On Reaching the End of the Road

Almost every Thanksgiving since we’ve been married, Stanton and I have spent the holiday with his family, and then Christmas with mine. The same was true for this Thanksgiving. A sad difference this time, though, was that his paternal grandmother, his Mimi, passed away about a week before Thanksgiving.

Mimi was a lovely lady, both inside and out. I first met her the summer between Stanton’s and my sophomore and junior years of college at the University of Richmond. Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

Mimi’s hometown was San Angelo, Texas, which is about 200 miles northwest from where Stanton grew up in San Antonio (where he and I also lived for several years post-marriage before moving back to the East Coast). Her visitation and funeral were set for the weekend before Thanksgiving, in her hometown, two days before Stanton, the girls and I had planned to arrive in Texas this year.

Fortunately, the four of us were able to change our plane tickets so that we could be there earlier for these final remembrances. We flew into San Antonio and then drove the three hours to San Angelo.

The road from San Antonio to San Angelo is mostly flat, with the “wide open spaces” you might hear about in a country song, as well as endless sky that turns a pink-orange hue at sunset.

Along the way, you also see signs noting the speed limit: 80 miles per hour.

That’s right, friends: 80.

“That’s illegal in New York, you know,” I said, on Sunday afternoon. “And in most parts of the country.”

Behind the wheel, Stanton smiled. “I know.”

I patted his leg. “Welcome back, honey.”

Every place is special in its own way, with pros and cons alike. This is my perspective anyway, shaped after living in three different regions of the U.S. and visiting a variety of other cities, states and countries. I love our hometown in New York’s Capital Region, and know Stanton does too, and at the same time I can appreciate the wide-open, high-speed beauty of West Texas.

Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

On Monday morning, Mimi’s funeral service was held at her church. Before the service, I brought Anna to the restroom. As I walked through the hallway, holding my younger daughter, a long-ago memory jolted me. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I began crying.

The first time Stanton and I had been at that church together was seven years ago, for Grace’s first Easter. We had spent that holiday in San Angelo with Stanton’s grandparents (Grandaddy, his grandfather, passed away in 2015). We traveled to be there the following Easter too, and walking through that hallway, I remembered those past times so clearly. I had nursed baby Grace in that room, right over there, during part of that first Easter service.

I felt, deeply, what I imagine many people feel at funerals: the impermanence of time, the mortality we all share. Gratitude for the times that were good. Humility in the knowledge that so much of it was luck of the draw.

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From the moment I met them, both Mimi and Grandaddy had been incredibly kind and loving to me. During the next 15 years, I got to know them, and grew to love them. I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family, even when I was missing my own parents, grandparents and siblings in the Northeast.

Grace’s first Easter, our new family of three accompanied Mimi and Grandaddy to their church. We sat together in a pew near the front. Afterward, the five of us had brunch at Mimi and Grandaddy’s senior-living community, and then Mimi let baby Grace borrow her bed for a nap, before our drive back to San Antonio.

Grace wore a white and purple dress that day. I took a picture of her sleeping on Mimi’s bed, and I know I have that picture somewhere still.

A gracious and generous lady, to be sure.

When Stanton and I learned we were expecting a second daughter, we talked about possible names, as all expectant parents do. It didn’t take us long to settle on “Anna,” which we read was a form of both Nancy (Mimi’s given name) and Angelina (my maternal grandmother’s name).

Much later, we also learned that the name “Anna” means “grace,” prompting both our daughters to ask, “Of all the girls’ names in the world, why did you name us the same name?”

Ah…life.

So many of Mimi’s family and friends, including all her grandchildren (six) and great-grandchildren (13!), attended her funeral, a beautiful tribute to her, I thought.

I’m incredibly thankful Stanton, the girls and I were there.

I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family…

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs. It’s a fast-food restaurant that specializes in, yes, burgers.

After Mimi’s visitation on Sunday, our family of four enjoyed an impromptu dinner at the nearest Whataburger with Stanton’s sister and her family. They asked Stanton what his go-to order was. “I’m a No. 1 guy,” my husband replied.

Whataburger’s No. 1 is its classic large beef patty topped with tomato, lettuce, pickles, diced onions and mustard on a bun.  For the first time since the last time he was in Texas, Stanton bit into his beloved No. 1.

“How is it?” we asked.

But we didn’t need to. Stanton’s face, radiating pure joy, revealed the answer.

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs.

Not long after, many of us met up again at a ranch resort near Austin, a four-hour drive southeast from San Angelo, to celebrate Thanksgiving as planned. I so enjoyed watching Grace and Anna play with all their cousins, and was happy for Stanton that he got to catch up with everyone too. I appreciated catching up with everyone as well, especially making s’mores and chitchatting around an outdoor fire in the evenings.

By the end of the week, though, I was looking forward to being home again. We had left somewhat in a rush.

I hadn’t had time to place a hold on our mail, and our next-door neighbors were kindly collecting letters and packages after receiving a frantic last-minute text from me. Other friends were kindly pet-sitting our fish, Ping, who had a bladder disease (according to Google, anyway…). And I had still been working remotely, wrapping up the winter issue of the magazine I help edit.

