Musing

Reflections of the Birthday Girl

Let me preface this by saying how thankful I am for the life I have, for the opportunities I’ve been given and for the grace in which I’ve been able to operate. Birthdays have always been a quandary for me.  I always want to be grateful, but at the same time, I don’t quite know how to act.  Do you say, “Yeah!  Better alive than dead!?” or “Great!  I see another gray hair (or a bunch of them)!”  or “I’m so glad to be alive!”?

It is, indeed a great time of celebration, of another day, another year but in the past, I’ve spent even the happiest of birthdays feeling unfulfilled, in the most selfish of ways. You see, I was seeking happiness from within and let’s just be honest, it wasn’t there to find.  I was putting all my eggs in one basket and trying to make something out of nothing.

I’ve been doing some soul searching for the past year.  Last year’s birthday, I can’t honestly remember.  I’m sure we celebrated with cake and dinner and all that fun stuff, but something inside me broke in the best of ways and in that brokenness, I found the happiness I’d been looking for.

Just over a year ago, my husband lost his job of eleven years.  Don’t stress for me, we weren’t in dire straits or anything, but 70% of our income was lost with his job. Seventy percent.  Thankfully, we’ve never lived with a lot of debt and our savings were better than most, but it was devastating knowing that we couldn’t live the lifestyle that we loved. I was on the cusp of releasing my debut album when the news came down and we were torn of whether to hold it or go ahead and release it. Figuring that we’d spent a year in making it, we went ahead and released it.

To make a very long story short, the release party was cancelled when an out-of-state family member passed away the day before it was to happen and we ended going to a funeral instead.  Each and every time we tried to reschedule it, something got in the way.  Hubby’s search for a new job came about in snatches of contract work in which he’d work six weeks and then be unemployed again.  We kept living, monitoring our finances, still giving, still being optimistic and still believing that things would change.

A true turning point came about with the fall semester (just one to go after that!) when I got a notice to report for jury duty.  Ugh.  I don’t mind doing my duty, but what rotten timing!  I dropped my favorite class, the one where I got to travel with a music group and perform for people who love the music, and hated every minute of sitting in the audience, dreading being called out as a juror.

The waiting and wishing built and time kept going on.  In the middle of all of this, hubby decided to give us a vacation of faith.  You may laugh, it’s okay.  We took off for a week of meet-n-greets with various radio stations in the south.  We traveled through Tennessee, Virginia, South & North Carolina, and Georgia before heading back home.  We met people who shared our vision and our music, who threw logs of faith in the fire of our hearts and helped keep the dream alive.

We did this on a dime.  Literally!  We got savvy, shopped the best deals for hotels, bought groceries while at the hotel, didn’t eat out much (just one or two great places), took tours of beautiful Charleston and Savannah (and many other wonderful towns) for so precious little that it still makes my head spin!  Not once during this vacation did I worry about money, about how the bills would get paid or how we would make it through.  That was a gift.

Christmas passed, a new year upon us and I started to realize that yes, it’d been a hard few months, yes, we had to watch our money carefully, but yes, we could still give to our favorite charities and even better, yes, we could still give-of ourselves, of our time, of our efforts and of our faith.

In this time of reflection, I found that by dropping the shell that said, “Hey, everything’s okay here!” and embracing folks who came out of the woodwork to help hubby find a job, who said, “If you need anything, just yell.” and meant it,  to turning the tables on this trial and offering the same back to those in the boat with us.  We started giving more.  Yes, it meant living on less, but that was okay.  We started living more.  We learned to appreciate the childhoods we’d grown up in where we were taught to save, to preserve foods, to manage our time and energy wisely.  We learned that we could live on 30% of our original income, sometimes less.

