I dropped her off two weeks ago yesterday.  She left the next morning with her aunt and uncle and cousins.  They were heading west to meet my parents at the halfway point between their house and ours.  That’s not a quick road trip when you live in Texas.  They all had lunch together and stretched their legs and made their goodbyes.  She and one of her cousins climbed into the backseat of their grandparents’ car and continued their journey west.  My sister and her family turned around for the five hour drive back home.

Two weeks without a teenager in the house sounds like bliss during the Summer when you have four others living with you, too.  It’s not.  I am happy that she got to bond with her grandparents.  I am grateful that they took them to see such awesome and amazing natural sites of New Mexico and Arizona.  I am elated that my niece and daughter have had time together, away from their siblings and parents, to build that strong friendship and trust that cousins should have.  But the hole in my heart while she has been away has been difficult to deal with.

I love all of my nearly grown and grown children.  Each one has their own section in my heart.  I enjoyed spending time with my boys this Summer.  I learned that a lot of our conversations are interrupted by my daughters.  With only one daughter, the one who is usually blamed for these interruptions, I realized that it’s not only she who breaks into these moments with the boys.  I need to work on that.

I realized that my two girls, who fight daily because they share a bedroom, love each other to pieces and actually miss one another.  Randa slept in Samiya’s bed the first five days she was gone, just to feel close to her.  She had nightmares the last few days.  She kept getting out of bed, panicked, shouting, “Get in the car, Mommy!  It’s Samiya, trapped in a cave.  It’s save Samiya. Bring her home NOW!”  (She had seen the photos of Samiya and her cousin in Carlsbad Caverns from the second leg of their trip.)  Anxiety and Autism has a way of altering perspectives sometimes.  It took a lot of consoling and coaxing to convince her that Samiya was safe and back at Granddad’s house and that she would be home in just a few days.

Her brothers have missed her, too, although mostly as it relates to the frequency of their turns to wash dishes.  Ismail mentioned to me that he had been texting her throughout the two weeks.  Aiman had been talking to people they regularly game with online and talked to me excitedly about how Samiya had been promoted to a higher level on their team.  Mohamed talked with her, too, a few times by phone while she was gone.

But the person who has missed her most is her father.  He kept asking during the whole two weeks, “It’s long enough, right?” and when I told him that my sister planned to stay the night out there and come back Sunday, I could see his face fall just a little.  Then he said, “We should celebrate her coming back.  I’ll bring home chickens and you grill them on Sunday.  It will be a welcome home party.”  Daddy’s little girl personified.

Today, Randa will be pacing back and forth to the front door to check for her aunt and uncle’s car.  They drove out through the desert again to pick the girls up from Dad’s house.  And I will be washing and cooking and prepping for her return, trying to keep busy so I don’t jump out of my skin with excitement.  I missed my girl.



In Memoriam

The doctor is not in. He is no longer accepting new patients. He is gone. There will be no referrals. You’re on your own. It’s just as well. No one could fill his shoes anyway. His title was honorary. He wasn’t really a doctor. He was a pipe-fitter, master mechanic, automotive hobbyist. He was known as Dad, Uncle Tracy, Mr. Tracy, and Honey. (His grandkids call him Honey.) To me, he will always be Dr. Tracy – the brain surgeon who earned his title teaching his teenage daughter how to drive a 3-on-the-tree manual transmission pick up truck as I sat between them. “If this truck is in first gear, then I’m a brain surgeon!”

When Dr. Tracy called me back in January to let me know that he was terminal, I was at the high school doing volunteer work. He seemed matter of fact and could just as easily have been telling me that he’d sprained an ankle.  Being the walking Kleenex commercial that I am, I sat down and started to cry.  He got upset that he’d upset me. I guess that’s always the way with any terminal disease, isn’t it? The person who is doing the dying always spends his last days consoling those who aren’t.  He said, “Now see? I shouldn’t have told you. I knew you were at the school, and I’ve gone and upset you. I didn’t call to make you cry or beg sympathy.” Well, then the tears were replaced by anger. (Yeah, I’m an emotional funnel cloud some days.)

“Look here, Old Man!” I told him (without shouting because he is still my elder.) “I love you almost as much as I love my own daddy. So, you’ll allow me the privilege of crying for you.” Aside from my dad, husband, and brother, there is no other man I’ve loved more.

It took a few weeks to arrange things here in Texas before I could get down to see him. While my five children are mostly grown, there are still 4 in high school, one of whom is “special needs.”  My siblings took turns heading from here to Mobile to visit with him. And then it was my turn. And I think for each of us it was similar. We arrived at the house and had something to eat at the kitchen table with him. Then we held down that kitchen chair talking to him, laughing with him, reminiscing with him until it was time for us to head back to Texas. Our cousins from Alabama, Mississippi, and even New York, traveled down to Mobile to sit on that chair and love on him these past few months.

