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.

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.

 

It Is Well

I struggle every day.

I struggle with not feeling good enough, I struggle with money, I struggle with relationships, I struggle with decisions that I have made and I still have to make, life is a struggle.

While the struggles of everyday life weigh upon me, I have come to a peace in my life that I know comes only from a faith that has been instilled in me since childhood, since the days of the simple stories of the Bible, through life lessons as a youth and joys and disappointments as an adult.

I’m one of those “wear your emotions on your sleeves kind of guy.”  Once when my  brother was picking on me, my grandmother spoke up and in her most grand-motherly of southern belle grand-motherly voices said “leave him alone, he is a sensitive child.”

While that joke has been told and retold through life, it is true, I am sensitive, I ache when those around me ache, I cry for a nation that has lots its way, I mourn when I witness bigotry and oppression of people who are simply trying to live the lives that God created for them, yes, I am sensitive and I struggle.

When the same grandmother, who told my brother I was sensitive passed away, I had a meltdown in the funeral home.  My mom and dad took me into a back office to help me regain my composure and my mom told me something that struck home.  In that moment of pain, my mom told me “let it out, I wish I could.”

As I have matured, I have realized my sensitivity is a blessing, not a curse.  Sometimes I wish I could have a harder shell, but I don’t.  My emotions seep out of me like a river of lava from the deepest bowels of the earth.

I understand that being a sensitive child, sometimes makes life for those around me more difficult, but it is how I am wired and I accept that.

When I tell my co-workers and friends that I cried during a TV show, they just laugh and say “of course you did,” it isn’t meant as a condemnation, but more an acceptance of who I am.

This week, I have been having a hard time, I have thought about a relationship that I wish was stronger, my heart hurts for recently divorced friends that are struggling to find a way in their new-found reality and I have thought and prayed about recent events that have ostracized groups of people who simply want to share their faith the best way they know how and have been pushed away.

This week, a simple message has gone through my mind over and over again…

while we as humans want things done in our time, in our way, we must have faith, FAITH in knowing that HIS time is omnipotent and one day, someday, HIS plan will be revealed, we just have to stand strong, stand in our truth and TRUST.

That prayer filled message has been constant, I know it to be true and trust in the words of God that all will be well.

This morning, as I came into work and flipped on my Pandora, the first song I heard was “It is Well,” a song that has always had tremendous meaning for me, but one that speaks to me stronger today than usual.

It is well, yes because of faith, indeed IT IS WELL.  My sensitive self listened with tears strolling down my cheeks and a joy in my heart, still struggling to understand, but steadfast in knowing that HIS plan will be revealed in HIS time.

It Is Well…….

 

 

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mama and grampsThe couple pictured here, on their 50th wedding anniversary, are my maternal grand-parents, Sam and Vera Bellamy.  Most of you would have no reason to know them.

My grand-father was the finest man I have ever known, he loved God, his family and friends above all else.  He was a loyal man who I never heard utter a negative word about anyone.

My grand-mother, Ma-ma, was the second most important woman in my life, just behind my mother, allow me to tell you about her.

As a young child I spent a lot of time with my ma-ma, my mother spent weeks at a time in the hospital as a result of injuries from a car accident and as the youngest child in our family, I spent my days underfoot of my grandmother.

Ma-ma never worked outside the home, but she was the consummate homemaker running a tight-ship where everything had a place, a home-cooked meal was on the table each night at 6 and she did all this dressed to the nines.

Some of my favorite memories are sitting at my grand-parents kitchen table for breakfast with my ma-ma.  During our morning routine, we would have toast with homemade strawberry jam and she would pour me a cup of coffee while we talked.  The “coffee” consisted of a few drops of coffee and an abundance of milk.  We would sit at the table, plan our day and talk.  Unbeknownst to me, those morning breakfasts were laying the ground-work to my character and passions of life.

We spent hours in ma-ma’s flower garden, making sure each bloom of gladiola, chrysanthemum and rose was nurtured and cut to be arranged at just the perfect moment.

A couple of afternoons each week we would bake.  A pound-cake or pie or some other delicacy that would be our dessert for the coming meals.  Always from scratch, always delicious.

As the youngest of four grand-children, I was sure I was her favorite, but ma-ma had a way of making us all feel like we were the one, yet still today I like to think I held the top spot.

She pampered us all, when she found us playing cowboy and indians on the gas tank in the back-yard, she sewed us all costumes to make it more authentic.  She designed and made all of our special outfits, Easter, Christmas, birthdays, my brother’s prom tuxedo, there was nothing she couldn’t sew that looked better than anything you could find in a department store.

As much as she pampered, she didn’t tolerate foolishness.  If you were caught misbehaving part of your punishment was to go outside and cut your own hickery that she would use to swat across your legs.

The memories I have of my ma-ma are cherished, she gave me an appreciation of baking, flowers and quiet moments with those you love.  She taught me to honor the past and cherish mementos from times gone by.

Ma-ma was always an important part of my life, as I got older I made sure to call her every week to check in.  When I went away to college I could expect a weekly note, card or letter in my post office box and my visits home always included a stop to see she and my grandfather.

I had a connection with my ma-ma that is hard to describe, we just clicked and could talk for hours on end or just sit together and not say a word, it didn’t matter, it was cherished time together.

As her health began to fail, I was living in Atlanta.  When she was at her worst, she would be admitted to Emory Hospital in Atlanta and we were able to spend quality time together.

On the evening before her death, I had gone to visit her.  Knowing our time was short, I sat in the room, alone with her.  During those finals minutes I was able to tell her how much she meant to me and how much I cherished our days together.

As we sat in her room that evening, I held an Ensure bottle to her lips while she sipped her final meal.  The next day, around 1PM she was gone.

I miss my ma-ma, I am thankful for the life she led and the lessons she taught me, but most of all, I am thankful for her simple acts of kindness and love than she showed me each day of my life.

It’s now been many years since she passed, but I still find myself thinking of her when I do something that reminds me of our times together.

Rarely do I see a beautiful garden of flowers that I don’t think of her backyard beauties.

Holiday planning always includes special treasures that came from her home and I can feel her presence during family gatherings.

I loved my ma-ma and appreciate the lessons she taught me, I am forever grateful for our times together.  I look forward to the day when we will again sit together, in the most beautiful flower garden you can imagine, we’ll have a cup of coffee and a piece of pound cake and we’ll talk.

Today is her birthday, if she had lived she would be 111 years old.  In honor of the life lived by Vera Clark Bellamy, my ma-ma, I just thought you should know about her.