The irony of that time is that I didn’t go straight for the jugular and freak out because I didn’t have enough.  As a matter of fact, we used it as a time to clean.  Yeah, it’s okay to laugh.  We took the meaning a little far when we decided to host a yard sale with some of our extras.  We cleaned out a barn, a garden shed, the garage, two attics and all the closets in the house and boy, did we have stuff to get rid of.  The sale was a success and we sent a truck and van load to charity when it was over.  Even in our lack, we still had so much.

I know this is a first world problem and I’m not complaining.  I refuse to.  I was putting laundry away last night and contemplating my blessings.  Even after sending bins of stuff away, we have so much more than those less fortunate.  My pantry is full of fruits and veggies that I’ve canned (thank you, Mamma!), and while my bank account is nowhere near what it was when hubby worked full time, it has enough in it.  And THAT’S where I like it.  I don’t need excess.  I just need enough.  I smiled last night as I put away laundry (my least favorite chore) but I did it happily because I’m glad to have clothes to put away.

I’m so blessed with the things I have, but more importantly, the people I have in my life.  They share.  They share the things that matter.  The laughter.  The love. The hugs. The stories, of having been in the same place where we are right now and having made it through, of knowing what it’s like to say “no” when your friends ask you out because you refuse to buy dinner on credit.  They share their strength.  Their wisdom.  They share their hearts through music, which so speaks to my spirit.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.

So, what’s the end to this ramble of reflection?  Be happy.  Be happy where you, whatever the situation, find the light at the end of the tunnel and stay in that moment.  Don’t let the little things in life weigh you down.  It might get worse before it gets better, but it will get better. How do I know this?

  • I got through jury duty.
  • Hubby has a new contract for a short term job.  He’s been offered full time with the company.  Yeah!
  • I graduated from college!  Wahoo!
  • My album? The one that didn’t get the big release party I thought it needed?  It’s being played all over the US, in Germany, Canada, Mexico, China, Israel, Spain, France, Czech Republic and in Australia!!
  • I started writing again.  Not just blogging, but music, as well!

In seeking the happiness from outward things, I found that I turned inward and found the light that was there all along.  It was just covered up with stuff; with things that were getting in the way of me finding the answers I needed.  I learned that no matter how bad it seems, if you have determination to find a better way, to make it work and great friends who cheer you on, you will succeed!

I’m walking this path alongside you.  Ram Dass is quoted as saying, “We’re all just walking each other home.” and that’s where we are.  So, join me in celebrating today. Not just today, every day!  Find the little things, the itsy bitsy things that you’ve been overlooking and put them to good use!  They’re there for a reason.  De-clutter!  De-clutter your home, your office, your life, your soul.  Rid yourself of the things holding you back and go live the life that you were created to live!

I woke up at 4:50 this morning, wide awake, feeling refreshed, feeling very much alive and very happy!  I’m so grateful for the learning experience of the last year. I’m thankful that I found the light I needed and that it’s being used to show the path to others!

My co-workers surprised me this morning with this lovely gift.  We enjoyed it (well, a bite or two) as the day began.  I’ve had so much sugar and caffeine already that I may very well bounce off the walls, but it’s a small price to pay for being so loved and celebrated!

4

 

 

 

Almost Fiction, Non-fiction, Quick Read

The Ugly Truth

Memories are not always kind.  Sometimes the ones you want to forget are the ones you remember the most.  I have a lot of memories that haunt me daily, memories that wake me nightly, memories that must be shared.

It was August, no rain in sight, the ground was parched and hairline cracks meandered about, disrupting the growing pattern in the grass and moving rocks as if searching for relief from the painful drought.  I remember waking that morning, feeling youthful, exuberant, alive and getting ready for the day, to go to work.  Hearing a horn outside the old mobile home where I began my married life, got my attention as I tidied up the place so I wouldn’t have to clean when I got home from a double shift.  My sister-in-law, at the time, sat there in a beat-up 1977 Chevy Malibu.  The rust patches dotted the car like a Dalmatian and the crack in the windshield chased its way from left to right.  She was a known tale bearer, of her own admission, unable to ever tell the full truth.   Her lies kept the family in laughter and in quarrels.  It seemed her only mission in life was to cause as much trouble as possible wherever she went, going so far as to call the Internal Revenue Service on a close family member when they didn’t act in accordance with her will.

