2020 – Git Outta Here

I guess I should have known on New Year’s Day, when I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a Mac truck that 2020 wasn’t going to be great, but it took a few more days to realize just how bad it was going to get.

Nursing what I thought was “the flu,” I spent 7 days at home before going to the Doctor on the 8th, which led to an immediate trip to the Emergency Room and 3 days in the hospital for what at the time was believed to be bilateral pneumonia.

After a few weeks of recovery, it was time to start moving forward. Since selling my former business, I had made the decision to take my brand “Of These Mountains,” to the next level. For months I had pondered how was best to make this happen and by early February, I had my eyes set on a retail shop.

With the help of my niece, Chelsea, I found the perfect spot in Clarkesville, just 30 miles from home and went about setting up the store with a projected open date of early March.

As I went about getting the store ready to open, I was beginning to hear about this mystery illness called COVID that was affecting people and highly contagious.

I kept working and on March 2nd, set up just the way I envisioned, with great excitement my retail store opened.

We were open for 2 weeks and then closed for 5, due to COVID quarantines and closures.

Not long after going into quarantine, I had to say good-bye to my best friend of 15 years. Rosalita “Lita” Grace Rumsey, was my companion through life’s ups and downs. She came into my life at 6 weeks old and never once was there a day that I regretted the decision to invite her into my life.

Lita’s health had been going downhill for a few months, and eventually with the help of my Vet, the decision was made to say good-bye. I prepared my heart and Brett came over to prepare a final resting place for her in my bed of hydrangeas.

To say quarantine was hard is an understatement but going through it without my Lita made the time almost unbearable.

I’m one of those people that often gets way too into my head, quarantine amplified that for me. Depression, self-doubt, lack of structure all crept into my psyche and I had to work hard to make sure I stayed strong and not get bogged down by all that was bad, but find some sources of sunlight in what were very dark days.

I sunk myself into some creative marketing for work, lots of binged television and too much food; reopening my store 5 weeks after closing. To say those first couple of months after opening were unplanned is an understatement, but people’s generosity with online orders and visits to the store upon reopening got me through.

If I am honest, the first quarter of 2020 was my worst. The rest of the year was different than normal, but I was able to keep my business open and our new storefront has been successful, and we continue to get picked up by additional retailers.

With the emphasis to online shopping our website performed well, and this year Of These Mountains gear was shipped to 30 States, plus Puerto Rico and Canada, something I am incredibly proud of and grateful for!

2020 brought about many changes to daily life. Now a mask is a common part of my wardrobe, hand sanitizer is a constant and while not refusing to live in fear of the virus, I am constantly aware.

I still don’t feel comfortable in large gatherings, while I will go to a restaurant, I am selective and the thought of jumping on a plane for an overnight stay anywhere is far from my thought process.

For me, a particularly difficult part of COVID has been my distance from friends. I’m a hugger and need those interactions, I enjoy spending time with friends and family and while I still get to see those I love, it isn’t as much as I want. Much of that is my choosing, but I also believe it is the prudent decision.

While COVID brought our world to a standstill, there was more that made 2020 one that will always be remembered.

We saw the issue of racial injustice move to the forefront. I believe that every life matters, as does our nation’s history, however, I also believe that when one segment of our population is pained, we all are hurt. When we see citizens murdered simply for the color of their skin, we as a nation still have much work to do and I pray that one day we will get it right.

All Americans have a place in our society and once we embrace the mantra that all men are indeed created equal, we will be a better world for it.

With all that happened in 2020, to me the most frustrating was our national elections. We saw every segment of our nation’s institutions questioned and degraded.

I saw friends and families split over this election and my prayer for 2021 is that those divisions may somehow be brought back together. I stand by the belief that no election, of people that will never know me and from their actions prove daily they could care less about me will ever split me from those I love.

I may not agree on many things with those I call family and friends, but an election is not going to split me from them.

The biggest gut-punch of 2020, was all those who suffered and died alone. Dying alone is my biggest fear and the thought of having someone I love in the hospital taking their last breath not being able to feel the comfort of those who love them is debilitating.

2020 saw the loss of wonderful friends, family and acquaintances that deserved a homegoing celebration for the lives they led. This year robbed us all of being able to say an appropriate good-bye and providing the love to their families they so need.

While living through 2020 has been a challenge, the year also brought about much of our best.

