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Monday, June 29, 2009

A Life Well Lived

On Tuesday my husband's grandfather passed away. It occurs to me as I try to write about him that it would take volumes to record all that should be said about this man. He was the kind of person about whom moving tributes are written. I will try to do him justice here on this little blog.



Last November I wrote a little bit about Chuck's "Pop" and his other grandfather for Veteran's Day. I have absolutely adored every moment of the past 13 years with all four of my husband's grandparents. We were so fortunate to have them for as long as we did, and that was something we both recognized all along. Since 2007, both of my father-in-law's parents have passed away, and my mother-in-law's father suffered a major stroke. Pop had been in a nursing home for 15 months before his death, and his daily struggle to recover was truly inspirational to everyone who knew him. But that was just the way he was. He was the kind of person who inspired others.



Pop was born in 1922, way down in southeast Louisiana, practically in the Gulf of Mexico. His father was a boat builder and his mother was a midwife. Pop grew up speaking French as his first language. He learned English in school, but always told us that his thoughts and even his dreams were still in French. From an early age he learned how to build wooden boats with his father. Pop joined the Army as a young man and served his country in World War II. He was able to use his knowledge of his native language as an interpreter while serving in France. Pop survived five major battles in his Tank Destroyer battalion while overseas and had a reputation among the servicemen for being the fastest foxhole digger. After he finished digging, he would sit on the edge of his foxhole and read his New Testament. Pop was a man of great faith, and he later became an ordained Baptist minister, pastor, and lifelong missionary, preaching sermons in French in small mission churches across South Louisiana. He and his amazing wife married in 1946 and raised three daughters (the eldest is my mother-in-law). Pop was such a devoted family man. I was always touched by his love for his wife and the way they shared every task together as a team. They had a beautiful marriage.



After he retired, Pop devoted his later years to his woodworking and carpentry hobbies, and he always had a list of projects to do for other people. Even on the day of his stroke last year, he was busy working in his shop on remodeling projects for their bathroom. He was also an amazing artist, drawing landscapes from his childhood memories with remarkable accuracy. Pop was known all over his community for his "napkin art," the beautiful pen and ink sketches he would "doodle" and give to everyone he met.



After his stroke, Pop lost the use of his right side as well as his ability to speak. During the months in the nursing home, however, he learned to use his left hand to continue his passion for drawing and to communicate his love to his family and friends by making the sign for "I love you."

Carpenter, soldier, war hero, pastor, father, grandfather, missionary, veteran, friend, volunteer, craftsman, artist, husband of 63 years -- these are all part of his legacy. Any one of those things would be remarkable enough, but Pop embodied all of them. Beyond what you've read here about his life and his work, he was also a man of impeccable character. He had a kind and gentle way about him. The words I've most often heard used to describe him are "sweet" and "precious." He always greeted me with a smile, a big hug, a kiss on the cheek, and the words "Hey, cher!" (which means "dear" in French). Pop loved people and he loved to visit, but he was a man of few words. He loved to sit and enjoy company, and he would listen and laugh but he never did dominate a conversation. Oh, he had great stories to tell, but he rarely took the floor. I think it's just another way that he showed how much he cared for others. He always put them first. Granny and Pop remained active in their community and church well into their 80s, serving as volunteers and giving all that they could to those in need. I have no doubt that his wife will continue this tradition for as long as possible now that he is gone. I will always remember how Pop loved the Lord, and how that love spilled over into his great love and service for others.



I know this is a long post to read about someone that most of you never met. I have so many of these little treasures tucked away in my memory, just like the beautiful pieces of carpentry and art that decorate nearly every room of my home and were made by his hands. Just one more story and then I'll be done.

I had always noticed that my sweet husband took after his Pop in so many ways. When he was young, he liked to draw and paint. Now that he is an adult, his favorite hobby is woodworking. He loves to build and create things, and he is so handy around the house. Also, he loves people, but he is very quiet in a crowd, just like his grandfather. But one day I truly saw how similar they were in the most adorable way. Chuck was being ordained as a deacon in our church, and Granny and Pop had come for the occasion. We were getting ready to have sandwiches for lunch, and I walked into the kitchen to find Pop standing all alone at the counter, "drawing" on his bread with the bottle of mustard - not for anyone's entertainment, but simply for his own amusement. I stood watching him and smiling, because I'd seen my own husband doing the same thing so many times before. Honestly, I can't think of anyone I would rather see my husband emulate. If he continues to grow up to be just like his Pop, I will be one happy girl!



We've just returned home from being with family for several days for the funeral. It was so moving to see all of the people whose lives have been touched by this incredible man. The whole time I kept thinking to myself, What a man. What a legacy. It was a life well lived, and he didn't waste a moment of his 87 years. I am so honored to have known him and to have been loved as one of his own.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Father's Day

Father's Day is a strange holiday for me. That was a true statement even before I'd faced almost a decade of infertility and all of the heartache that comes with desperately wanting to see your husband become a father.