She opened the driver’s door slowly and got out.  Her face was drawn; you could tell she’d been crying.  With red eyes and shaking hands she made her way to my porch and rubbed her hands together nervously, interlocking her fingers in a way that looked a lot like glee. I opened the screen door to allow her entrance and offered her something to drink.  I could tell by then that something was wrong but past experiences with her made me skeptical of believing even her facial expressions.  She was all but panicked by the time I came back from the kitchen with a glass of water.  Her face was covered in sweat; she was rubbing her hands together, constantly wringing them and twisting in agony or fear.  “You might want to sit down,” she breathed heavily; “I’ve got some bad news.”

I braced myself for a lie but worse yet, the truth.  I had my day planned.  I’d go to work; I’d put in my day and come home to enjoy dinner with my husband of less than one year.  We were newlyweds in every sense of the word and couldn’t wait to see each other at the end of a long work day. My mind was racing with plans of what I had to do at work and how to best manage my time at home.  I was thinking of laundry to be hung, feeding and watering the dogs, I was living life.  Then, in an instant, my life changed.  It came to a screeching halt with one little sentence.  “Your grandparents are dead.”  That’s it.  I could see the black marks on the asphalt as if a vehicle had geared down too quickly, brakes grabbed at the pads, creating friction; heat.  Calipers squeeze pads against discs, shoes press outward on the drums causing friction and allowing for that heart stopping feel of gravitational pull when the wind is knocked out of you.

At nineteen, I felt on top of the world.  Life was long, old age was thirty and I’d barely begun to live.  I remember my mind feeling cloudy, as if I couldn’t quite make my brain wake up after being asleep for too short a time.  I sat down, sinking low into the second-hand couch so lovingly given to me by my dad.  Its thin white and black stripes bleeding and pulling back like a mirror in a fun house at the annual fair, made me dizzy as I placed my head in my hands.  As if I were outside myself, I asked her, in complete calm, “What happened?”  I couldn’t imagine.  It was only a day or two before that I’d been at Mamaw and Papaw’s to take them to the grocery store and help tidy up their home.  Warning bells went off in my head, she had to be joking.  This was some cruel joke she was playing on me and I was falling for it hand over fist.  Wasn’t it just minutes before that I had plans made for the day, had it all planned out and was living my life?  She didn’t know details; she’d only gotten a call from my folks as I didn’t have a home phone.

In slow motion I moved to get my purse, put on my shoes and even gave myself a glance in the mirror before heading out to that ugly car with its cigarette burned seats and loud exhaust pipes.  We were going to find my mom.  She weaved when she drove, causing waves of nausea to roll over me and apologized as she jerked the steering wheel just slightly with each bump in the road.  I found mom being led out of the store where we worked and I numbly asked her what happened.  She didn’t know the details just yet and was going to the hospital.  In my state of mind, I walked trance-like to my department to tell my boss I wouldn’t be at work.  She of course, already knew, as news travels fast in a small town. I stayed with my sly, conniving sister-in-law law until my husband came home.  I didn’t want to believe her.  Her previous lies had my heart tied in knots of disbelief and fear yet I felt bound to her because of her one truth.  Hours into the stay, I got the details of the day.

My papaw was a man with my heart.  Tall, dark-haired and skinned, a close second to my dad, was the kindest, most gentle man I’d ever known.  His laughter and generosity in every memory of my childhood into adulthood had made me strive harder in school to get good marks, to rise above the norm to be outstanding.  He, part Native American Indian and a Purple Heart recipient, served the United State Army during World War II.  He freely gave the great sacrifice of serving overseas only to be brought home shortly before the end of the war with the birth of my mother.  My Mamaw was a woman whom as I’ve grown and matured, has passed on her spirit and lives on through me in that I inherited her looks, her mannerisms, personality and love of cooking.  These two precious people kept my foundation strong and grounded me in reality.  It was only a few years before that my grandmother had started passing down her generations old recipes to me as well as her infamous household tips and tricks that she’d used over the years to manage a tight household budget.

