Thursday, April 4, 2024

I Know What That Means- By: Kelli J Gavin for Writers Unite!

I Know What That Means

By: Kelli J Gavin

After my family moved to Minneapolis three years ago, my parents refused to visit us in our new home. At first, I struggled with the fact that maybe they didn’t care enough to see my new home. I even convinced myself that they were probably a little bitter since we chose to move away. And by away, we are only talking twenty minutes with traffic from the home in which I was born and raised. Repeatedly, both my husband and I carefully broached the conversation of a visit with my parents and about stopping by our house after an event at the school. They politely declined each and every time. They no longer participated in any activities for their grandchildren, since everything now involved them driving from their posh city streets of Edina to Minneapolis.

Harry and I felt moving to Minneapolis was the best decision possible after he was transferred to a new office there and all three kids had been accepted to the Conservatory of Theater and Music. We knew each child would be receiving the best possible education and Harry seemed delighted with his five minute commute which he often walked in the warm Minnesota summer months. Our new home was a historic, three-floor brownstone with plenty of space as we considered having more children.

With my 35th birthday soon approaching, I called my Mom to invite them to a small get together.

“Hey, Mom. How are you doing?” I asked knowing what would follow.

“Babe, I am doing well. I am looking forward to planting a few more bushes this week. Your father said he would help. The weather will be perfect.” All conversations with my mother began with garden and yard talk with a little bit of weather thrown in for good measure.

“I look forward to seeing them. Say, the weekend after next, we are having a small party for my 35th on Saturday, the day before my birthday. We are planning on only about 20 people and we will be serving all your favorites. It starts at about 5:30 p.m.. I look forward to seeing you both.” I planned to not say another word and let her sit in the silence.

“Sarah, I am not comfortable driving into the city. How about the Friday after next, I’ll take you out for lunch. You can come here and we can go catch a nice bite and maybe shop a few of the boutiques down on 50th and France.” My mother suggested as she does every year.

“Mom, that is very nice of you, but I am not able to. That week leading up to my birthday is quite busy and I have a meeting that Friday. I understand you are not comfortable. Mom, I am asking you to do something bold. It is my 35th and it is special to me. I want to celebrate with you. You have never been to my home and I am excited to show you everything we have done. I am asking you and Dad to do this for me. Let this be your gift to me. Come to my home and celebrate with me.” I cringed relaying the last sentence.

“I do not want to. You’ll have more fun with your friends. You don’t need your Dad and I there. We can do something another time.”

“Mom, there are no declines available to you at this point. I am requesting your presence because I will be hurt if you do not attend.” I needed to pass on some guilt in hopes of her saying yes.

“Sarah, fine. Why are you so stubborn? I am still bringing a gift.” She spouted. I wondered briefly if she hadn’t figured out who I got that from. “We will be there. We won’t be staying past dark. I don’t like this at all. I might have to take a pill before we get in the car just so I can do it.”

Her pills were often mentioned when she wanted someone to feel bad for her, feel guilty or to make sure attention swayed back to her. I think her pills were Tums.

“Thank you, Mom. Thank you. I’ll see you at 5:30 p.m. the day before my birthday. I’ll even text both you and Dad the address again and a link for the directions. I love you, Mom.” Tears poked at the corner of my eyes.

“Babe, I love you.” And with that, she hung up.

I was elated yet wiping tears as Harry walked into the bedroom.

“So, has the Queen Mother finally decided to grace us with her presence?” Harry grinned.

“Yes. Oh my word, yes. Now we’ll see what excuses she can come up with to bail. Do you wanna place a bet? Will she or her ugly crusty little white ankle biter dog come down with some grave sickness to keep her away?” I giggled as I wiped the last of my tears.

Much to my astonishment, no excuses came. The evening of the party, my parents arrived “fashionably” early at 5 p.m. as expected. They were always prompt if not early. As my father hesitantly parked by the curb, I watched out of our huge picture window. No sooner had he placed the car in park, my mother’s car swung open wide. Barreling out of the car, she scanned in every direction, slammed the car door and bolted up the 5 stairs leading to our front porch. Entering the home without knocking, she even slammed the door behind her. My dad hadn’t even exited the car yet.

“Mom, I am so glad you are here. Welcome! But didn’t you forget something?” I asked.

“What?” She felt for her handbag, and checked to make sure she also had a gift bag in hand.

“Dad. You forgot dad.” I couldn’t help but laugh.

As dad entered the front door, we all hugged and kissed Hello. My Mom looked nervous and her eyes darted around the room.

