RIP – Martin Landau

Martin Landau

1928 – 2017

Charmed

(Today’s post is a “re-post” from October 15, 2011.  The story still brings me a sense of peace and the memories these simple charm bracelets represent fill my heart as much today as they did many decades ago.)

 

There are certain possessions that we all have in life that mean much more to us than their value.  Items that “in a fire” you would grab.

Besides Lita, I have a few things I would try to save in case of an emergency…..  the framed baby outfit I wore home from the hospital when I was born, a quilt made from my parents clothes when they were children both of which were Christmas gifts from mama and daddy.

I would try to grab family photos and my “important documents” box, but before any of those other “things” in my life (excluding Lita) I would reach for the charm bracelets.

In my living room, in a special place of honor are two framed charm bracelets, costume jewelry that means more to me than anyone else.  These charm bracelets belonged to mama and ma-ma.

When I was a very young child I used to spend a lot of time with ma-ma and gramps.  We had kind of a routine that included continuous pampering and exploration of my imagination and creative personality.

Ma-ma was the perfect homemaker, she could bake, cook, clean, sew, garden, arrange flowers, craft, she could do it all and she loved having a little one tugging at her apron strings offering to “help.”  I love pulling those apron stings, so we were a perfect pair!

One of my favorite things to do with ma-ma was to have her tell me stories,  stories from the charm bracelet.

Ma-ma’s charm bracelet was gold and from my childhood memory it had what seemed like hundreds of charms.  Each charm held a significance, the sewing machine, the thimble, a head for each child and grandchild, a replica of her brother’s Bronze Star, Virginia, Puerto Rico, Florida;  all remembrances of trips taken through the years.

For a young boy filled with an unquenchable imagination, that bracelet and the stories that were told about each charm could entertain for hours.

Many years later, when ma-ma died, I knew there was one thing I really wanted, I wanted that bracelet.  I hadn’t seen it in years and when I mentioned it no one knew where it was.

Through the days of purging ma-ma’s belongings someone found the charm bracelet and gave it to me.  As an adult, it wasn’t as impressive as it was when I was a child, you could see some of the charms were missing and it was tarnished, but just seeing that bracelet brought back a flood of memories and times spent with my grandmother that I would never be able to replace.

Mama’s bracelet was different.  Mama’s bracelet was silver and only had 5 charms on it… one for daddy, one for Tom, one for Sam, one for me and one for herself.  Four male heads and one female.

On the front of each charm our name and birth date was engraved.  On the back of Tom’s was his death date.

Somewhere through the years mama lost her charm bracelet she would mention it from time to time and how much it meant to her.

One year, when I was about 16, I knew exactly what I wanted to give mama for Christmas.  I had worked all summer and saved some money and knew that this would be the year I was able to give her the special gift.

When we open our Christmas gifts each year, we try and hold one back for the grand finale as we know it is going to be the “special gift” for that year.  This was my first year able to give the “special” gift.

I planned for weeks, I got mama’s gift, I made sure everything was perfect and on Christmas Eve, I proudly put that gift under the tree.

As we unwrapped the gifts my excitement built and for the first time, this year the excitement really wasn’t for what I was receiving, but what I was giving.

When the time finally came and all the gifts but one were opened, I proudly handed mama her beautifully wrapped package.  I sat nervously beside her and as she unwrapped the package, our small family watched in anticipation.

When the package was opened, there it lay a silver charm bracelet, just like the one she had year’s before.  Five heads, each engraved, a simple gift that meant more to my mama and I than any expensive gadget could.  To this day, the most special gift I have ever given anyone.

Mama and I both cried.

Through the years mama wore that bracelet everywhere and she made sure not to lose it.  She added three more heads through the years, Donna, Chelsea and Zack.

When mama passed, there was one thing I wanted.  Before I left Clayton on my way back to Florida after that horrible/wonderful week, I went to mama’s jewelry box and collected the charm bracelet.

Not long after I got my grandmother’s bracelet, I decided to have it framed.  I lived in Atlanta at the time and had a friend who was a framer, he made sure that it got the attention it deserved and did a beautiful job with the presentation.

After mama died it took me almost a year to have her bracelet framed.  It hurt too much to think about finalizing it and putting the bracelet behind glass.

Finally, as the 1 year anniversary of mama’s death approached I took it out and went to my local framer.  I carried ma-ma’s bracelet with me to show the framer what I wanted.