Aunt Ginger and Wendy have both told me how “tickled he was” that we took the time to come visit with him. And I think that I speak for all of us when I say that we wished we could have done more. You see, Uncle Tracy was not our “blood relative.” He married our Aunt Ginger more than 54 years ago and he seemed to think that he was an “in-law” to all of us. He seemed genuinely surprised by the number of his nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews whose lives had been touched by him. Most of us had known him as long as we’d been alive and had gotten advice from him about various mechanical issues, or home repair issues, or just chewing the fat. He’s family. However it was that he joined it, by birth or by marital bond: He’d been part of it longer than any of us.

Our family is short by one tall member today. And while we mourn our loss of him, we rejoice that he is no longer suffering the pain that he endured for these last months. The good doctor will always be with us in spirit and in memory. And every time I start to drive after accidentally putting my car in third gear rather than first, I know that there is a brain surgeon smiling down from Heaven at me.

The Doctor is In

I’ve known him all my life. And after my dad, he’s the “adult male” that I would turn to for car maintenance advice, a kind word, a belly laugh in the form of some hilarious anecdote that had  happened that week. Uncle Tracy has been a comfortable constant in my life no matter where the Army sent us throughout my childhood.

My cousin, Wendy, was my best friend/pen pal during all that back and forth moving overseas to Texas to Alabama and back overseas, etc. I felt grounded reading her letters and a sense of normalcy writing back to tell her all about my softball season, how much I hated Algebra II, and which boy I had a crush on that week. I always sent love to her parents and she always sent it back to mine. And for us, there was never any awkwardness. Even though she wasn’t a military BRAT like me, we would pick up right where we left off three years before. We’d run out to play on the zip line that Uncle Tracy had built using the tallest trees in the backyard or play basketball or throw pine cones at each other or at night, jump out from behind a fat bush on the side of the road to scare the crap out of teenage drivers who were speeding up the street and then take off running as they slammed on brakes and cussed at us out the open windows.

When I spent a week with them during the Summer Wendy had gotten her learner’s permit, Uncle Tracy earned a new nickname. We were in his pick-up truck. Wendy was driving. We were in the left only turn bay and she was having trouble with the 3-on-the-tree. Uncle Tracy was patiently bellowing directions from the passenger seat. I was the quiet moron in the middle; head turning left then right then left again as the conversation continued across me. After about 4 light changes from red to green and back to red, Wendy was beyond frustrated as the engine choked and died again. Uncle Tracy stated loudly, for the tenth time, “Wendy, you’ve got to put the damn thing in first gear!”

“It IS in first gear!” she shouted back, red-faced.

“Wendy, if this damn truck was in first gear, we’d already be in the driveway by now. Put it in first gear.”

She violently pulled the shift bar from where it was to neutral and then back to where it was. “It IS in first gear, Daddy!” The light turned green again. She let up off the clutch again. The truck jerked forward and died again. The car behind us started honking again as he was too close to go around us like the cars behind him. The light turned red again.

“Wendy, you’re in third gear. Put the truck in first gear!!”

“Daddy, it IS IN FIRST GEAR!” she shouted back.

Uncle Tracy actually yelled this time, “IF THIS TRUCK IS IN FIRST GEAR THEN I’M A GODDAMN BRAIN SURGEON!”

The dumbass in the middle, sensing the tension and trying to show solidarity with her cousin waved and said, “Hiiiiiiiii, Doctor Tracy!”

They were too pissed off at each other to laugh. She finally found first gear and we went home. When we got  back to their house, I figured I should make myself scarce and then I heard my aunt laughing in the kitchen. I went to get a glass of tea and she handed me a tall cup to take to “the good doctor.” She and Wendy howled with laughter.

I handed him his tea and he just looked at me. Then he laughed and said it was in third. I  told him that out of all the pipefitters in the world, he made a fine brain surgeon. He’s been Dr. Tracy ever since.




My heart is heavy…like someone placed a wheelbarrow full of bricks on my chest after making me to lie down in the soil on my back. Unwanted tears are streaming down my face and my breath is shallow.  I don’t have a real reason to cry.  Nobody died and I’m not physically hurt.  I feel like an idiot as the salty tracks reach my mouth and my nose clogs up and I realize we don’t have any tissue in the house.  I called just to hear their voices; just to wish them a happy anniversary and to tell them I miss them; how much I wish I could be there.  He couldn’t handle my teary voice and gave the phone back to her.  I hope I didn’t make him melancholy, too.  I just need them both to know that this girl inside me, this girl of long roots, who has lived every place and who is still from no place in particular, that when she gets homesick— it’s their home she’s missing.