We saw teachers and front-line workers get the respect they deserve. When cities stopped at 7PM each night to cheer for doctors and nurses changing shifts all that is great about America shone through.

Parents became teachers and teachers finally gained the respect they have so long deserved finding ways to educate our young over computer screens instead of in a classroom. I worry about what effects distance learning will have on our youth long-term, but the ingenuity of those who work in education has been nothing short of heroic.

During this year, we have all witnessed the best and worst of our world. While the bad often seems to be what gains attention, I hope we will never forget the good we saw. Neighbors being neighbors, delivering food, checking in on each other and simply showing compassion.

Yes, there is no other way to say it, 2020 was horrible, but the light that makes Americans great did shine through. 2021 will certainly have challenges and who knows what is yet to come, but I remain convinced, that as long as we share our grace, kindness, and love for others, we will persevere.

I pray that 2020 one day will be a distant memory and as we round the corner towards a new year, we will all be blessed with good health, love, friendship, and kindness that can overcome anything thrown our way.

Git outta here 2020 and Welcome 2021, I pray you do us well!

Giving Thanks

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, it is one of my favorite holidays. It’s a no-pressure day; just a time to enjoy those you love and make memories.

This year, Thanksgiving will be different for many. The COVID-19 pandemic will prevent some from traveling, some will not be able to gather because of illness and others will find an empty seat at their table missing those who have been lost. I pray for those families, I pray they have peace and are blessed by wonderful memories of days gone by.

As I look back on my memories of Thanksgiving, it is split between three very special series of my life.

As a child we spent our Thanksgiving celebrations in Rochelle, GA. I was born in Rochelle and we moved away when I was still a baby, but during the years my family lived there, we found a chosen family of Hudsons and Hornes and Conners and Mashburns and Reids and Whittakers, those Thanksgiving dinners would sometimes be 40, 50, 60 or more people. We were a rambunctuous bunch that gathered each year for feast upon feasts and laughter than would carry us for many years to come.

I still look back on those days in Rochelle as some of my favorites. Surrounded by music and catfish ponds and pecan orchards and cow pastures, the days spent in south Georgia during those Thanksgiving celebrations are etched into my memory forever.

When I moved to Florida, I developed my own chosen family. Neighbors and friends that I experienced every aspect of life with. During those years we saw marriages and divorces, new babies, tragedy and joy, but most of all we found laughter.

I will always remember my Florida Thanksgivings as large gatherings of pot-luck dinners and more laughs than I can ever count. When I look back on my life, these days are the fondest, when life was carefree, we were a combined bunch whose lives intersected through business and developed into one large family.

A mix of people who grew together and while now distanced, always a “go to” group that holds a special place in my heart.

While I would love to spend just one more Thanksgiving with our family friends in Rochelle, or my chosen family in Florida, my most beloved holidays are found with my own family.

We aren’t a large group, we never have been, but we are tight-knit and can hold our own on the rambunctuous meter.

Through the years, the seats at our table has changed. We have lost and we have gained, but each person who occupies a seat at our Thanksgiving table holds a special place in my heart.

Like most families, we don’t always see eye to eye, but when the chips are down or the important things in life come up, we are there for each other.

Our Thanksgiving consists of recipes passed down from generation to generation and as we gather, my mind will be drawn to the people who no longer physically sit at the table, but are there in our hearts.

My mother loved Thanksgiving, she cooked for days preparing far too much food, cooking the recipes of her own mother. She cooked with love and she worked hard to make each gathering special.

My daddy enjoyed any day that his boys were all under one roof, surrounded by his grandchildren and his family. He thrived on days like Thanksgiving and made sure to “taste test,” everything that came out of the oven.

My grandparents and my favorite Aunt were often found at our table on Thanksgiving, when we gather this year, I will think back on the memories of my life that they created and remember them fondly.

This year, as I sit with my family for Thanksgiving, I will thank God for each of them. I will give thanks for memories of the past and pray for what is yet to come. I will pray that better days lie ahead and I will give thanks for lessons learned in both hardship and good days, I will also give thanks that each of you have a place in my life and heart.

Happy Thanksgiving, may our lives continue to be enriched by the past and future.

Deep Roots, Deeper Memories…

Every family has one, the spot where photos are taken to capture those special moments in life.

