It’s been 2 and a half years since I last wrote you a letter?
Andrew, I need to tell you something. Do you know…
• Since then, you have given up the crib, learned to use the potty, and have started wearing glasses?
• You’ve added a couple of inches to your height but can still fit in 2T shorts?
• You love veggie subs and will eat all the tomatoes off our salads if we’ll let you.
• You sneak into our bed almost every night, dragging along your raggedy baby blanket, Cuto (Pluto), and Sharky?
• I’ve almost recovered from you giving yourself a haircut that resulted in having your sweet head of soft, blonde baby hair mowed down to a stubbly buzz cut?
Andrew, I need to tell you something. Do you know that at least ten times a day you say, “Mommy, I need to tell you something. Do you know…”
Do you know how much I love that fact about you? And, yes, sometimes how much it drives me crazy, too.
Let me pay you back for a little bit by sharing a few “Do you knows” in honor of your fifth birthday.
Andrew, do you know, when you were almost five that--
You love details. You tell stories, recalling every single word, thought, and movement.
You are hilarious. I know what a pancake feels like—a flat poor-son.
You love to build. Puzzles used to be your thing but then you discovered Legos. For Christmas this year, all you asked for were Legos. Santa called Papa and asked if he could help the elves out by building you a custom Lego table. As Papa says, it is a Drew- proof table. You can, and often do, sit in the middle tray of the table.
You know so many things. Do you know male lions have manes? Do you know that walruses say hello by blowing in each other’s faces? Do you know that pyramids were built with mud bricks? Do you know that tomato juice covers the smell of a skunk’s spray? Do you know if yellow touches red on a snake you’re dead?
Do you know…
You have such a strong imagination. You build and sail on dinosaur ships. You believe that the kid in your class who told you his dad killed a T- Rex. You fly planes to islands and ride trains to the mountains.
We’ve never baby- talked you two, and it does my English teacher heart proud when you ask, “What does that word mean?” Just today you’ve learned hyperventilate and endangered.
A couple of weeks ago, I taught you and Emily the meaning of onomatopoeia. You can say every syllable of this funny word, and you can give me all kinds of examples of onomatopoeia words. Your kindergarten teachers better be ready to bring it on!
You’ve been blessed with great teachers in your life both at home and at school. We’ve been amazed at what the experiences you’ve had since beginning with Ms. Jen, Ms. Hannah, Ms. Michelle, and Ms. Rachel. Your favorite center is manipulatives where I often find you building elaborate structures like cruise ships and dinosaur houses.
Outside of school, you are learning from other great teachers. Aunt Windy and Uncle Tom are teaching you about living in the country, racecars, and riding lawnmowers. Papa says he’s going to straighten you out and teach you how to go anywhere and talk to anybody. I think you’ve got that covered.
Do you know…
Some folks have made off- handed comments about how much we go, how many trips we take, and how spoiled you two are going to be. I have a philosophy that people can’t be spoiled by experiences. We are making memories. You are learning. On your birthday trip to Florida last week, we took a swamp boat tour where you learned about endangered species. You learned that baby alligators stay close to their mamas for three years. You’ve been to at least 5 states and 5 countries in five short years. While you’ve been more places than I went in 25 years, you also understand that money comes from work and that money pays for experiences. For those who wonder if we are not teaching you the value of a dollar, we started you on a piggy bank early. Just recently you brought your daddy two jars of change from your piggy bank and earnestly informed him, “You can use it to take us somewhere fun.”
You love museums. We’ve been to children’s museums, history museums, science museums, and air/space museums. You have yet to meet a museum you didn’t like.
You love movies. Your favorite movie right now is Toy Story (and Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3). Let me confess a couple of other things you might not know about Toy Story and me. It’s kind of ironic because the little boy in the movie is also named Andy. I’ll confess that this movie chokes me up. I sobbed like a baby at the end of Toy Story 3 and decided that you aren’t allowed to give your toys away or go to college. But, then, I remembered what Woody tells the Prospector in Toy Story 2: “You're right, Prospector. I can't stop Andy from growing up. But I wouldn't miss it for the world.”
Andrew Elliott Hurst, I can’t stop you from growing up, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
From the moment I laid eyes on you five years ago this month, there was no doubt you were my daughter. From the first look at your scrunched- up cheeks to the first nuzzle of your face against my neck, I knew you were a part of me.
Over the last five years, I’ve felt this eerie feeling that I am watching myself grow up all over again. Looking at you-- with your unruly blonde hair, the wrinkle in your nose and the wiggle in your walk—brings me back to the age- old nature versus nurture question. In what ways have I taught you to be my mini- me, or is it just wired in your DNA?
Regardless of how you ended up being my mirror, you are also a window to me. As I look out upon the world of Emily, there is so much about you to admire and remember.
You are sweetness. You snuggle. You give kisses and hugs. You want to be close to me. If you can’t sit beside me all by yourself, you want me in the middle. When I leave, you have this elaborate goodbye ritual where you kiss me a hundred times—wherever you can reach me—on the cheek, on my stomach, on my leg. You blow me kisses as I pull out of the garage, and you sign “I Love You” in between waves.