Granny Jean

I woke up this morning happy. My Granny Jean had come to visit me in a dream. It was weird. Everyone was giving me birthday gifts wrapped in Christmas paper but when I opened them they were just pieces of cardboard with mud smeared on them. But Granny Jean was so sweet and kissed me on the head and gave me Little Debbie oatmeal creme cookies. Then I woke up.

It was nice. Ordinarily I have the type of dreams where I wake up in a cold sweat and a panicked gasp for air after being thrown off a large roller coaster that I’m driving my Buick on (yeah, I know) or I’ve been submerged under water for a long time and someone is holding me by my face with a gigantic hand. But today I got to see my late grandmother and she even gave me the greatest Little Debbie’s ever made! (Yeah, Wendy! Oatmeal Creme Cookies are the best. NOT those lame Zebra Stripes!)

Knowing about my Granny Jean might give you a glimpse into my personality. My grandmother, Mary Emma  Ward-Nicholas was fondly called Jean by my grandfather, Roy.  He used to sing that song “Jean, Jean, Roses are Red” to her. She was 39 years old when I was born. She was 39 years my entire life. I was pregnant with my 4th baby when she passed away…at 39 years of age.  She was a good Southern woman who wore shorts around the house with her knee high stockings rolled down and her supportive shoes on.  I remember spending the night at her house and staying up late to watch Johnny Carson with her while we both ate Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal. (Because really it’s more like a dessert than a breakfast food.)  She kept Trident gum in a tin shaped like an apple on top of the refrigerator and made a mean lemon pound cake in a bundt form that she lovingly called “Buddy Cake” after my granddad, Buddy. (We never called him Granddad. He wasn’t old enough to be our grandfather, but he would be our buddy.)

Granny Jean taught me how to make biscuits from scratch, several times. Because I thought I was too smart to write it down and eventually had to ask my Aunt Ginger to tell me again as an adult when I finally did write it down. Granny Jean is the only person I know who would ask you, “How do you like your oatmeal done?” Well, in our family you did have a choice. You could either eat it with a spoon or a fork. I always went with the fork version and would throw a fried egg on top. She kept her mayonnaise in the cupboard instead of the fridge and none of us ever got food poisoning from it…EVEN in the Alabama heat.

Whistling at my grandparents house was for OUTDOORS ONLY. We could actually get in trouble for whistling in the house. And screaming…forget it, you’d better be bleeding to death or you’d wish you were. Granny Jean loved to laugh and was always lighthearted.

The Nicholas grandchildren were all taught to be card sharks. Granny Jean played Bridge sometimes with her friends but with us kids she played Spades, Hearts, War, Rummy, Double Solitaire, and Bullshit! We went through a brief  phase where we played spoons but too many of us ended up getting hurt diving across the floor or kitchen table to grab up the last piece of silverware available. Rainy days, sunny days, ANY days you could find a gaggle of kids around shuffling and bridging a deck of cards like they were professional dealers in any Vegas casino.

Thanksgiving in Mobile was always my favorite. I brought my husband down to Thanksgiving at Granny Jean and Buddy’s house when we were living in Georgia. He’d never experienced that much Turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, etc before. The homemade pies lined the length of the buffet and while everyone else was watching the football game, Mohamed began to yawn. Apparently, he’d never experienced that much tryptophan, either. Granny Jean took him into her room and told him to lie down on her bed. Mohamed was embarrassed and told her, “That’s okay, Granny.”  She insisted and told him that there wasn’t a member of our family yet that hadn’t had a nap on her bed at least once. He zonked out an official member of the family.

When she finally died, I couldn’t make it to her funeral. I was too far pregnant with my daughter, Samiya, and we were living in Maryland by then. Daddy called me to tell me the news and then asked me if I knew where my sister, Monika was so that he could inform her. I told him that she had said something about going to have dinner at her boyfriend’s house. She later told me of the events that followed her conversation with Daddy on the phone. She said that she cried when she hung up the phone. Here’s the way it went with her

Boyfriend:     What’s wrong? Are you okay?
Monika:         No. That was my dad. My grandmother is dead.
Boyfriend:      (Hugging her) Were you two close?
Monika:         I was her namesake.
Boyfriend:      Oh. Her name was Monika?
Monika:         No. (sobbing)
Boyfriend:      Oh. So her name was Jean?
Monika:         No. But she always liked the name Jean.
Boyfriend:      (Not the first time confused by our family history) How old was she?
Monika:         (Laughing now) 39!!!!!!!!!!

Yup. That was my grandmother. Still making us smile from beyond the grave.