Thursday, September 11, 2014

Exactly like it was supposed to be

It was the late spring of 2014.

Ty and I were having long and often painful conversations.  If you boiled down those hours and hours of conversation, this is what you would find at the bottom of that dry cauldron.

Proximity matters.

We had one of these conversations as I was sitting in the car one day.  This one was particularly long and it ended with the usual refrain.

Proximity matters.

He and I didn’t have it.  And we had no way of getting it.  450 hopeless miles separated us.  There really wasn’t any hope for our relationship, but neither of us wanted to pull the plug.

Proximity matters….

I looked at my hand on the steering wheel and gazed at the promise ring he had given me.  It was a beautiful silver rose, encrusted with marcasite gems.  The rose was elegant and long and looked like it had been made for my finger.  He and I had bought it at an antique shop in North Carolina on a happy, cold afternoon in February.  

I wondered what I would do with it when we finally pulled the plug.  I didn’t want to keep it - it meant nothing to me without the commitment that it symbolized.  

I didn’t want to sell it back to an antique shop.

Giving it back to him felt mean and spiteful.  

So I left it there on my finger and trusted that an answer would eventually reveal itself.  

If you asked me whom or what I was trusting, I wouldn't have been able to say, for sure.  God?  Love?  The Universe?  

Turns out I was trusting in the deceased grandmother of a girl named Natalie, whom I had not yet met.  


It was Mother’s Day 2014.  

My kids spoiled me.  Buddy spoiled me, although he was  half a world away  He gave us money so the kids could take me for a nice lunch after church.  There, the kids gave me their gifts.  

Audrey gave me a fragrant box of soaps, scrubs, lotions and balms.  It was so perfect for me.  My girl knows how much I love my time in the bathtub.  

I love that my daughter knows me well.  I love that she pays attention.  I love that she is generous.  

And I love that she knows the difference between body butter and body lotion.

Grant gave me a $15 gift card for Macy’s and explained, “I wanted to buy you a lipstick but there were so many colors and I couldn’t pick which one you would like.  But I took up a lot of the salesgirl’s time and I felt like I should buy something so I got a gift card and I thought you could go back and get the lipstick you like.”  

I kissed his forehead and asked if he would go with me to pick out the lipstick.  He smiled and said, “Sure.”  


It was May 30, 2014.  

It was close to closing time when Grant and I approached the Clinique counter.  

I looked at the rows and rows of reds and pinks and corals, and I was touched that my little boy had ever dared to go into battle against this pigmented batallion.  He was outnumbered from the start.

With the help of the salesgirl we eventually decided on Watermelon, and I went to the register to pay.  As I handed her my credit card, the salesgirl said, “My grandmother used to have a ring just like that.”  

She was talking about my rose ring.  

“Really?  Just like this?”  I asked.  It was odd because the ring is unusual.  I’ve never seen anything remotely like it.

She looked at it up close.  “Yep, just like that.  She left it to me and then I lost it in a club last Christmas.”  She looked down and to the side for a minute, as if she were regretting once again that she wore that ring into that club, that night.  “It was big for my finger,” she said, “And I had kind of bent the band to keep it on, but … it didn’t help.”

Bent the band.  

The band on my ring was bent.  

I took it off and showed it to her and asked, “Bent like this?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed.  She looked excited and happy, but then suddenly pushed that back down.  

I looked at her name tag and made a mental note.  Natalie.  And on the way home I called Ty and told him the story.  

“Clearly that’s her ring,” he said.  

“And…  I feel like I should give it back to her….  Would that be okay with you….?” I asked.  

It felt weird to ask.  I wondered if this was what it was like to be a nurse, approaching a family whose loved one was on life support, asking if they had thought about organ donation.  And handing them a brochure with a blurred picture of a rose on the front of it.  

“It would be more than okay,” he said.  “You have to.”  

So the next night I went back to Macy’s and I held the ring out to Natalie and said that I had talked to my boyfriend and he and I agreed that she should have it.  

And it was like she didn’t get it.  

She just stood there, looking at me.  

And as I stood there, waiting for her to accept the ring, I felt an unexpected moment of camaraderie with every lovelorn bachelor who has ever been on his knees, holding a ring in both hands, waiting for her to accept it.  Wondering if she will.  Hoping she will say yes.  

And finally she did.  “Oh, thank you!” she said.  And she started crying.  And she hugged me and she put the ring on her index finger.  

And I floated out of Macy’s, away from the Clinique counter and the salesgirl and the ring, and wondered about the mystery of it all.  

Why did Ty and I have to part ways so that Natalie and her ring could be reunited?  

Why can’t anything be just sad, or just happy?  

Why do the two always have to cling to each other, wrestle with each other?

I wondered for a moment, of course, if that really was Natalie’s grandmother’s ring, or if Natalie was a crack-addict who routinely swindled unsuspecting Macy’s customers out of their jewelry using that same line.  If the cosmetic salesgirl job was just a ruse that allowed her to run her jewelry racket.  

And I guess in the end I’ll never know for sure.  I can choose to believe what I want to believe.  

And ultimately that’s what we all do all the time.  We don't know, and so we guess.  We make up stories in our head.  And the beauty is, we get to decide how we put the pieces together.  

