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. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Night Sea Air

The Night Sea Air

By: Kelli J Gavin

For Writers Unite!

Sherri didn't really want to join me on this trip anyway. I shouldn't have felt guilty leaving her back in the hotel room, but for some reason I did. She said she would be fine and even smiled when I said I would be back in an hour, two tops. The guilt had already started to set in, and I made a mental note to stop at the taco truck on the corner on the way back and bring her something to eat. Sherri had said she wasn't hungry earlier when we arrived at the hotel, so she read a book while I devoured each bite of the meal I grabbed from the Greek Food Truck one block towards the pier. I knew she liked tacos. At least I thought she did. I said a prayer that she did because I didn't need to give her another reason to begrudge me. 

  I wanted to see the ocean again. I needed to see it again. I told Sherri it was calling my name. Sherri rolled her eyes and replied, "Nancy, why are you so dramatic? Everything you say sounds like you snagged it from a Jane Austen novel. The ocean doesn't call your name. You just like to take time off work, preferably near water."

  Feeling like she was just in a funk, I told her that I had already booked a room and if she liked I could book the airfare that night. I knew she didn't like flying, or hotels, or even the idea of sleeping in a bed that wasn't her own, but I also knew that she always found something to complain about. Every time I had begged her to join me in the past, Sherri finally relented and would say something like, "Well, maybe I could use a few days away." 

  When I booked the airfare, I didn't tell her it was two first class tickets. If I had, she would say I was making a fuss and maybe even refuse to go. She again rolled her eyes at me when we boarded the plane and we were in the second row behind the cockpit. Sherri was speechless when the flight attendant offered her a glass of champagne even before take-off. I loved every second of it. Being pampered wasn't something I had been used to, so I knew that this trip was going to be special, regardless of any additional eye rolling that may be shot in my general direction. 

  The car that picked us up at the airport was a nice way to be delivered to the Oasis by the Sea Hotel. We didn't even need to touch our bags or even our carry- on bags once we set them on the curb. Tom was an excellent driver and left both Sherri and I his card. "Ladies, it would be my pleasure to be of any assistance while you are here on your vacation. I only need two hours advance notice. I can take you anywhere you like and return you to the Oasis."

  "Thank you, Tom. That sounds excellent. Once we are settled, I will call you later this evening about our plans for the next few days." I liked Tom. I wanted this to be an effortless trip and knew using the services of a professional driver would be in our best interest.

  After I had eaten, I asked Sherri if she wanted to go for a swim or even down to the bar we passed in the lobby. "Not this evening. I am actually a bit tired from traveling. I think I just want to settle in for the evening. Maybe read and watch some T.V.. Tomorrow after breakfast, I would love to go for a swim I think."

  "I am feeling a bit restless. Would you mind if I walked down the pier and back? The one we saw just a few blocks before the hotel? I would love to take in the night sea air on our first night here."

  "Okay. Go "take in the night sea air." Sherri smirked.

  I had learned that Sherri really didn't mean anything with all her sarcasm and eye rolling. Always the cynic, her quirky personality grew on me as I got to know her about ten years ago. She slowly began to soften and even disclosed her painful childhood, the loss of her husband and the fact that she struggled to keep friends. I appreciated her honesty and told her she couldn't get rid of me if I tried. There were also those quite enduring moments when Sherri's eyes would soften and she would tell me she was glad that she could experience something with me, her dearest friend, for the first time. Because we didn't give gifts, we focused on taking trips together and experiencing life. She has been my closest friend all these years, and the person I needed to take with me on this final trip. 

  As I neared the pier, I pulled out my cell phone as I wanted to take a few pictures. The sights, the sounds, the smells. How could I capture the smells? A few restaurants with open air seating were full along the promenade and I felt serenaded by the sounds of people laughing and talking surrounded me. I smelled pizza and Asian cuisine and then saw a hot dog vendor at the foot of the pier. Yes, it was a little overwhelming, but back in the country where we lived, nothing like this existed. I welcomed the sensory overload as I tried to put my thoughts in some sort of order. 

  Walking the well lit pier at night was something I had always wanted to do. When I saw the picture online, I knew that is where I wanted to be. Something about how the water resided so far below the planks fascinated me. I supposed that when the tide came in, the water rose significantly, but I was thrilled to find it appeared the same way as it did in the picture online. The crowds seemed to thin out as I continued to walk slowly down the pier. The noise from the promenade faded and all I could hear were a few murmured conversations between couples, the obnoxious yet graceful seagulls swooping overhead and the faint sound of the wind. 

  Leaning over the railing for the first time, my elbows on the bar, I breathed in the night sea air I desperately craved. I then giggled to myself knowing Sherri would view this moment as unnecessary. I closed my eyes and focused my thoughts on the matter at hand. 

  This would be my last trip and I needed to share this with Sherri. The diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer and the fact that it has spread to almost all of my abdominal organs and both lungs wasn't something that I was prepared to share with her. But I needed to know. The pain was manageable at this point, but for how long? How long would I be able to keep it under control with those little white pills the oncologist prescribed to me? Knowing that surgery and chemo would only slightly prolong my life for a few months or so, I chose, under wise counsel of the second and even third doctors, to concentrate on living my life, managing my pain and being thankful for the time I had left. They had advised travel immediately as it might not be possible soon. I knew this wasn't going to be an amazing trip with tons of sight seeing or excursions planned, but time spent by the pool, walking the pier, and enjoying great meals sounded wonderful to me. 