You feel deeply. While it often comes out through dramatic meltdowns, it is most evident in quiet moments like when you ask me, “Mommy, why are you sad?” Sometimes I think your meltdowns and emotional outbursts are your way of letting out all of the feelings you absorb from others. You remember emotions like others remember events. Just this week, you asked, “Mommy, you know Great- Granny, Papa’s mama, is in heaven? You were sad and you cried when she went there.” Yes, baby, I did.
You love Andrew, and it’s rare that we find the two of apart. We thought we had the kindergarten question settled, and that the two of you would start school in different classes, but when we asked what you wanted, both of you were adamant—you want to be together.
You are thoughtful of others, too. I love to listen to your prayers. In them, I hear your heart—what you love, what you fear, what you see. You pray nightly for your family, right down to Minnie and Sophie, your stuffed animals. You pray for the sick, like Uncle Tom and the boy in the hospital you’ve never met. You pray for all your friends at school. You pray for your cousins, each by name. All in Jesus’ name.
You love art. It’s your favorite center. You write letters to all the kids in your class. This week you made a string of hot air balloons you taped to the mantle. For Christmas this year, you asked for an art table, and if messiness is the sign of a good artist, you are definitely destined for artistic greatness.
You are logical. After telling you that you didn’t need an umbrella because it was only 25 feet to the door, you walked to the door, turned around, and said, “No, it was 31 steps.”
You love girly stuff, but not as much as you love getting messy. You often ask for help picking out a necklace or a beautiful bracelet, but five minutes later, you are outside rolling down a hill with Andrew, scratching up your leg for the fifteenth time this month and wrapping the necklace around the handlebars of your bike.
You are a teacher. What do you see? What do you think? Why do you say that? Just yesterday, Daddy was joking trying to get you to give him clues about his birthday gift. You said flatly, “Did you tell us what our birthday surprise was?” After Daddy said, “No,” you replied, “So why do you think I would tell you?” True story.
You remember. Everything. Vacations from two years ago, words to books and songs, promises made in passing, and anything Drew does that can later be used against him...
You love ice cream. Grandma Retha would have loved feeding you from the freezer. To watch you eat ice cream is to know the joy of living. We love to watch you close your eyes as you relish every bite (and drop) of chocolate with sprinkles.
You hold your own. Some might say it’s bossiness. Or assertiveness. Or sassiness. Whether it’s your toy or your idea, or your space, you will boldly claim it. I say, whatever you call it, hang on to it. Use it. Embrace it.
You have a heightened sense of fairness and of rules. If Andrew gets two breaths of air from the room, you want two breaths from the exact same spot. If Andrew gets an extra cookie, you want an extra cookie. While we were at Disney, you ended up getting two more baths than Andrew because he happened to be asleep at the right time. Offended by the injustice, you decided, “When that boy wakes up, he’s getting two baths because that’s fair!”
You are an obliger. Honestly, it worries me sometimes that you are so like me in this way. You don’t want to disappoint us, and you will often do what you think we want you to rather than what you really want to do. After realizing you were only playing soccer because you thought we wanted you to play, we decided to quit. While we want to provide those opportunities for you, we are going to let you take more of the lead and learn to advocate for what you want. Remember what I just said about you holding your own? Something tells me you have what it takes to balance the tendency to please with the need to please yourself.
You love movies. Right now, you are into Mulan, a movie about a girl who holds her own, disguises herself as a man, and fights for her family. I can see why she’s your favorite.
You love books and words. You told me recently, “I’m reading a book like kids should do.” Wonder where you’ve heard that?
You notice things others may miss. Maybe that’s why your favorite game is “I Spy.” When we get tired of the regular old “I Spy,”” we invent variations, all of which rely on your powers of attention. Maybe one day you will play the “Boom Bam” game with your kids. Don’t remember it? Well, it was this game Mommy invented in desperation one night to keep you and Andrew from killing each other in the backseat. The rules are simple: if you see Christmas lights, you have to yell “Boom Bam!” Oh, the fun we’ve had, especially around the middle of December!
You love surprises. A cookie waiting in the car after school, a trip to Dairy Queen, a new book, a pack of stickers, a trip to the neighborhood park, or Walt Disney World park.
Emily Anne, you are my daughter, and I hope that you know how much you have charmed me, challenged me, and changed me.
Beautiful, messy, sweet, hard, loving, logical, fair, unfair, seen and unseen, expected and unexpected, giving, taking, remembered and forgotten.
For what I passed on to you, either through genes or means, I am confidant that you will take it and write your own story. For me, thank you for helping me write a love story.
The preacher's message at church yesterday was, in part, about the traditions, mostly of the non- biblical origin that surround Easter. It was spot on, which then got me thinking about the traditions we have come to enjoy as a family.