On Saturday, we flew from Austin to Charlotte, N.C., where we had a quick layover before boarding our last flight back to Albany, N.Y. During the layover, Grace and I noticed an Auntie Anne’s, which is one of our favorite fast-food stops. “But I need to use the bathroom,” Grace said.

“Me too,” I said. “Let’s run to the bathroom, then pick up pretzels on the way back.” I held out my hand, and Grace slipped hers into mine.

At that moment, I noticed how big Grace’s hand was—how much she’d grown. How much she’d grown from the baby she’d been, celebrating her first Easter in San Angelo with Mimi and Grandaddy. Again, I felt choked with emotion; I squeezed my daughter’s hand.

One of my favorite memories of our entire trip was running hand-in-hand with Grace through the Charlotte airport.

Soon we were standing in line at Auntie Anne’s. Grace looked around the bustling airport food court. “Where are we again?”

“Right now we’re in Charlotte, North Carolina,” I said.

“This is a nice airport.” Grace is somewhat of a frequent flyer, and has become an airport connoisseur of sorts.

I agreed.

On our journeys, we each become experts in some ways, about some things. Airports. AP style for magazine editing. Fast-food hamburger (or pretzel) chains.

How to win at dominoes.

At the end of the road, though, it doesn’t much matter what you know, or how fast you got there. In my experience, anyway, people don’t tend to remember you for those kinds of things. Instead, they remember you loved them, held their hand, opened your heart.

I squeezed Grace’s hand again. If I had the time, I would have cried.

“What should we order, Mom?”

“Um…” I said I thought we should get a few different things, and share. And of course, lemonade.

“I was hoping you’d say lemonade too!”

That’s one other thing I’ve learned, friends. If you’re standing in line at Auntie Anne’s during your last layover, you should definitely get lemonade too.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

Twice in My Life I Got Really Lucky

Every few days, I find myself at the grocery store. One or both of my daughters is usually with me. Occasionally—very occasionally—I fly solo through the aisles of Hannaford, an experience many moms (including myself) would equate to a day on a desert island, pastel-colored drink with cocktail umbrella in hand.

Grocery shopping with kids is its own high-adventure experience. The other day, the girls and I rolled into Hannaford. “Don’t forget the junk food, Mom,” Grace reminded me. She had actually written up her own list, and handed it to me.

I scanned her nearly-8-year-old penmanship: potato chips, Nantucket Nectars, ice cream… “We are not getting a dog, Grace. Hannaford doesn’t sell pets anyway—you know that.”

Grace laughed.

Anna, meanwhile, was climbing out of the cart I had just (thought I’d) fastened her into. “I have to go potty,” she said.

Finally we were rolling through the aisles again. You know how that goes, friends. Can we get this? Can we get that? Why can’t we get a dog today?

“Look, Mom!” Anna pointed to a huge glass jar. “Pickles!”

“Don’t touch it,” I said. “Remember what happened that one time.”

Anna smiled and nodded. “But they cleaned it up, Mom.”

“But they’d rather not, honey.”

Moving right along.

Grocery shopping with kids is its own high-adventure experience.

A few things ended up in the cart that were not my doing. For example, two bath bombs. The girls must have tossed them in when I was picking out shampoo. Also, a box of fortune cookies.

“What are these?” Anna asked, later at home.

I looked at the box on the breakfast-nook table. “What the heck?”

The girls laughed.

“You’re driving me…”

“CRAZY! We know! We love you, Mom! Can we have some cookies! Please say, ‘Oh, fine!'”

Oh…fine.

Two mornings ago, I asked the girls what they wanted for breakfast.

“Cereal and a fortune cookie,” Grace said. Breakfast of champions.

“Me too.” Anna clambered up beside her at the table. “Why is it called a fortune cookie?”

I explained that the little piece of paper inside each cookie was a fortune, or prediction for the future. Sometimes there were Chinese words with translations, and sometimes lucky numbers for lottery tickets.

In that moment, I was perched between my daughters, all of us still in our pajamas with our hair just-woke-up crazy—you know what I mean—and I felt a ripple of quiet contentment. “You know,” I said, giving them each a little squeeze, “twice in my life I got really lucky.”

Grace smiled. “Anna and me.”

“Yes.”

Then she jerked her thumb toward the family room. “I think you’re forgetting somebody.” (I swear this happened, just like that.)

And yes, I got really lucky with their dad too. Three times really lucky. Although, truth be told—really lucky countless times.

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We each have our own understanding of what lucky means. Lucky is hitting it big on a lottery ticket (maybe we used the numbers from a fortune cookie). Lucky is missing a flight, but meeting the love of our life while we wait—all the frustrating-at-first-glance detours that led to our true final destinations. Lucky is both near misses and when everything comes together, seeing the Seven Wonders of the World and leaving behind legacies all our own.

What makes me feel lucky is the love and friendship I have in my life. My children, my husband, family and friends.