For my family, it was a camellia bush located just outside our garage. In a small triangular shaped flower bed formed at the angle of our driveway and an outside storage closet.

When we moved into our house, mama had planted the small bush and through the years it grew and blossomed. Most years, vibrant pink blooms would appear each year around Christmas. Mama never missed a chance to proudly state “my camellias are in bloom.”

A single blossom would center the table for our Christmas Eve dinners and my brother Tom’s grave would get one too.

I think for mama, her camellia bush marked the passage of time, from one year to the next. I think she probably looked on those flowers and remembered what had come and gone through the years of our families life.

Over the years, the camellia bush was our picture backdrop for birthdays, first days of school, graduations, the arrival of grand-children, Easter pics, Halloween costumes, off to college photos and every other occasion worth “remembering.” Whether in bloom or not, the camellia bush, was our go to spot.

When my parents died, my niece Chelsea moved into my childhood home. As her family has expanded, she has kept the tradition of pics in front of the camellia bush going.

Photos of Chelsea and her now husband Brett and then their daughters Jaydynn and Hadley are now marked at the same spot where some of the first photos of her were taken.

This year, Chelsea and Brett have started a total remodel of the family home. A needed expansion and modernization of the house has begun to make it perfect for them.

As Chelsea began her remodel, it became painfully obvious that the camellia bush was in the way. Through numerous redesigns and plans, nothing changed, that camellia had to go.

I think as she planned, the camellia stressed Chelsea out as much as any detail of her plan, because the bush meant as much to her and held as many memories of her childhood and now motherhood, as it did the rest of our family.

Last week, Chelsea and I were together when she got a phone call, she stepped away to take it and when she returned I asked if everything was ok. She told me, that she was scheduling a mover for the tree.

Yesterday afternoon, as I was visiting my parents and brother’s graves, I got a text from Chelsea. Two photos of an excavator gently digging up and moving the camellia bush that had been the site of so many of my families memories.

After running a couple of errands, I stopped by Chelsea’s house on my way home. The excavator was just wrapping up his task and the camellia was gone from it’s original spot. I have to admit, when I drove into the driveway and saw it gone, my heart sank a bit I wasn’t sure if the move was successful or not and the site of so many memories from that little triangular plot of soil could possibly be no more.

Then as I walked around the side of the house and into the backyard I saw Chelsea, smiling and walking my way. The camellia bush now had a new home, centered in the backyard, strategically placed where it can be seen from inside, standing tall.

It’s weird that something as simple as a camellia bush can have so much significance in a families life. From generation to generation that flowering bush has connected us, decades of photos and memories, blooming each year, a reminder of our lives together.

It has a new location, but the camellia has the same home, a place where future pics will be captured, memories will be made and roots will be planted in the legacy of our family tree.

Easter Saturday

Yesterday afternoon my family got together for an Easter cook-out.  It was the first time all of us had been together in many weeks.

This time the gathering was very different.  While we all tried to make it “normal,” there were no hugs, no kisses and the conversations that we had always came back to one thing, the effects of Corona on our lives.

While I enjoyed being with my family, as being in their company is always the medicine I need, I was sad.  This new phase of life we are all limping through hovers like a dark cloud over every aspect of our lives.

Like most families, opinions on the virus vary from person to person, but we respect each other’s thoughts and yesterday, more than normal, we just accepted those varying opinions.

As I came home from our cook-out, feeling isolated from those I love, missing a hug and kiss, I held tight to the knowledge that although we are separated by six feet, the love we have for one another knows no bounds.

This morning, as I attended Easter Sunday church online, once again the loneliness of our current situation weighed heavy on my soul.  There is no other way to say it, this sucks.

Listening to the service and the music I began to feel a peace in knowing that, as the Preacher said, “there has never been a situation that defeated our God & this one won’t be the first.”

During his sermon, the Pastor laid out the Easter story, but paid special attention to Saturday.  You see, Saturday was the time when there was no hope, our Lord was dead, the world seemed destined to loss.

Using a parallel for today’s circumstances, he equated the times we are now in with that Saturday.  The loneliness, constant bad news we see on our television and computer screens looks hopeless, the despair we feel not knowing when this will end.

But what is different today than that Saturday, more than two-thousand years ago, is we KNOW things will get better.  We KNOW we will move past this and we KNOW we will be able to eventually get back to the lives we once enjoyed.