I don't have the best relationship with my dad. I don't necessarily mean that we don't get along, but that we are not close. After several very tumultuous years of marriage, he and my mom divorced when I was 7 years old. There is not much I remember of my dad being at home. I have a few foggy memories of him coming home really late and carrying me from their bed to my own. I remember his love for crossword puzzles and how he was really good at drawing. Among my dad's redeeming qualities is his sense of humor. Above anything else, he still loves to make people laugh. He can, at times, be very tender-hearted. Sad movies make him cry. My sister and I remember the only time we were ever punished by our dad. We had been fighting and, in the heat of the moment, we said we hated each other. He spanked us and put us on our knees in the spare bedroom. After just a few minutes he came back with tears in his eyes and said how hard it was to have to do that. The lesson was learned for us. We never said we hated each other ever again.

My mom tells me that I was Daddy's Girl when I was little. She says that when he was home, I was always in his lap. I don't really remember that, but my recent interest in old family photographs turned up a picture that I had never seen before. I found it in an old box of photos from my Great Aunt's house (on Mom's side). In the picture, we are at a family get-together, and I'm in my dad's lap. He looks young and handsome -- and happy.



I was delighted to discover that picture. I have very few pictures of my dad at all, especially from his younger days. A couple of years ago, I got a copy of his baby picture from my grandmother. I treasure it, too.



If these memories were all I had of life with my dad, it wouldn't be bad at all. I wish I could say that the good outweighed the bad, but it didn't. These few happy memories are just about it, while there are decades worth of alcohol abuse, disappointments, empty promises, and long absences. When I think about what kind of legacy or inheritance that I will receive from my father, I don't think of money or property, or even time, memories, or values. I think of how much I hoped and prayed for a husband who was different from that. I didn't know if there were any men in the world who could be sober, faithful, reliable, responsible, and godly all at the same time. He doesn't know it, but my dad's legacy for me is my desire to create a new legacy for my own family. In a way, I owe it to him (and to the lessons I learned from my mom) that I married a great man.

We have never celebrated holidays with my dad. We don't have Thanksgiving dinner or exchange Christmas or birthday presents. If I can find one generic enough and if I know where to send it, I usually mail a Father's Day card to him. I may try to reach him by phone. So, Father's Day still finds me feeling somewhere in between. Not only is there a disconnect between my father and me, I haven't yet fulfilled the dream of celebrating my own husband on Father's Day. Right now I can only imagine a time when it will be a day for us to celebrate together.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

6/6/09

Yesterday, June 6, Chuck and I celebrated 11 years of marriage! We had a great Saturday together just hanging around the house until it was time to get ready for our evening out. We had reservations at The Melting Pot (a fondue restaurant) downtown in Houston. It was a totally new experience for us! We had a great time. Before we arrived, Chuck had arranged for a private table with roses and a card, and the hostess snapped a photo of us which she framed and brought out to us before we left (it will be the last photo you see below).

It was a special day for us, and all day we reminisced about our wedding day and all the happy times we've had since. I put together a brief slideshow of photos to share with you, continuing with the theme of my last post. I hope you enjoy seeing some of our adventures! We're hoping to add a whole lot more in the years to come!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

UPs and Downs

*Note: If you don't want details or spoilers about the movie UP, you might want to skip this post until after you've seen it!

My husband and I have a fun tradition. For the past 13 years, we have always made a date to go to the movies and see the latest Pix.ar film together. It all started with our first date in January of 1996, where the first movie we ever saw together was Pix.ar's very first film, Toy Story. (You can read more about our first date HERE.) Ten great films later, we still look forward to seeing their latest creation, and we get excited when we start seeing previews for what will become, for us at least, a new animated classic.

A couple of days ago, we set out to see the latest release, UP. It was a great evening for us to go to the movies. We had spent the whole weekend clearing everything out of our living room to have the floor replaced. We needed a break. We like to go to the theater on weeknights to try to avoid the crowds, and we know that soon summer will be in full swing with schools out and more people flocking to the theater. So, we got settled in with our tub o' popcorn, large soft drink to share, and napkins for our buttery fingers. Perfect.



After the previews, it was time for the always-anticipated short film that precedes the movie. I couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed that it featured, of all things, storks. Yes, the baby-delivering kind. That's okay. After all, it's not called a "short" film for nothing. It was over pretty quickly, and didn't focus much on the overjoyed faces of new parents with their swaddled surprises. Just a minor setback. Chuck and I exchanged glances and I mouthed the word "Seriously?" and the movie began.