“Sarah, your home is beautiful. The colors are exquisite. You have done a marvelous job.” Harry began to give them a tour and I got the kids settled after hugs and kisses with their grandparents.

“Mom, we forgot to pick up the rolls we ordered at the corner store. Come, walk with me and get them.” I stated.

Fear. That is all that I saw. My request to join me on a walk in my neighborhood in Minneapolis made my Mom appear to be filled with fear.

“Sarah, I can not join you. No. No, I just can’t. We saw what was on the corner. I saw those shoes over the power lines. I know what that means. That means they sell drugs there! Your home is quite beautiful, but how can you live here? The gangs sell drugs on your street!” My Mom shouted much louder than necessary.

Feeling so incredibly thankful that they had arrived early, and no one else was in ear shot, I saw the last of my kids round the corner smirking with raised eyebrows after hearing what their Grandma had just said.

“Mom, yes. You saw shoes over the lines on the corner. You assumed it was drugs because that is what you even told me when I was young. Mom, those shoes thrown over the line were from the high school seniors who live on our surrounding streets. They do this in celebration of graduating. In England, they used to throw shoes when someone was married. Shoes thrown over lines don’t always mean gangs are present or drugs are being sold!” I exclaimed not only to be heard but also in grappling with disbelief. “Our neighborhood isn’t just safe, we have become friends with our neighbors, there are tons of kids for our kids to play with. We wouldn’t have moved here if we thought there was the potential for our family to be in danger!”

There was silence followed by tears as Mom collapsed into a puddle onto the couch. Once my Mom gathered herself, she went on to explain she had always been a fearful person, but us moving to Minneapolis was unfathomable. She always thought of Minneapolis as a dangerous place to dwell and people only lived there if they had to. With her slightly tearful explanation, I was able to figure out why she had always refused invitations to our home and why she would do anything to go out of her way to never drive those few miles to the home I now treasured. The house that my family had made our forever home.

After apologies were extended and faces were dried, other guests began to arrive. My father and I served as greeters when Harry quickly stepped out to pick up the bread order at the corner store, and Mom went upstairs to spend some long overdue time with her grandchildren.

The party ended up being a delight. My parents finally meeting our new friends and neighbors warmed my heart. My Mom’s heart continued to soften throughout the evening and her fear disappeared. Minneapolis had its crime and issues, but my Mom now felt better informed about her surroundings and our choice to move here, even though Harry and I had explained it all a thousand times. Seeing my Mom and Dad smile while in conversation with our neighbors made me feel elated that this breakthrough occurred.

As they left that night, my Mom leaned in and whispered one last apology. “Babe, I saw that coffee shop about two blocks away as we drove here. What if next Saturday morning, I stop by and we can take the kids. Maybe we could get a donut or something and a cup of coffee. I would like it if you could show me some of the stores you like to shop in now.”

Immediately, I agreed and smiled at Harry. He knew exactly how important this night was for our family and my for my Mom and Dad. Thankful to be 35, I was also thankful for a corrected misunderstanding and that fear was no longer present.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023


I was thrilled when I realized I didn't have to race off anywhere this morning. I got the kids up and off to school and then had one early call. I then showered and changed and called my best friend as we had scheduled a time to talk this morning. I enjoyed our time together catching up on each other's lives and praying for each other. 

When we finished talking, I packed up my purse and filled a water bottle and headed out the door to run a few errands.  My first errand at the Dollar Tree found me conversing with a 50ish man and 60ish woman about inter ocular lenses and the lack of depth perception. I made a mental note not to listen in on other people's conversations and not to pipe in even when my 10+ year experience was something that could assist in their original conversation. 

When I got to the grocery store, I quickly located my quarter for my cart and my shopping bags and headed towards the store. Minnesota weather is absolutely beautiful this week. I say "this week" because let's be real. It is Minnesota. It might be September but the weather can change at any time. I stood outside my car once I had righted myself and closed my eyes. The sun was shining and breeze had picked up. I knew my son would love the weather today as he loves bright hot sun with a breeze and cooler temps. 

As I approached the store, I saw a woman maybe 20+ years my senior locating her cart of choice in the outdoor storage area.  I rounded the corner and saw her struggling a bit to insert her quarter, so I waited my turn and swung my purse over my shoulder. As I did so, I dropped all of my canvas shopping bags on the ground. I bent to pick them up and apologized as I was now blocking her exit from the cart storage area. She didn't make eye contact with me or say anything. She charged past me the moment I stood upright. I thought it was strange, but as my mother used to say- maybe she has places to go and people to see. 

