“Oh, goodie,” I can hear you saying now. “This ought to be uplifting. Anyone want to skip this one and go get some donuts?”
Tell you what, if you are mad at me by the end of this post, I’ll buy you your very own personal donut and ship it to your home address, any flavor you want. Okay? Okay.
Back when Poppa was so very sick and we spent more hours than anyone wanted at Vanderbilt, we found ourselves in need of some nighttime sitters. See, Poppa was struggling with Sundowners which basically means he was out of his head and hallucinating a whole lot. Only now can we laugh about some of his stories because only now we can accept the loss of him without feeling gutted all the time. Anyway, at night Poppa would get feisty and Brother Bear, Coach and I each took turns hanging out overnight to keep him in the bed, clothed, and stuck with all the appropriate tubes. Each of us still had to work and travel and take care of children so there came a point when we all got too sleepy to be effective. Enter Caleb.
The first night that Caleb arrived, I thought to myself, “Oh, Lort. Poppa’s not going to like this one bit.” Caleb was young. He was wearing a Bob Marley nightgown as a t-shirt, and under that he had some baggy pants and over that he had a flannel shirt. His hair was neatly pulled back from his forehead and ensconced in a ponytail holder but from there his afro exploded outward into the biggest puff of hair cloud I’ve ever seen. He had his backpack over one shoulder and he dragged his feet when he walked. Poppa liked clothes that fit, hair that was neat and youngsters who walked like they were walking, not shuffling.
Right away Caleb went into the hall and got himself a bench to sit on despite the comfy chair options he had inside the room. He placed it a foot away from Poppa and sat upright, posture better than mine, and very, very still. Right away he familiarized himself with the equipment attached to Poppa. Right away Caleb put a reassuring hand on Poppa’s toe, letting Poppa know that he wasn’t alone. And when Caleb saw me petting Poppa’s head, he got up from his bench, picked up one of the comfy chairs and placed it next to Poppa’s bed so I could pet him without getting tired. He told me the story of his grandfather who died when he was six, how he and the grandfather did everything together, literally everything, and how he wanted to help people deal with sickness because he was good at it and he knew what it was to be scared. I can attest that he was good at both helping those who are sick and helping those who are scared.
Poppa was oblivious to all of this, or so I thought. He reached over to his hand and began tugging at a tube to yank it out, something he had done with great regularity since day one of the stay.
“Hey, buddy,” Caleb said for the first of a thousand times that night, “don’t to that,” and he gently pulled Poppa’s hand away.
Poppa looked over at him and said, “Kid, I need you to take me home. Go around and get my car and I’ll meet you out front. Jimmie, you meet us at home, this kid is going to take me there.”
God, I laughed. “Kid.” Oh, Poppa, I miss you.
So that makes me cry. And this makes me cry, because it reminds me of Poppa in the best and fiercest way, but also because it is a picture of life, of getting back up when you fall down over and over again. Isn’t this picture great?
Baby owl learning to fly, photo by Peter Brannon
Speaking of pictures, here’s another, from the cruise My Girls and I took in March.
This was in Jamaica, and I’ll be honest, Jamaica was not my favorite place. It was hot which I suppose is normal so I can’t fault it for that, but it was pushy and smelly and we were seen as walking wallets. I guess tourists often are seen as ATMs but I can’t say that’s how I like to make an entrance into a new place. Anyway, after a whole day of grasping our purses close to our body and being made to feel very guilty because we did not part with all our funds for all time and on into eternity, we finally escaped through customs and back onto the port where our boat was docked. That picture was taken right outside that customs shelter.
I bet you look at that picture and see a mildly interesting array of boys banging on some drums, but what I see is a crew of kids who were hustling. Hustling. Those boys stood there in those hot-ass uniforms that they picked up somewhere, mismatched buttons and hats and pants, and they played their hearts out ALL DAY. They played for every person that showed even a modicum of interest. They danced for every person there and played for every person there, sometimes on their knees at our feet when they could tell someone was particularly moved (me), and sometimes as the whole line; sometimes it was a Michael Jackson song and sometimes it was just the thrum of our collective heartbeats, banging in time with the drums. If a single person watched alone, they played just as hard as they would for a whole crowd. They hustled, and it was all I could do to hold the tears back as I watched them with their young hearts and their strong arms and their glistening foreheads, trying to make a better way for themselves. I hope you see them my way and offer your prayers for them, that the hustling pays off and they get a solid shot at whatever they try, because their work for those moments on the drums is more than enough to earn them that. I also hope you realize that it took an extraordinary amount of time for me to come back to myself, what was left of me anyway, and stop the leaking in my eyes so I could count the money I had left after I dumped all I could find into their tip basket.
With that, I’ll take you to the next picture that makes me cry. Not fierce, not sad, but just about the cutest thing I ever did see in my whole life. For those of you who do not understand my deep and yearning, burning desire for a donkey, behold:
Donkey being toted by a soldier
I have to stop. I need a donut. This whole post is killing me.
In conclusion, and I promise to you and me both that this is the end, I have one final story to tell.
Two years ago Martie and I reached a tentative agreement wherein she would take possession of the house and property called Big Creek, the family abode where we did most of our growing up, and in return for me not getting my panties in a twist over it, I’d get a donkey. By tentative I mean that I was thrilled that Martie, the most sentimental of the wad of us, would preserve our history and that Martie sort of agreed with a wavering voice that maybe, someday, perhaps there could be a donkey on their property that I’d get to name. Maybe. One day.
Pretty much I asked about that donkey every time I went home to babysit Pooh and Tigger. I drove over to the neighboring farm that housed the show donkeys to stare at them, and I pointed out the fuzzy and cute regular non-show donkeys we saw while driving the back roads in my home town. I’ve stated my earnest and deep desire to marry a donkey farmer more than once and have already mentally packed my truck in anticipation of his proposal, this farmer with his burros whom I have not yet met.
This has been a fantasy, and like all fantasies, I understand that it may never come to pass. That is okay. Still a fantasy, still nice to dream about, but likely saved for my mansion in heaven where God assuredly has a donkey with long eyelashes already waiting for me.
On Saturday, that fantasy became reality. You guys! I’m getting a donkey!
My birthday card from Martie, et al, received Saturday, June 11th at 5:13 pm, which she asked that I read aloud and which I couldn’t because the tears started in my throat and made it to my eyes and my voice which shook so badly I could not speak:
Pictures will be coming forthwith. In the manner of someone who is expecting a child, I shall expect gifts and fetes, and I’ll register for hay and donkey brushes and festive neck attire with which I will adorn his or her neck and take selfies. Rest assured I will be crying in most of them but these will be tears of joy and love and the knowledge that my family loves me more than anyone rightly deserves. I am loved more than I can fathom. I’ve got it so good. Thank you, God. Selah.
Now, who needs a donut?