Going into it, here's what I thought UP was about, based on previews I'd seen: A crotchety old man who used to live in a peaceful neighborhood is now not pleased about the urban development around his home. He doesn't want to sell the house and he doesn't want to be bothered, not even by the cute kid who knocks on his door seeking to earn a badge for assisting the elderly. The old man hatches a plan to get away from it all by tying thousands of balloons to his house and lifting himself and all of his beloved possessions up and away. He discovers that he is accompanied by the aforementioned kid, they have adventures, the kid softens the old man, end of story.

And that is pretty much what it is about. But, I was missing some details that, to some, may seem minor. You see, the old man is not just crotchety. He is grieving. In the early scenes of the film, we see him as a boy who dreams of adventure. Young Carl meets young Ellie, they grow up, fall in love, and get married. Soon they begin dreaming of bringing home a bundle of joy.



These scenes of the movie pass by quickly, like pieces of the old man's memory. Suddenly the scene shifts from the young couple on a sunny day, imagining images of babies in the clouds, to a heartbreaking scene of Carl and Ellie in a cold hospital, receiving devastating news. We don't hear the news, but we don't need to. They'll never have a child. Their baby dreams are over.

But Ellie has another dream. She dreams of exploring the wilds of South America and taking in the view of Paradise Falls with her own eyes, a goal made when she was a little girl. She wants to fill up their adventure book (a scrapbook whose pages will hold their most precious memories).



We can all relate to this, but life passes by so quickly and those dreams get pushed aside while we live (even happily) from day to day. Ellie and Carl are a happy couple, even though life hasn't always been easy. Carl finally realizes that it is time to make his wife's dream of adventure come true, and he buys the tickets even though they are much older now. It's not too late! Then, sadly, Ellie's health declines. The movie has just started, and just when I think I can't feel any more devastated, Carl is alone. It's my biggest fear. Not that I'll never get to see places I dream of seeing, of course, but that I'll end up all alone in the world someday without my dear husband, and with no children or grandchildren.

Sheesh. All this from a cartoon? I wasn't exactly expecting it either. I didn't hate the movie at all. I loved it. It was sad but it was also cute, sweet, and funny. But even after the story unfolded and Carl changed his life for the better, overcoming his grief and solitude, I still had to deal with my old familiar fear and hurt coming back to the surface. I watched the entire movie with a huge knot in my stomach and tears rolling down my cheeks. Afterward, my sister sent me a message to ask how the movie was and I could only respond, "SAD." She had been planning to take her boys to see it the next day. When I called her after they were done seeing it, I caught her still pulling herself together in her car.

I doubt that everyone will have this same reaction to this movie. I'm not telling you not to go see it! Heck, I'll even buy the DVD when it comes out, even though my husband joked that they should have named the movie "Down." Most people, I'm sure, will find it heartwarming and will also feel sad for Carl because he lost his wife, especially just short of making her big dream a reality.

But wait! I haven't gotten to the best part yet. The best part of the movie for me was when the old man picks up his wife's old adventure scrapbook and looks at it for what must have been the hundredth time. He never could bear to look at the empty pages and be reminded of the things they never did, the dreams never fulfilled. But this time he sees something new. Ellie had filled the pages. They weren't blank after all. He could see that their adventure was simply their life together, even the simple, everyday things.



I got a lot more than I bargained for by going to see this movie. In the end, though, I don't regret it. Turns out I needed a reminder that my life with Chuck is already my adventure. Even though I don't know the ending, I'm just glad we're both along for the ride.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Vacation '09 Recap

It is always so hard to come home from a good vacation! A couple of weeks ago we went away to the Smoky Mountains for a week with my family and had a fantastic time.

I wanted to share a few photos with you, but it seems I could only limit it to about 10! We always come home from a trip with hundreds of digital pics to sort through. Here are some highlights.


The cabin we called home for the week in Pigeon Forge, TN: "Cloud Nine"



Beautiful sunset view from our cabin



Chuck and me: entering Great Smoky Mountain National Park in TN



My sis and me: in front of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC



Neat shot that Chuck took of the gardens at Biltmore



My whole family posing in Cade's Cove (In this pic are Chuck, me, my brother, my sister, nephews A&N, my brother-in-law, my mom, and my step dad)



One of 5 black bears we spotted in Cade's Cove that day



And finally, some beautiful scenery





I was able to travel to Tennessee (the Chattanooga area) when I was in high school, and I had been through the state a few other times, including two visits to Graceland - once when I was a little girl, and once in 2002. This was my first time in North Carolina, although we only visited a small part of it. What a pretty part of the country!

It was truly a trip to remember. The best part was that we were all together under the same roof. During the day we would venture out and sometimes we would split up into different groups to go do various activities, but we loved coming back together at the cabin every evening to play board games, have dinner, lounge in the hot tub, enjoy the scenery, and yes, even to play Rock Band 2 on the Wii! Now, that's my kind of "roughing it"!