I knew I needed quite a few things today but also that my focus would be on fresh produce and dairy items. I quickly filled my cart full of fruits and vegetables and headed towards the bread and bakery items.  I selected a bag of honey wheat bread for my family and proceeded towards the hamburger and hot dog buns. As I bend to select a bag of buns and pick it up, I also dropped them on the floor. I noticed the older woman watching me close by.

Scoffing, I bent over and laughed and said, "Goodness. Today I am dropping all of the bags."

The woman looked at me with utter disdain. As if she couldn't believe that I dropped the buns on the floor. I was so confused. All I did was make a little joke. She didn't say a word but her facial expression made me believe she was very upset that this even happened near her or that I said anything at all. I placed them in my cart and continued walking. As I walked down the aisle, I kept thinking about the fact that I had now spoken to this woman twice and she didn't feel the need to acknowledge my existence. I started thinking about all the reasons why she could have seemed so upset. I covered her with a whole lot of grace because maybe she had hearing loss like my husband. Maybe she didn't even know that I had been speaking to her and offering words of apology. Maybe her facial expressions had nothing to do with me. 

I have found myself, especially since Covid lock downs, being even more intentional than I normally am. Human touch points and interactions have become essential. I am very aware of many lonely people going through the motions and attempting to function in daily life, all while barely holding it together on the inside. So I continue being awkward yet intentional. Smiling longer than necessary, greeting others on the sidewalk, offering help when help hasn't been solicited, inserting myself where my presence hasn't been requested. 

This seemingly unhappy woman may have been fighting an uphill battle since her feet hit the floor this morning. While her apparent response to me wasn't ideal, it also says more about her than it ever will about me. She just needed my kindness to be displayed by walking away. I needed to re-frame my thoughts on kindness being displayed when it isn't acknowledged or even needed. 

I will probably drop more bags of buns and even my shopping bags in the future. I am a klutz at best, so it is more of a given than a probably. I will probably utter some ridiculous involuntary observation or platitude before I even realize that the words are leaving my lips. But I won't censor myself. Because those human touch points and weird connections at places such as the grocery are needed, are necessary and sometimes essential for others to keep going. 

Today I dropped bags. Tomorrow, I may trip on a curb. All I know is- it will be weird. Bring it on. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

I Was There To Hold His Hand


Our dad is dying. He is in his final days. My sister Angela is doing an amazing job caring for him in her home. She is overseeing care, administering medications and pain meds to keep him comfortable. She is meeting with social workers and hospice nurses and chaplains. And while she is exhausted and it has taken a toll mentally and physically, she is doing it all with grace, kindness and love. 

    Today, I had one task that I wished to accomplish. I took the day off of work, made sure I timed my long drive appropriately and made the trek north to my sister's home. I was there to hold his hand. That is all I planned on doing, and what a joy it was. 

    While he laid with his eyes closed, I told him I was there and touched his chest. 

    "Hi, dad. It's Kelli. I am here to see you. I love you." 

    I took his hand from where it rested on his stomach and held it until my fingers cramped. I do not know if he knew I was there. I do not know if he could understand everything I said to him today. But I do know that he could hear, and he heard what was important. 

    I told my dad that I loved him and I thanked him for being a great dad to me when I was a kid. I told him Angela and I will be okay. That we will miss him, but we will be fine. I told him my kids will be forever grateful that they got to see him last week and smile together. I acknowledge that he is in pain and it must be so hard to feel that way and not be able to communicate. I told him he doesn't need to fight any longer and that it is okay to go. That it is okay to just rest now. I gave him permission to not feel the need to hold on for us. Because it is his time. 

    My dad may live a few more days, maybe not even last the night. I am so thankful for the time I had with him today. I am so thankful I was there to hold his hand. 

Monday, February 27, 2023

Ten Years- 2/27/23

Ten Years


    Ten years time in theory is quite a long time. 3,650 days. 87,600 hours. 5,256,000

minutes. To me, it is a very long time to be without someone you love. Our mom passed

away ten years ago today. Ten years. And while ten years seems like an awful long time,

this time has passed by in a flash. 

    I remember her laugh.

    Her love of hard candy and ice. 

    How she read books to her grand kids and only stopped when they were done


    Watching movies together and listening to all of her questions. 

    Explaining the why and how something occurred because she never thought about

it that way before. 

    I remember her ability to make a new friend everywhere she went.

    How she loved deeply and often until it sometimes hurt her. 