  I knew Sherri was tired after the day's travel, but I planned to sit her down and tell her when I returned to the room. I not only wanted to get it out of the way, I wanted to make sure that she didn't get upset if I waited closer to the time we returned home. Knowing she would be angry that I took her on this "fancy trip" only to tell her I was dying, it had to be tonight. I even made a mental note not to use the "flowery language" she hated and to just state the facts. Diagnosis. Prognosis. How I was feeling and what I was thinking. I knew I would finish with a note of thanks. I wanted to thank her for her friendship, her kindness and willingness to always do things I wanted to do and travel to the places I wanted to visit. But I also wanted to tell her that I was sorry I couldn't tell her all of this sooner and that I had been in denial through all of the extensive testing process. 

  Pondering how she would take this news, I hesitated walking back down the pier. Sitting on the bench, I bent my head in prayer asking God to calm my nerves, to soften Sherri's heart in advance and give me boldness in our much needed conversation. When I looked up, a young man held out a single red rose to me.

  "Welcome to The Oasis Pier. May this rose brighten your night." Before I could even mutter a Thank You, he moved on to a couple further back down the pier. 

  The rose was breathtakingly beautiful and the aroma wafted towards me as soon as it was in my hands. What a sweet gift to be bestowed as I had just finished praying. As I stood and felt a little off balance, I took a moment and knew it was time for another pill. Walking back down the pier and scanning all of the booths and shops, I finally spied the taco truck and slowly made my way to order. 

  "May I please order the taco trio? One beef, one chicken, one steak. Extra sour cream and a container of guac, please. And if you would please put it in a bag. Thank you." Placing the order I would have liked would just have to be what Sherri liked too. 

  I felt empowered. I had tacos in hand, a gorgeous red rose and a plan. Sherri was a good friend to me, she always had been. Yes, I knew this would be a difficult conversation, but it was necessary. Then, when everything had been discussed, we would sleep and be rejuvenated for the new day tomorrow. 

  As I removed the key card from my front pocket, I smiled and opened the door to our hotel room. I am thankful for the solo pier walk that night. To gather my thoughts, develop a plan and to take in the night sea air. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

9 Years- Missing My Mom Today


Here is the thing. It does get easier. But it never fully fades away. I am used to it now. That absence, that lingering desire for one more conversation. That sudden feeling of loss in the dark of the night. Even though I am now used to all of this, it still hurts. Sometimes, how much I miss my mom sneaks up on me. It takes my breath away and makes tears spill from eyes. It makes me halt in place and question my next steps. Sometimes the grief is a thief of present joy. But essential, all the same. 

It has been 9 years. As I write that, I think- How is this possible? 9 years ago when my mom passed away, I felt it in my core. Unable to navigate daily life for a spell, I did the appropriate thing and sat in my grief. I let it permeate as I fully experienced the loss of a parent. Too many times in my life, I have watched people not want to have anything to do with loss. Grief is often too much to bear and pushing it away, far away seems to be the best option. But we all know how grief can be. It rears its ugly head when least expected, reminding you of unfinished and necessary business. I didn't want that to be me. I didn't want to feel burdened or incapable of forging through life because of a need to not feel, not experience, not deal with the loss of a parent. I also found that in intentional grieving, you can honor the memory of the one you have lost.

When tears fall, I remind myself that it is normal, acceptable and needed. But I no longer experience the onslaught as frequently. I remember she is in her Heavenly home with her Lord and Savior and what a mighty fine place that is to be. No more pain, nothing to worry about. Just adoration, praise and worship of a mighty King. I also am reminded that I, too, crave Heaven as my eternal home. 

I will never stop sharing stories with my kids or anyone that will listen.  I will never stop being thankful for my out of control larger than life mom. I will never forget whose daughter I am. 

Her name was Jo Cook. And she was an amazing mom. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Stand Up Slowly

  In January of 1995, I began working in a bank and I was excited to have my first job as an adult at a local financial institution. Two weeks after I started I was asked to work a long 12 hour split shift to help cover the numerous absences of my co-workers. My co-workers were attending a funeral of an employee from another branch. I commented that they must have known everyone because it sounded like so many people were attending the funeral. I was told they had been with the bank for about 8 years. I asked how the man had passed. I stood mouth agape listening to what happened. 

  The man was working in the vault room with a teller. Both the small upper and large lower vaults were open. Preparing to load the filled coin bags into the lower vault, as the teller counted the cash from the upper vault, the man leaned over and hoisted the heavy bag into the vault. As he stood up, he cracked the back of his head on the upper thick and heavy vault door. He didn't split his head open, but was in a lot of pain and immediately got an ice pack and sat down. His wife was called to come and get him and bring him home as the pain was excessive. Two days later, the man died from a massive brain bleed. It was horrible. From that day forward, every branch instituted a new rule. One vault open at a time and the 2nd person present had to keep their hand on the open top vault door at all times and the other person would be the counter and note taker. 

  My entire adult life I have been wary about hitting the back of the head. It instilled an unnatural fear in me. I never stand up under a shelf. I get into cars differently than I used to. I scope out my surroundings before standing up when I am seated on the floor. Every physical movement has become calculated and planned because of the death of a man I never met. 

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...