Thankfully, the framer saw the importance of this project and gave it his attention and dedication.  We picked out a frame that complimented ma-ma’s.  After finally, pulling together the strength to take the bracelet to the framer, I waited with nervous anticipation for it to be completed.

When I got the call that my frame was completed, I went to pick it up with excitement.  When I saw the frame opened, again I cried, just like the first time I saw it opened and just like the first time, I knew my mama was right beside me admiring the bracelet as well.

Today those two bracelets sit in a place of honor in my living room.  On a small table, two pieces of costume jewelry that mean the world to me.

(Note – since moving back to God’s Country two years ago, the bracelets still hold a place of honor, in my living room, prominently on my mantle.)

Commitment is a Quality Worth Remembering

This weekend I attended the funeral of a man I didn’t really know.

I had met him only once, ironically at another funeral.

When I met him his gentle presence seemed larger than life, just like his stature.  He was a big man who made a presence when he entered the room.

Over the last few months he had been diagnosed with cancer and seemed to be responding well to treatment and surgery.

At last report he was on his way to recovery, a long battle, but expected recovery.

Last Tuesday night he died.

While I didn’t know him, I felt compelled to be at his service.

As I entered the funeral home, I was struck by the people of all ages who were in attendance to honor his life.

I meandered and talked with a number of people and reminisced about the life that he and his wife, my second cousin, had created for themselves.

Over the last years, through photos, I had seen the love affair blossom with my cousin and her husband.  They lived on a boat in Charleston Harbor and every photo I ever saw of them burst from the screen with smiles from ear to ear.

My cousin had reconnected with her husband some years ago at a High School Reunion.  Both of them single, they soon learned that they were soul mates and began a love affair that so many of us only dream.

Standing beside her husband’s casket, you could see that my cousin was heartbroken, but the smile still shown through her pain.

A warm embrace and introduction of her children, whom I had never met, and I moved along to others in the room.

After a final few moments of family time, we all proceeded into the chapel of the funeral home for the service.

A flag draped casket; red, white and blue flowers; a floral reproduction of the boat that my cousin and her husband shared all created a backdrop that was befitting a gentle giant.

The entire service was conducted by family.  My cousin Chris,welcomed those in attendance to the service of his brother-in-law.

Chris encouraged us to “listen.”  Listen to the stories of a life well lived, laugh when it was funny and don’t be ashamed to cry when warranted, but most importantly, listen.

I did listen.

I listened as grandchildren sang and cried as the refrain from “How Great Thou Art” filled the chapel.

I laughed at stories delivered by a son and daughter who in their grief stood to testify for the character of their father and I cried, as they cried knowing the loss they were feeling.

When a son-in-law rose to deliver the eulogy for a man who came into his life 11 years ago, to marry his wife’s mom, I listened.

In this role, the Pastor spoke of commitment.

He painted a picture of this gentle giant’s commitment to family, country, community and God.

He shared stories of a love and respect of country, both as an active duty and retired military man.

We learned how a love affair for the ages put a smile on my cousin’s face and how they challenged each other, each day and loved until the very end.

A commitment to family included a blended family, children and grand-children were never “step,” but family.

I listened as I heard stories of community service, volunteerism, giving of ones self and a love for fellow-man that should inspire each of us to live better lives.

Finally, I listened as we heard about this man’s faith and the knowledge that we all know where he is now and where we will see him again one day when our time comes to enter life-everlasting.

I learned a lot today as I listened, and in the final moments of a service befitting a gentle giant, one who had brightened the life of those who knew him and provided an everlasting love for one in particular, we sang.

Led by a son-in-law, pastor, we sang “God Bless the USA,” and as we approached the chorus, in unison we stood and we sang together, a moment befitting a life well lived, a life filled with commitment, a life worth listening to.

As I drove away from my loved ones, I couldn’t help but think I wish I had known Hugh Veal.  I wish I had known the man whose commitment to family, community, country and God had brought a congregation to our feet in song knowing “that’s what Hugh would have wanted.”

I wish I had known the man who put the smile on his Laura’s face, the smile that is dimmed now, but will shine again with memories of a love for the ages.

I wish I had known Hugh, but today, I listened and felt a bit closer to this gentle giant who touched the lives of those he loved, his community, his country and now sits with the Lord, a life well lived through commitment.

Life’s Playlist…. Summertime performed by Janis Joplin

Life’s Playlist…. Memorial Day… America the Beautiful / God Bless America performed by David Phelps