    Mom served others selflessly and wondered why others didn’t always do the same. 

 I remember her cooling off in the small blue plastic pool. 

I still set books aside for mom realizing it isn’t necessary. The last one, was a book of

poetry and I wrote in the inside cover before I donated it- 


I love you. I know you are not here, but I found myself setting this book aside for

you because I knew you would like it. You are loved and you are missed. Thank you for

teaching me to love the written word just like you did. 

Love Always, 


    I prayed today and asked God to help me do a better job loving my kids when things

get hard. She loved Angela and I well, even when things seemed impossible. We always

knew she was our safe haven. 

Today, I remember her and I miss her fiercely. I look forward to sharing memories with

the kids at dinner tonight. Something we always do to honor her each year as we remember

the day she went Home to be with her Savior. 

    Will the next ten years pass just as quickly? Possibly. I will continue doing the same

things. I will remember how well she loved others, how well she served others and I will

continue sharing my stories about her.

     What an honor it is to remember you today, Mom.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Mom's Favorite Christmas Earrings

My mom passed away about 10 years ago after a short battle with a rare form of liver cancer. She was a lover of all things holidays, but loved Christmas the most.

She loved bright red and green clothing with silver and gold sequins and all the jewelry she could possibly wear. 

One of the most simple items of jewelry she owned were a pair of Christmas Tree earrings. I have been looking for those treasured earrings for 10 years. I found them this week.

So today, as I continue to miss her so much, I will honor her memory by wearing her favorite earrings and share stories with my family of Christmas memories with my mom. 

Christmas can be so very hard when you have lost an adored loved one. Talk about them today. Your feelings are valid. You and your grief are seen and acknowledged. 

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 NLT

 Merry Christmas! 🎄

Friday, November 18, 2022

Brass Knuckles


    I love telling stories. I also love retelling stories that aren't mine. Stories that have been shared with me. Stories overheard. Stories that I have only become aware of because of always watching and observing others. Some stories, I will never repeat. They hide away deep in the recesses of my mind and often my heart. But those stories that are spoken of sometimes are relayed others a bit skewed. My aging mind forgets bits and pieces, words that were spoken, specific locations and even the people present. However, I find that the stories I share are important and often only meant for a person or two rather than the masses. 

    My mother was an excellent story teller and she had a superb memory. She could recall her junior high school teacher's names and her eyes would glimmer as she spoke about a treasured friend who lived down the street when she was five years old in St. Paul. She rarely needed to take out a cookbook or reference a recipe card as she stored it away after one cursory glance. As she aged, my sister and I noticed that some of the details would be edited or omitted when her memories became a little fuzzy around the edges.  

    When my sister and I were small, my mother regaled us with stories of her travels and stories of her family from when she was growing up. We always paid very close attention when she spoke of our Grandpa Joseph because he had passed away in 1962, many years before either of us were born. She spoke of his kindness, how everyone liked him and how he worked hard and was a great father. Grandpa Joseph was quite a bit older than Grandma Charlotte and that often reflected in the conversations they would have, how they parented and even in how they spent their time. Grandpa liked road trips and Grandma wasn't really a fan, but went along with his plans as she knew their three kids would enjoy any adventure. 

    Our mom often retold a story of a road trip they took out east. She spoke of different places they stayed, attractions they saw, pictures they posed for and postcards purchased. Do I remember most of the details she shared? I do not. But I wish I knew more. I will have to ask for more information from my aunt and uncle, her brother and sister this Christmas when we see each other. But what I do remember of that road trip to New York always makes me smile. 

    "Daddy always drove. ( I loved that she always referred to her dad as Daddy, even though she was an adult and he had passed away over 20 years prior.) I remember how much I liked that car and remember it felt spacious even with us three kids in the back seat driving across the country. I remember loving the city and couldn't believe how dirty it was and so much different than St. Paul and Minneapolis. Daddy got turned around right in the heart of New York City. (It probably wasn't in the heart of NYC, but that was the way she always told the story.) We seemed to drive down the same streets over and over again, but he persevered and kept peering out the windows trying to find out destination. I remember how warm it was that day and being in between so many buildings there wasn't much of a breeze. With all the windows down to let in as much air as possible, I remember Joe asking for water and Char wiping her head with the back of her hand and I kept pushing my curls away from my face. We were miserable in that hot car but tried not to complain because we knew it was stressful not being able to find where we were going."

    "As Daddy drove down a back alley, two men stumbled out of a doorway and slammed the back door of an apartment building." 