White shoes for Emily
Overstuffed Easter baskets
Peanut butter eggs
Church at Darlington with GiGi, Aunt Windy, and Uncle Tom
Squirming and wiggling in the pew through the cantata
Running down the ramp
Egg hunt at church
Family picture by the flowers and the stained glass...
While we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, we celebrate life-- life that we have through Him-- both here and in the hereafter.
As a little girl I was fascinated with this lady. I loved her pearl earrings, her pearl necklace, her perfect red lips. She was beautiful, and she sat, in her perfection, on a shelf, just out of reach, in my Grandma Retha's living room.
Lots of beautiful things lived on shelves in my grandma's living. Photographs--so many photographs-- in black and white and shades of brown that we were all we knew in 1980. Glass figurines of animals, random plastic toys that had caught my grandma's fancy at some point, baby dolls of all shapes and sizes. Oh, the baby dolls. And, bronze baby shoes for all seven of her children, bronze baby shoes that I now realize she must have scrimped and saved for. I confess I was ever only really interested in one pair, though-- the pair with the torn toe worn by my daddy in 1953 as he stood by a teddy bear and 1939 Ford.
Lots of things lived in my Grandma Retha's house, a house that grew in rooms and contents over the years. The house, built of cinder blacks, changed in color, too, although the pink years were my favorite. Each room, from floor to ceilings, was packed with treasure untold. Some might say it was hoarding, but I always saw each stack or pile as carefully picked and arranged with purpose by Grandma. Each piece had meaning and mattered. Why wouldn't I? That was how she treated each of us.
Despite the way the house morphed with the years, the shelves never changed and neither did the location of the beautiful woman who lived on the shelf.
I would search for her...
And, I would find her there, just like I found myself in my grandma's house every summer before I was ten--until about five years ago, when the woman began to live on my shelf.
That's when my grandma gave me the object of my childhood desires.
She gave it to me when she still knew who I was, before the Alzheimer's stole her away...
With a little research, I learned that my beautiful woman was originally created to be a vase-- a head vase, to be exact. These head vases were popular in the 1950s when florists would fill the small opening with flowers.
I guess I'll never know who originally filled this vase with flowers. I'll never know know how my Grandma Retha acquired this beautiful woman, if someone, like my Grandpa Junior, gave her flowers to woo her.
What I do know is that today, on the day of my grandma's passing, I am filling the vase, not with flowers, but with the petals of memories with which I am left holding...
bits of time
that together form the bouquet of my memory and love for her...
Little tiny glasses that were just the right size for us
Beauty pageants and underwear crowns where there was no winner because we were all too beautiful
Ice cream from the freezer with the magic top. It must have been magic because how else could you explain the way she could open the top, slip out ice cream cups, while never losing any of the stacks of stuff that sat precariously on its top?
Closets in every room, holding everything you would ever need and which probably already had your name on it. If the closet was full, well...it might be hidden in her bedroom that was protected by a padlock on the door.
Baby dolls of all shapes and sizes, in glass cabinets, complete with certificates of authentication
Real babies, the ones of her own flesh and blood. At last count she had 42 babies, grandbabies, and great grandbabies. Many of us are lucky enough to remember her calling us baby.
And who else will ever call me Lucy?
Buicks of various models with no car seats and boosters, each with a pillow that would boost Grandma high enough to see above the steering wheel and help her maneuver past the bad men who lived in the house just after you came down the hill. All of us kids would hunker down in the back seat, hiding from the bad men every time we drove past that house.
But we were never too scared because, even if the door lock on the house was shaky, we knew everybody in the neighborhood knew Ms. Retha had a shotgun waiting on the other side.
To the post office, Box 863, where she picked up piles of mail, including the latest Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes offer from Ed McMahon. Grandma saved them all because she was going to win big.
To the Hardee's where cousins fought over whether they were related or not.
To the Dime Store where I can't remember what we bought, only that Grandma always had the change for it.
She also always had a cure for it, too. Whatever it was, a little aloe vera, a little vinegar, a Hershey's kiss.
I still remember the shock of finding out what was really in the "chocolate" she dipped and in the pill bottles where she stowed the evidence.
We all have our vices.
So Grandma's was a little snuff, and I guess you could say her other vice was loving too much.
She loved us all with a fierceness that was comforting if you were the one she was protecting, biting if you were the one she was attacking. You didn't mess with her children, and forget ever thinking you were good enough for them because, well, you weren't.
Regardless of what she ever said about Grandpa Junior, we all knew it came from the same place everything else Grandma ever said came from-- a place of love.
She gave me my first love-- my daddy-- and I will never think of Valentine's Day without recalling how she always called my daddy "her Valentine."
The wood stove, her tiny feet, the bobby pins placed just so, biscuit pudding, chicken pastry
Playing in the grove of trees by the road, the snowball bush by her bedroom window, the well- worn path to the store
Pentecostal revivals, The Price is Right, General Hospital, Hee Haw
And, it's in the remembering that I realize there's a beautiful woman who lives on my shelf, but an even more beautiful woman who lives in my heart.