Maybe I reunited a girl with a precious family heirloom.  

And maybe she sold the ring in the parking lot that night and I inadvertently paid for her next hit.  

I’ll never know for sure, so I can decide.  

Maybe proximity matters.

Maybe it doesn’t.  

We get to decide.  

But here’s the thing.  When Natalie put that ring on her finger, she didn’t hesitate for a second.  She knew exactly what finger it fit.  And it did fit.  Except, it was a tiny bit big.  

Exactly like it was supposed to be.  

Exactly like it was supposed to be.  

It was all, exactly like it was supposed to be.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Babies were from God, and I was ready to give this one back

My dad had a milestone birthday this weekend and he said he didn't want big gifts, he wanted us to sing a song for him or write a poem.  

I thought it would be cool to write a blog post for him.  So I asked the librarian of my brain to retrieve a memory that I could write about.  I asked her to find something sweet, maybe something bittersweet even.  You all know how I love to make us cry happy tears here at the Downtown Diner.  

The librarian disappeared into my archives and emerged a few minutes later with a memory that was funny but not really bittersweet.  I explained that I was looking for something else, something that would show my dad's intelligence or perhaps charm or strong sense of compassion.  

She disappeared again and came back holding the same memory as before.  It was from the winter of 1975.  

I shook my head and tried to explain again that I wanted something with ... layers.  Shades of color.  Depth.  A memory that would say something poignant about my dad and me.  

She placed the 1975 memory on the counter and gingerly folded her hands over the cover as she explained that there had been budget cuts and they were now all hourly and limited in how much time they could spend on archival requests.

And so folks, this 1975 memory is apparently all we're going to get in this age of austerity.  Let's make the most of it.  

It was January or February of 1975 and my baby sister Amanda Jo was five or six months old. Amanda Jo was the fourth daughter born to Joe and Marie Parsons and she was by far the fussiest,  according to the family canon.  

My mom says that she would rock Amanda for hours and hours while she screamed and wailed.  

All of this noise took its toll on the family.  Even on me.  I was five years old and I was sick of hearing Amanda scream.  In my family and at our tender age, we were told that babies came from God, and I was ready to give her back.  

One day a horrible thought occurred to me.  What if God decided to give us ANOTHER baby?  As far as I knew, we had no control over when and how God dispatched screaming infants, and I began to worry that he had another one for us in the pipeline.  I knew that would break us.  

A few weeks after my dad had an out-patient medical procedure, which at the time meant nothing to me, I sat down next to him at the breakfast table.  I was eating cornflakes, my dad was drinking coffee and reading the paper, and my mother was down the hall tending to crying Amanda Jo.  

"Dad, what will we do if God gives us another baby?" I asked.  

"What?" he asked.

I raised my voice so I could be heard over the drone of Amanda Jo crying in the back bedroom.  "I said, what will we do if God gives us another baby?"  

He laughed and shook his head and said "Druse, God isn't going to give us another baby."

My dad calls me Druse.  Please don't ask me why.  Ask him the next time you see him, and he will tell you a story about my childhood and a woman named Drusie Johnson and a bucket of golf balls, and then you will look back at me and say, "Wait, now why does he call you Druse?"  

I was worried that he wasn't aware of the real and present danger here.  I didn't share his confidence that there were no more babies on the way for us, and I needed to know that we had a plan.  

"But what if he does?" I asked again.

The muscles in his neck and jaw tensed and he looked at me and said, "Druse, God is not going to give us any more babies."

Still unconvinced, I pressed on.  "But how do you know?" 

Now his face turned Cherokee red and he pounded his fist on the table so hard the milk splashed out of my cereal bowl.  

"God.  Is not going to give us.  Any.  More.  BABIES!" he shouted.  

I decided that although I didn't understand the details, somehow my Heavenly Father and my Earthly One had come to an agreement that the roster in the Parsons family was now full and that God would not be giving us any more babies.

And indeed, He did not.  

Dad and Daughter #1:

Dad and Daughter #2:

Dad and Daughter #3:

Dad and Daughter #4:

If I can come up with any more poignant memories about my dad in the next few days I will share them with you.  

But I will not attempt to tell the Drusie Johnson story.  

Because here's the thing.  I will be able to tell you the story.  And I can tell you that my dad calls me Druse.  But I will never be able to tell you what the connection is between the story and my moniker.  

Which, perhaps, is some depth right there.  For my entire life I have had a nickname that I don't understand.  Kids in the south often have nicknames.  Bubba got his nickname from his younger brother who couldn't pronounce "brother".  They call Tiny that because he's so big.  Mater had a beautiful tomato patch every summer.  Trey has the same name as his father and grandfather.  

And one steamy Saturday afternoon in Alabama a woman named Drusie Johnson pulled up in a rusty Chevy, her drunk husband and seven children in tow, to sell my dad a bucket of used golfballs.  And as she drove away in a cloud of red dust, I stood next to my dad and a bucket of overpriced golfballs and said, "Drusie sure married a poor husband."  

And that's the story, I'm serious.  That's all there is to it. 

Well I'll be damned.  She did toss one more memory to me before she clocked out.