd ask a child now, "Wanna go to Disney World?"

Looking at pictures of that house, I don't see a thing that made it so special. It was just your standard, 1960s 3-bedroom brick rancher.

But...its living room was the place where Mimi tried her darndest to teach this little Pentecostal child how to dance, while the rest of my cousins (especially Gary Paul) were cuttin' a rug. (The boy could dance!) I can still hear Mimi telling me, "It's just like pickin' apples--reach up and pick 'em from the tree...then reach down and put 'em in a basket."

This living room was also the place where a 3-foot-tall silver aluminum tree became the stuff of Christmas magic. I can still hear the "wwhhssshh" as the older, more "responsible" cousins--Kenneth, Gary Paul, Dawn, Patty--would pull those silver branches out of their paper sleeves and insert the red-tipped branches into the red-tipped holes and the blue-tipped branches into the blue tipped-holes...until every single branch was in place. Then...once the tree was decorated, Uncle Bill would plug in the color wheel, and all of us would go running into the front yard to look through the picture window as the silver tree changed from yellow...and back again.

And, of course, this living room was always the place where we watched Mimi's latest installment of "Kelley Family Movies." But, in this living room, we didn't have to resort to moviewatching on wrinkly sheets hung on the wall--she and Uncle Bill owned their very own portable movie screen! I loved to run my hand across that screen--it looked and felt like somebody had sprayed it with shiny sand. Between reels, some cousin inevitably felt compelled to entertain us with his or her latest anatomically-correct shadow puppet discovery. (I guess we got that part honest--our Mama Kelley delighted in making anatomically-correct teacake men. But that's another story for another time...)

So many memories were made in that Hueytown house. Of course, they had nothing to do with that house and everything to do with her...with them--Mimi, Uncle Bill, my brother, my cousins--sometimes even my mama and daddy and aunts and uncles were allowed to join in the fun. They are the ones who made it feel like Disney World, and Mimi will forever be the perfect Fairy Godmother.

Even now...some 40 years later...her pictures, her captured memories...were magically transformed into a treasured Christmas present by the last nephew born to she adored.

Watching my Christmas gift reminded me of just how much I miss the people who created those memories with me...for me. Of how much I miss her.

We all have sad little places inside. One of mine is that my honey and sons and nephews and my one beautiful niece never got to be loved by least not yet...

I have this daydream about seeing her again. In it, all the "Kelley" babies who've been born since she went Home line up to meet her...all the way down to the newest little Callie who was born into the Kelley-Cummings-Beasley clan just last year. In my dream, Mimi scoops each of them into one of her from-the-heart hugs and issues her standard blessing...the one pronounced over each of us every time we saw her, "You know your Mimi loves you."

"But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children
of those who are faithful to his covenant,
of those who obey his commandments!"
(Psalm 103:17-18, NLT)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

No Loogies in Heaven

Have I really not posted on this blog since September? Where have I been? What has kept me away from this keyboard?

The complete answer to those questions would take several days of posts, but suffice it to say that, beginning November 1, 2009, LIFE got a little interesting. That week, I went to Alabama to take mom to a couple of doctors' appointments. She had been down in the dumps, so I suggested she come back to Knoxville with me for a few days.

Well, two days after getting here, she fell and broke her left hip in four places...actually five, but her surgeon said "she didn't really need that fifth little bone." (Huh?)

Anyway, she was in the hospital for almost two weeks battling surgery-related complications--low blood counts, low blood pressures, etc. Then, as if all that wasn't exciting enough, her insurance company (VIVA) decided they didn't really feel like paying for her rehabilitation in Tennessee. Even after turning into my alter-ego, Tawanda, and getting mom's legislators involved, they continued to make life very hard.

Finally, one day when I had to stop screaming at them long enough to catch my breath, I finally heard my mama say, "I just wanna go back to Alabama." So we did--she in an ambulance, followed by me in a disgruntled huff.