On that Saturday, so many years ago, the people who walked the land didn’t have that promise, they had to wait until the next day, Sunday….. RESURRECTION SUNDAY, before they saw the real power of our Lord and his greatest miracle.

If you are a believer, that powerful day, when Jesus rose from the grave gives us hope during these dark days.

We will come through this, we will once again hug our loved ones, kiss the cheek of our friends and get back to a life that we once knew.

This Saturday will end, and a new day will dawn.

 

A Decade

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When you think about it, a decade seems like an eternity, ten years, 3,652 days.

But when a date shapes every aspect of your life, sometimes those decades slip by in what seems like an instant.  That’s what the last 10 years have been for me.

Between 4:30 and 5 AM on February 21, 2010, my mom passed away in her sleep.  That moment changed my life forever.

In some ways those 10 years have felt like an eternity, but the hole in my heart, that still causes me to cry without notice still burns fresh and seems like just yesterday.

I was and will always be a mama’s boy, my mama’s baby.  I cherished those roles.

In the decade since my mama passed away, the world has continued on, but without her as part of the day to day, it often doesn’t seem as bright, exciting or joyful.  I miss my mama as much today as I did on February 21, 2010.

As I have been anticipating this milestone, I have thought a lot about what’s happened in the past 10 years…..

  • I won my re-election as a City Commissioner in Lake Park, FL just a couple of weeks after she died.  A job that just a few months later led to me being named acting Mayor after our Town’s Mayor also passed away.
  • I got the best job I have ever had, one that I loved and eventually was promoted to East Coast Marketing Director for a national retail management company.
  • I enjoyed some of the best times of my life, with friends who are “chosen family” on Hawthorne Drive in Lake Park, FL.
  • Chelsea graduated from college.
  • Zach graduated from High School and College.
  • We had family vacations to FL and the Grand Canyon.
  • Daddy lived a number of years at Cannonwood where they took amazing care of him before he passed 5 years later.
  • I moved home to Clayton, she would have LOVED that!
  • I quit my high income, awesome benefits job and started a business with Chelsea, eventually buying her out so she could return to Real-Estate & then starting a brand “Of These Mountains,” which now is becoming its own retail store.
  • Chelsea fell in love with Brett, mama would have liked Brett, even though he is a Georgia Tech fan…. she wouldn’t have liked that part!
  • Hadley Rae came into our lives, twisted us all around her little finger and became the light of all of our eyes.
  • Chelsea and Brett got married, bringing us another bright light into our lives, Jaydynn.
  • Donna stopped teaching and went to work with Sam.  They continued to thrive in Real Estate and other ventures, eventually buying and developing their own RV Park.  Mama loved to camp and she would absolutely love Willow Valley.
  • We got closer to Puddin and Sherry.  Puddin becoming the brother that we always needed.
  • After graduation, Chelsea started her career in Real Estate and now thrives as one of the top salespeople in the county.
  • Zach, graduated college, worked in hospitality in Athens and eventually moved to Atlanta with a wonderful career.
  • Zach fell in love, finding a guy that makes him happy, enriches his life and fits in perfectly with the craziness of the Rumsey family.
  • Chelsea moved into the house I grew up in, has kept the love of that old house in tact and now is raising her family amidst old memories and making her own.
  • I have settled into life back in Clayton nicely.  I have renewed old friendships & made new ones, but most importantly I have a deeper sense of family than I did when I lived away.  We have fun together and our lives intertwine just enough, without being too much, to keep life interesting.
  • We still argue about politics, but just like mama, Donna doesn’t let us do it on holidays or at the dinner table.

As I think about it, there are lots of things that happened since mama left us.  Not everything has been great, but for the most part, I have no doubt that we as a family have lived the example she taught us.  We put family first and try our best to be good citizens and neighbors.

I say mama left us 10 years ago today, her physical body did, but not her spirit, she remains a constant in every aspect of my life.

Rarely does something happen that I don’t think about picking up the phone to talk to her.  I would give my arm to receive just one more hug from her, she was my light and with her passing that light dimmed, but it’s never out.

I know my mama is with me every day, and she has been in every moment I listed above and the thousands not mentioned.  I feel her presence, I just hope I have done her proud.

Ten years seems like a lifetime, until something happens that shakes your life to the core.

I miss my mama.