Mamaw like to talk, a lot.   She’d dole out advice, asked or not, from everything from cooking to getting your act together and she liked to use her hands while talking, constantly gesturing as she spoke in a fast clipped pace.   The family teased her that if her hands were tied behind her back that she’d die from not being able to move them while she talked.  During the 1940’s while raising two small children on a shoe string budget, Mamaw worked at a chewing gum factory up north.   She used to tease my siblings and I when we ask for chewing gum, that many times in the factory when it fell onto the floor; it was scooped back up and tossed back into the pot.  Not having a way to dispute her story, it was a good deterrent for our queries and a plus for our dental health.  After a long day at the factory, she’d go home and cook for neighbors, take on sewing jobs to make ends meet.  She worked hard, ensuring the success of her household as she took care of my papaw, when after his time in World War II, was in and out of a hospital for what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  Papaw, just before being brought home was marching along with his company when a grenade was launched, hitting his buddy who was in line next to him.  I couldn’t even imagine what he went through that day.

He rarely talked about his military stay.  It was a year or so before he died, I was at his house one spring day, when he opened up and shared his experiences.  The basement door rose to a set of stairs that led to the wrap around porch and the old wooden swing where I sat visiting with my Mamaw and mom.  He was out of breath coming to the top of the stairs and called out to my mamaw, “Hon, I think the grape juice has turned!” and slowly tottered towards me and sank into the cushion next to me.  The grape juice had turned. Considering he’d drunk a full quart of it, he was pretty tipsy but willing to reminisce about his time overseas.   He took out his handkerchief and wiped his brow, his big hands lined with marks from life, marks that told his age, that shared a story of his making.  His hands shook slightly and he belched loudly, an after-effect of the juice.  “You know Sissy,” he began.  He called all of us girls Sissy.  It was just his way.  “It was a long time ago, that day.  We were marching, showing our presence and seeing the effects of the war.   Destruction was everywhere.  Buildings trashed from mortar fire, debris in the streets, wary eyes peeking from behind semi-closed doors and raggedy curtains, watching with curiosity and fear.  It was hot, early July and rumors were flying that the war was almost over.  I was so excited at the thought of getting to come home to your Mamaw, knowing she was ready to give birth to your mom.  That was what kept me.  I kept thinking of them, your uncle, wondering how they were doing, making out with the shortage of goods and your mamaw’s condition.  That’s where my head and heart were at all times.  When I talked with my buddies, my conversation was on getting home and taking care of my family.  That’s what I was thinking about that day. “

Our conversations about Papaw’s illness were always centered on “that day”.  That’s when time stopped.  That was the chasm in our timeline.  It was “before that day” and “after that day”.  That’s what we called it because we didn’t know any other details other than what he could share.  As a family, we’d been told when we’d go visit and he’d be in the bed sick and that he needed mental rest and later we’d hear that Mamaw had taken him back to Cleveland Clinic for a little stay to get better.  There was no stigma attached to the situation, it was just Papaw.  As we grew older, mom would share a few details as she learned them.  She was in her forties before she learned the full truth.  She didn’t however, feel the need or have the ability to share the pain.  It was a bit of her dirty little secret that eventually came out.