It was very late when I arrived at the rehab center. I had gotten lost. By the time I got there, the ambulance had deposited mom and headed back to Knoxville. As I walked down the long hallways, looking for mom's room number, I must have passed 50 rooms or more...all with lights out, doors open. I never realized until that moment the sights and smells and sounds that emanate from nursing home rooms in the middle of the night. By the time I found mom, I was thoroughly depressed and on the verge of being sick.

But, as life continues to teach me, almost everything is better in daylight. When I arrived the next morning, the lights were bright, the reception room was cheerful, and the only smells that met me were of coffee brewing and biscuits baking. For the most part, the residents were friendly and at least appeared to be happy. As I told "honey," the most humbling aspect was that each employee I talked to seemed as though they wouldn't work anywhere else--they acted like it was a joy to be there and (most importantly) to be helping my mama.

Of course, there are sights and sounds there that still disturb me, and the hallways still seem like long mazes. My friend Becky, whom mom has appointed as her "interior decorator," has found the solution to both those problems. She parks on the grass in the back and uses the entrance that's three feet away from mom's room. (She always was the smart one.)

And, I won't lie. Everytime I visit mom, I have flashbacks about an incident that happened to me way back when the Kimberly Church of God Youth Choir used to "have church" at Ketona Nursing Home. One of our most faithful "members" at Ketona was a sweet, elderly, black lady who would "get a blessin'" before Jeff or Barney had ever hit the first chord. If you weren't expecting her "blessin's," she could literally make the hair on your neck stand up. But, she isn't the reason for my flashbacks...she's just a sweet, funny memory.

My flashback is of the male gender.

Of course, all this happened before I lost the gift of mercy. Back in those "mercy" days, I was drawn to the people who had not been able to attend our church services. Before we left, I'd walk up and down the hallways, shaking hands, talking to residents for a few minutes, and praying with any of them who wanted.

One particular Sunday, a particular little man seemed particularly eager to shake my hand. He was rolling his wheelchair toward me, his hand already extended from about 10 feet away. So, I walked toward him, leaned down, grasped his hand and squeezed...tightly...only to realize he had just hocked up a loogie!

It was ALL I could do to stand there and let him tell me how much he loved Jesus. And, no, I did not offer to pray for him.

As I went running down the hallway, looking for industrial hand cleaner...or a meat cleaver...whichever I found first, Jeff insisted that I stop and tell him what had happened. Of course, when I did, he just thought it was the FUNNIEST THING EVER! (With friends like that.....)

To this day, thanks to loogie-man, I have a problem shaking the hands of strangers (and eating oysters).

This past week, I had to drive by that very same Ketona Nursing Home on the way back to Knoxville. While I was stopped at the red light in front of it, I realized that the sweet lady who loved to get a blessin'...and loogie-man...had certainly, by now, "slipped the surly bonds of earth." And I couldn't help but wonder how things ended for them here...and began for them There.

And, as the light turned green, I thought to myself, "I sure hope there are no loogies in heaven."

Life in this upside-down Kingdom is full of surprises, some good... some not. But, we are told that all of them will...eventually "work together for our good." Here's how Brother Peterson puts it, "That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good" (Romans 8:28, The Message).

Down here...those details often look like jumbled, tattered threads, maybe even with a few loogies tossed in. But...There...when we will see things as Jesus sees them...Well, perhaps the words of a song we used to sing at Kimberly Church of God say it best..."We will understand it better by and by."
We are often tossed and driven on the restless sea of time;
Somber skies and howling tempests oft succeed a bright sunshine.
But in that land of perfect day, when the mists are rolled away,
We will understand it better by and by.
By and by, when the morning comes,
When all the saints of God are gathered home,
We will tell the story how we've overcome,
And we'll understand it better by and by.
"Then he told me, 'These are those who have...washed their robes, scrubbed them clean in the blood of the Lamb. That's why they're standing before God's Throne. They serve him day and night in his Temple. The One on the Throne will pitch his tent there for them: no more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching heat. The Lamb on the Throne will shepherd them, will lead them to spring waters of Life. And God will wipe every last tear from their eyes'." (Revelation 7:14-17, The Message)