Later that day, I got a call from one of my oldest and dearest friends. Kathleen and I have known each other since kindergarten, and I loved hearing her voice and catching up. We don’t always have the time to talk, but when we do, it’s effortless and heartfelt—a conversation that started 30 years ago and can hold until next time when needed. I’m deeply grateful for my good old friend, and told her so.

I’m deeply grateful for a good new friend, too, who stopped by soon after. When she came by, the house was a mess, and Anna was upside down on the rocking chair—but it was completely OK. I was happy to see her, and not concerned or self-conscious about the messy house (or upside-down parenting).

What a gift it is to have a friend who’s had your back since age 5, and another whom you don’t need to clean up for.

Lucky is both near misses and when everything comes together…

Gifts, good luck, lucky breaks. Blessings. We don’t always use the same words, or speak the same language…but sometimes, we mean similar things.

Yesterday, the girls and I went back to the grocery store. We needed milk. That was all. But I believe it’s scientifically impossible to go to the grocery store, with two kids in tow, and buy “just milk.” So…we didn’t.

Once again, Anna tried to sneak different items into the cart. “No,” I said. “Put that back.”

“Oh, fine,” Anna said, in a flawless impersonation of her mom. She grabbed the bag and trudged back to a shelf.

Grace slapped a hand on her forehead. “That child,” she said (another flawless impersonation of yours truly). “She cracks me up.”

My daughters and I spend so much time together, they sometimes sound like me. I’m grateful for the time, the companionship, all the adventures. All the crazy, and all the love.

Love and friendship have been the biggest gifts in my life.

And twice in my life, I got really lucky.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

I Almost Shared This Picture – But Then Wrote This Post Instead

What I most appreciate about Facebook probably is the same thing as you: keeping in touch with friends from the varied chapters of my life. I enjoy seeing pictures of new babies and four-footed family members; cool restaurants as well as at-home recipes to try; and reunions of all kids—family, school, work, neighborhood, you-name-it. These social-media moments are fun, and help me feel close to college partners-in-crime, old colleagues, etc. that I no longer chat with every day.

As much as I can, I participate in this social-media communion too. I share pictures, mostly of my ever-growing daughters. Our recent move to upstate New York has been providing fresh backdrops—nature preserves, museums, parks—that I hope are interesting for folks.

Some friends recently told me, “You all look so happy!” And that’s true; we are.

Yet.

We can be so happy—and look so happy—while still struggling with a challenge or two.

Thus, I almost shared this picture:

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Yesterday afternoon, Grace and I baked cupcakes for her preschool class Thanksgiving party (happening later today). Grace started to frost them; I took this picture. As usual, I emailed it to Stanton and both sets of grandparents.

Then I thought about sharing it on my Facebook page. The editor in me even came up with an insta-caption: “Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?” Followed by my signature smiley face, of course.

🙂

But.

Overall, it had not been a picture-perfect day. The night before, Anna had been up with a cough. When I finally settled her back to sleep, Grace woke up crying—a bad dream. Stanton was out of town for work, so I had no parenting backup. I was late for my yoga class, and just minutes after I took that picture, Grace had a temper tantrum because I told her no, she couldn’t eat the remaining frosting from the 15.6 oz. container for dinner (talk about a sugar rush!).

I love scrolling through my friends’ good times and celebrating along with them, and getting their positive vibes in return.

Every now and then, though, it might be healthy to take a moment and acknowledge that life is a beautiful journey of ups and downs. Happiness can coexist with imperfection. And we’d never know JOY if we didn’t dance with sorrow too.

My daughters bring me joy every day of my life. I am deeply, deeply thankful for them. They’re also the reason for my gray hairs, and my coffee addiction.

This is my moment.

P.S. Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

You’re Here, and That’s Enough

I was standing, looking out the window streaked with rain. Holding my phone in one hand and my 9-month-old daughter in the other. I was listening as my friend shared some sad news.

She sighed, cleared her throat. I told her I was sorry. And added that I knew there was nothing I could say to make her feel better—I was just very, very sorry.

“I feel,” my friend said, “that I’m failing, at everything.”

Like any friend would, I told her that wasn’t true. You’re not failing.

I could almost see her shaking her head on the other end of the line. So I added, “You’re here. Just being here is enough. Right now, just getting through the day—that’s awesome.”

I thought back to times in my own life when I was sad, as my friend was. And I believe it’s true. When life disappoints you, or hurts you, or scares you, making it through each day, one at a time, is a victory.

“How much easier would it be to, you know, run away?”

She laughed. I was happy to hear her laughter.

You don’t hear much about grown-up runaways, do you?

You do, though, hear about adults who walk away. Partners leave each other, in work and in life. People who have been together for years, husbands and wives. Friends. And saddest of all: parents. Moms and dads who walk away from their families.

It takes strength to stick around during discouraging times.

Times will get better, though. You have to believe that.

But for now, as I told my friend, you’re here. And that’s enough.

Romy and Michele

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.