    ""Maria! Maria!"" A man called up to a second floor apartment. ""Throw down my brass knuckles!"" (The name of Maria was added because I have forgotten the name that was shouted.)

    "My eyes were as big as dinner plates. I stared at my parents in the front seat waiting for their response." Mom continued her story.

    "Placing her hand on your grandpa's arm on the wheel, grandpa took a deep breath. ""Joseph, get us out of here now. Kids roll up the windows immediately. We aren't sticking around see any brass knuckles in New York today."" My grandma Charlotte announced. 

    Do I know what happened? No. Do I wish I did? Absolutely? Did they see any brass knuckles being thrown down from the second floor apartment? What happened then? That was the end of the story. My mother ended the story there every time. She smiled and laughed to herself, but never volunteered any additional information. It has taken me until now to realize that it is a complete story in and of itself. My mom herself, may have not remembered any additional information. That story that she fondly remembered served a purpose in her mind and in her heart. The information she remembered and shared was all that mattered. 

    She told us that she enjoyed the road trip with her family. She enjoyed their company. She spoke of being protected and feeling safe in the presence of her mom and dad. She spoke only the words that mattered. 

    I have shared this story with my daughter a few times. I am sure I haven't gotten all the info right and am probably not doing it justice. But I smile and laugh to myself and remember the joy my mom experienced when she shared it with my sister and I. Her name may have not been Maria and I may always want to know what happened next, but for now, I have shared all the words that matter. 

JoAnn Grace Cook- 1945-2013

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Not If, But When

 Yesterday in Texas, another school shooting took place. The word another wasn't placed in the prior  sentence as an afterthought. It was placed with purpose and intention. In fact, 27 school shootings have happened so far just in the year 2022. This is a phenomenon in and of itself in that school shootings do not occur anywhere else in the world, only in the United States. So, when I state another school shooting has taken place, you, like me, should be appalled, completely gutted and brought to your knees. 

  I shut down the news hours ago. I turned off the T.V., logged off social media and decided that the internet isn't the best place for me now or in the near future. My heart aches for families, for students, for school personnel. I sat in prayer for a time today, not distracted by things of this world or new news reports. Through a time in prayer, I was able to contain the anger in me, yet it hasn't gone anywhere. 

  I will not make a political or gun rights statement. I will not retweet comments made by politicians. I will not engage in conversations or try to educate those that have no desire to understand or see something from another perspective. But I will sit in these feelings that I have about unthinkable situations like 27 school shootings in less than 5 months in this country we call home. 

  This morning, I didn't even see my kids before they left at 7 a.m. for school. My husband was up early as usual, and got the kids out the door. But just because my husband enabled me to stay in bed, didn't mean that I was sleeping. I couldn't. Rather than letting my brain spiral with worry over school and safety, I prayed. For families who have lost their children to a senseless tragedy. For my daughter and conversations she would hear and be a part of at school today. For my special needs adult son, and what he would see on the news that he so faithfully watches every morning and every night. For educators who are broken, worried and face the very real possibility of an intruder or school shooting each and every day. For bus drivers who are the first adult that many students see besides family each morning. For children who are still young and even in their teens who fully understand what happened in Texas yesterday and were worried about leaving home today. For the parents who pulled their children near and questioned if they were making the right decision of sending their kids out the door to a school where safety isn't guaranteed. I prayed for all of them. And I know many of you did also.

  When my 15 year old daughter came home from school today, I gently brought up the subject of the shooting and she said she hadn't even heard that it happened. She said teachers didn't talk about it, her friends never mentioned it and she hadn't sat to watch the news with her brother this morning before school. Lily's only question she asked was if it was near our friends in Texas. I told her no, and informed her it was a good 400 miles away from there. I told her that I loved her, she was safe and if she had any questions for her dad or I, to always feel free to ask. Our highly verbal, heart on her sleeve child assured us she would. 

  Tomorrow, we as parents will do it all over again. Pray for our children as they get ready to walk out the door. Pray for our children as they head to and are at school. And pray for our children as they head home and back into our open arms. We also won't forget what it feels like to hear news like this, yet again, and again. The disbelief, the sadness, the upset, the anger. May we never grow complacent, or think it is just a passing trend. Until major changes in our country are made, no real change will ever occur. And it won't be what if another shooting happens, but when. 

I Know What That Means- By: Kelli J Gavin for Writers Unite!

I Know What That Means By: Kelli J Gavin After my family moved to Minneapolis three years ago, my parents refused to visit us in our ne...