Last week, on my birthday, I was scrolling Facebook. I follow a page called “Phantom Stranger’s Wild Wild West”. The page posted a photo of Natalie Wood in her role on “The Searchers”. It was then I learned her birthday was also July 20th.
I was immediately reminded of a “birthday gift” I received several years after my mother passed away.
I have never worked on my birthday. I have always taken the day off. One of those days, I went to an “antique” mall and was browsing through the booths. My eye was caught by the magazine cover in the picture I have included with this letter.
Several things were significant enough to me for me to have no doubt in my mind it was my mother reaching out to me from the spirit world or the Holy Spirit providing very specific comfort. Not trying to be spooky or flaky. I just can’t overlook these things as coincidence. First, my mother’s favorite color was orange. That in itself is unusual. She is the only person I ever heard say orange was their favorite color. She loved Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. I think McCall’s was one of the the only magazines for which she ever subscribed. And most significant. This issue is July 1965. The month and year I was born. I wish I could remember how old I was when I found it. Maybe 40 or so? I bought it and framed it and had it on the wall for a few years.
So then again last week, I felt Mother wishing me happy birthday through a Facebook post on some random page I follow. Natalie. July 20th.
I don’t care if anyone thinks I am stringing too much together. Making too much of it. Even my mother would have looked askance at me for this, I think. But she knows more now, living on the other side with the Lord.
Anything I can latch on to that helps keep her memory renewed in my heart and allows me to forward her legacy of love on to her descendants is worth anyone thinking I am flaky.
There was an oak tree here in the back yard when Mother started building this house. Daddy said it was about 6 inches in diameter when he was doing some clearing and fence work for his Grandfather back in the 40s. Grandpa Hamm told him to leave it for shade. It was in the middle of a fence line then.
It grew to a monstrous size over the years, but developed a hollow all through the main trunk. Hurricane Rita shredded every leaf and she was never the same after. Finally, she was bare and dying. Rock had a fellow with a big enough chainsaw come cut her down. Laying on her side she was seven or eight feet in diameter where the branches started.
There were many fish fries and barbecues under that old tree. There was a swing that soothed me through many an anxious childhood trial. The photo with this letter shows three of the four daughters left behind by her. The cows enjoy the shade and acorns now. There is one nearest the house he is planning to move the fence behind so we will have a shade tree in the back yard to gather around again.
There is one memory that has come to the front for me lately. Our central air conditioner has had a couple of problems this summer. Made me think of how we used to live. We had a window unit in the living room and one in Mother’s bedroom. We have an attic fan that still works. The window unit is mounted in the wall in the living room since Mother added on to the house in ’86. We added the central air when we moved in here in ’04. I’m not even sure if the window unit still works.
Nevertheless, my memory turned back to the summer of ’77. At least, I think it was that summer. Might have been the one before or one after. Mother wanted to redo the kitchen. She wanted to rearrange the cabinets and hired a carpenter to come in and do it. What to do for cooking while the kitchen was out of commission?
In those days, eating out was a very rare occasion. We usually only ate out when we went to see Daddy when he came in port or on one of the rare shopping trips to Beaumont. Luby’s and later, Piccadilly cafeterias were Mother’s favorites. The Monterey House or The Schooner were also occasional choices. Locally, there was a Dairy Queen and a Pizza Hut. There was a place in Spurger that made great hamburgers. That was it. Convenience foods found in the freezer were Banquet TV dinners and frozen pizzas. If there were microwaves then, only rich people had them. Folks bought groceries and grew gardens and cooked from scratch in this part of the woods.
What about not having a kitchen to do all that? Mother set up a screen house and a canopy right under that old oak tree. She set up a long folding table and a card table and the lawn chairs and what have you. A cook stove and the water hose and the refrigerator moved out of the way in the dining area next to the kitchen along with the deep freezer and she never missed a beat. We stayed out there all the time it seems. Of course, I was a kid and that was a long time ago. My brother could probably fill in more details and we have a couple of friends who were always there. He is gone now, but she could provide some details, too, no doubt.
Growing up, we lived closer to nature than we do now. The windows were open unless it was blowing rain or too cold. The attic fan drew in the air. Sometimes it was hot air, but moving over perspiring skin was cooling. Even in winter, we slept without heat. The propane heater was lit each morning. I don’t know of a time it was left on during the night. We all had electric blankets. That helped a lot. There are many days in winter no heat is even needed. The days are mild and pleasant. The windows would have been open back then.
If it was just me, I would run the central air and heat less often. I would get rid of all the carpet in the back half of the house and situate more of the furniture away from the windows. Except the beds. The beds are best left in front of the windows to catch the draft from the attic fan pulling the cool night air through the house. The night sounds are soothing to the soul and the gentle light from the moon is magical.
One fall he and I turned the central unit off and lived with the attic fan until it was too cold to have the windows open. I have clear memories of lying there next to him in the moonlight with the draft passing over us. There was something magical about those quiet moments with him I pray remember when the days of my life are closing.
There are so many treasures in my memory of our loving each other these many years. I continue to work toward creating more treasured memories with him all the time. What would I have done without him always being my champion and hero? His courage and stubborn will have saved us more times from more enemies than I can ever enumerate. But He keeps track and rewards him with His mercy and grace. His faith in our Lord is an anchor I hold on to through the rough times. I am grateful beyond words for him.
I have drifted all over the place with my thoughts here. But, isn’t that the way of memories? They come trickling in and then they flood through the mind and heart washing us along in the current. I’ll keep seeking the ones in the past to relate to the little ones and keep creating ones in the present to cherish as time passes.