“That day,” he continued, “I was thinking of how I was almost ready to come home and meet my new baby when out of nowhere, we took on fire.  There was shouting to get down, to hold our place and while trying to get out of the street, to take cover, a grenade hit Franklin in the chest.  Franklin was tall, like me, and he stood as my best man with your Mamaw and me.  He was fair-haired, younger than me and excited about coming home too.  He all but caught it in his hands and the look on his face wasn’t horror but sadness.  I saw his life flash before his eyes as he exploded before me.  I froze, unable to get away from him, and not wanting to.  Instinct told me to save him but I couldn’t.  There wasn’t anything I could do.  I took third degree burns and shrapnel damage to my chest, face and arms.  I was finally able to act, pulling other members of my company to safety but the injuries I sustained landed me in the sick bay for the duration of my stay.  Once I was on the hospital bed, I felt useless.  I began reliving the attack, I should’ve done this, and I should’ve done that.  I should’ve known it was coming; I should’ve saved Franklin’s life.  But I couldn’t.  I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think and when I’d barely begun to heal physically, I was released when your mom was born.  I went from being stuck in that mindset of not being able to have done what I needed to do to being a new dad again and trying to settle into a normal life. It never happened.”

He leaned his head over to the side of the swing and I could see tears welled up in his eyes and trickling down his paper-thin cheeks, lined with years of experience-joys and pains.  He was talked out.  His story told.  He’d emptied his heart into my lap and for over twenty years, I’ve carried it with me, treasuring it, dissecting it, putting it back together and learning to accept what his story gave me and took from me at the same time.  It was what took my Papaw from me.  When he came from home from overseas, doctors diagnosed him as being bi-polar, dosed him and kept him comfortably numb for another fifty plus years.  His numbness wore off as time went on and doctors were unable to keep those nightmares at bay.

On better days, with good memories, I’d sit around the kitchen table with my grandparents and reminisce about my mom’s early years, how they had so much faith in her musical ability, how she’d go far in life and how proud they were of her and the family she’d given them.  Mamaw was sick, well, both of them were sick.  Hitting nearly seventy, Mamaw had one kidney, having lost one when she was in her late twenties, and was losing the use of her remaining organ.  When I was a little girl and Papaw would “get sick” he’d get agitated and start chanting to himself that “the Germans are coming” and you could see real fear in his face, eyes glazed over from a medicated state but the emotion pouring from deep within.  When he was grounded in reality, he’d sadly joke that when he went, he was taking Mamaw with him so she wouldn’t have to be alone in this world.

The doctors worked with Papaw, changing his medication as his condition grew worse and reality became less and less in his mind.  As long as he took his medication, he did well.  Doctors had warned the family that he needed to stay on his medicines and be kept under a close watch but despite those warnings, he grew worse.   His mind broke down, segmented and broke again until he no longer knew the truth.  It was that day in August, a warm summer morning when my aunt stopped by to see Mamaw and Papaw.  It was customary for her to stop in and check to see if they had any needs but knew something was wrong when she found the front door open.  Looking straight into the kitchen, she found Mamaw, face down in the floor, dish rag in her hands, shot in the back and clearly dead.  As if that wasn’t horror enough for a daughter to find, moving back through the house and down the hall, the sight she beheld was one that will never be forgotten.

In Papaw’s bedroom, pillows and bed covers were stacked around the perimeter of the bedroom, resembling a fox hole from his military days.  We presume that in his mind, he was back in the war, deep in battle and was out to protect his company.  He had loaded his shotgun, turned it on himself and ended his fifty year battle with reality.

The reality of this story is that after many, many years it’s been kept as hushed as possible. The problems with a small town being that everyone knows your business and those who don’t will make it up and tell it.  To this day, the family still doesn’t talk about it. Going so far as to move away and not come home, refusing to have family reunions, the effects long reaching as is the arm of death.

 

Fiction, Quick Read, To Be Continued

The Sign, Part 1

Quietly, we got into the canoe and pushed off the shore in the shallow waters and headed on our way.  It’d been exactly where the note said it would.  And we knew we’d find what we were looking for when we saw it.

The problem was that we had committed ourselves to this quest of near silence and could talk no more above a whisper.  The atmosphere was charged heavily around us. Heightened senses alerted us to the smallest sound and we kept our bodies as low to the canoe as we could while still rowing when needed while following the flow of the stream.

We passed by grand houses, most likely summer homes, docks and small signs of life. Mallards silently passed us, veering towards the shallow edge of the river and making their way offshore.  As we moved along, signs of life trickled to nothing and the water became marshy with the thickness of cattails and reeds.  After about an hour into the trip, I heard, “Joce!  Joce!” so quietly I first thought I’d imagined it. “Slow up just a bit!”

I relaxed the oar and sat a little more upright so that I could turn to see him. Excitement tinged the air and I didn’t know what to expect when I faced him. Between the humidity and the workout of steering a canoe in unknown waters, his hair was soaked and sweat dripped from his earlobes and chin.  I wondered what I looked like.  Both of us were short of breath and in need of water, but knew we must keep going.

Continue reading “The Sign, Part 1”

Song Lyrics

I Got Over You

I thought I saw you today.  It’s been such a long, long time.
My heart gave itself away, when I looked in your eyes,
I took a deep breath and turned, not ready to face you again,
And wondered just how you’d been

I got over you, I swear I did.  You don’t mean a thing to me, like you did back then.
As sure as I’m standing here, I’m done holding on to you.
No more tears.  I got over you.

I tried to hide my feelings in the blues and the drink
Everywhere I went, I heard your name
I sheltered my heart the best way I knew how
I ran into trouble, but I’m out now

I saw your smile on each person I met, I heard your laughter
But only felt my regret
Time surely does heal us, but sometimes we hold on
To the thing that we longed for, but now I’m moving along

©2016, Rebecca Alfrey Music, BMI

Musing, Poetry

Is that You, God?

You gave me quite the scare, standing there, on the corner with your sign, Will Work For Food
Raggedy pup at your feet, needs a bath, something to eat, but I drove on like I was too good, for you

Man missing a limb, leans on his crutches thin, beard has seen better days
Sign says, Help, God bless you, please
I feel my irritation grow, impatient for him to know, that I don’t like what I see
I turn in fear, can’t let him near, won’t let my conscience win

Is that You, God, hiding in that dog, begging for food?
Is that You, standing there with unwashed hair, seeing if I’m doing what I’m supposed to do?
Is that You, across the way who makes me feel afraid, because I don’t know the answers that You need?

God, is that You?

It’s the young mom that I see, with her kids of three, making ends meet-the only way she knows how
The monthly check is gone, food is no more
Yet I won’t give a dollar for her plight, anger fills my soul, as I’m selfish all the more-
In sharing what I have in life

Little hands reach out, begging for anything
I cross the street to avoid them, don’t want to soil my hands,
Ignore them if I can,
Keep my eyes trained at my feet

 

©2016, Becki Alfrey

Song Lyrics

Frozen Fantasy

I can see you, can you see me? Or is this a reflection of what’s meant to be?
You’ve left me frozen in this place in time!
I hear the stream, or is that my tears?
As they fall from my eyes and travel for years,
I may never know why you’re so cold.

(Chorus):
Help me I’m frozen, in this mirror above.
The one where you went while looking for love.
You’ve walked by me a thousand times, cannot see what’s before your eyes,
Frozen, I’m frozen.

I hear the wind as you call my name, your voice to me, still sounds the same
Enchanting as always, my heart, you hold in your hands
I feel the snow as it falls in my eyes, freezing the tears that never did dry,
I’m left wondering, is this my time to die?

I feel your hands, your lips on mine, and in my excitement, I open my eyes,
Only to find that you’re no longer there,
Just frosted glass, left from your glare
I dream of you as the cold becomes hot, envisioning things, I know are not
I can’t wake myself from this fantasy

(Bridge):
Cold, cold, so bitter cold
Cold, cold, bitter cold.

© 2015 Rebecca Alfrey Music, BMI