Browsing Category Family

A Christmas Newsletter

Every year at Christmas time since 1993, I’ve received a Christmas newsletter from a former co-worker. I’ll call her Becky. Back when we worked together, Becky and I were friendly, but not friends in the traditional sense. We occasionally went out to lunch together, but we rarely visited at each other’s desks, sharing whispered conversations about other co-workers nor did we telephone each other at home or hang out after work.

Nevertheless, every year, while we worked together and even after I left to take another job, I – and I imagine everyone else on her Christmas card list – have received a Christmas newsletter from her. The annual letter, one full-page long, sometimes two, recaps the previous year’s activities of her life, her long-time, live-in boyfriend, Nick, who I met once when he came to the job, and her other relatives and friends who I never met. Through her yearly newsletters, I learn who in the family got married, got a promotion, graduated from college, who’s sick, who died and how many nieces and nephews she has. Becky never had children. I also learned that a few years ago, she and Nick retired and moved together to Florida.

According to Smithsonianmag.com, the first Christmas newsletters were written sometime before 1948. The site further states that syndicated advice columnist, Ann Landers, who died in June 2002, “published complaints about the so-called ‘brag rags.’”

The first and only Christmas newsletter I ever wrote was in 1985. I remember that because my Aunt Ida saved her copy and recently returned it to me. “A keepsake,” she said. I was surprised that she kept it for all of these years. Since my computer file, containing that newsletter was corrupted and died long before the old computer did, I was pleased to have the copy. Thanks, Aunt Ida.

Back in the day, copier machines facilitated the distribution of Christmas newsletters. They were usually enclosed in Christmas cards. Thanks to technology the annual letter doesn’t have to be mailed anymore. Although some folks believe that the Internet may be the demise of Christmas newsletters; savvy computer users know that a year’s worth of family news and activities can be just as easily distributed via a website as it can on paper.

If your family and friends are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media, it’s likely that they find out immediately about new developments within the family. They’ve seen photos of new babies and pets, your current girlfriend or boyfriend, the fabulous vacations, the wedding, the new car, or the renovated house. So what’s left to tell? Oh, let’s see, I can come up with a few things.

This will be the first time in 33 years, that I write a Christmas newsletter, but I won’t put it in the mail. Call me progressive. LOL. Since much about my activities and those of some of my family members has already been shared on Facebook, it will be abridged news for some and a recap for others.

This was my life in 2018.

Aside from tri-weekly trips to the gym, my year has been consumed by blogging, feeding my voracious appetite for reading by devouring books, nourishing the activist in me by pursuing non-violent activities, anxiously observing the chaotic political scene, and writing. Speaking of writing, while researching my second book I discovered a significant family secret. No, I will not reveal it here. Maybe I’ll reveal it in the book; maybe I won’t. That teasing statement reminds me of a reflective quote by author, Lisa Unger, (you know how I love worthy quotes), “The universe doesn’t like secrets. It conspires to reveal the truth, to lead you to it.”

Wanderlusts and thrill-seekers may see mine as a rather mundane life. For them, I have two words:  different strokes.

I pulled myself away from routine in September and traveled to the Staton family reunion in North Carolina where I had a good time socializing with over a hundred family members, some of whom I had never met before, and friends. Our time together just wasn’t long enough.

Step back a year to 2017, when I cheered-on my proud Desert Storm veteran son as he participated in his second marathon in two years. As if the Marine Corp Marathon wasn’t a long enough distance, this year he completed the 26.2 mile NYC marathon, the largest marathon in the world. Two marathons in two years. Two medals. Go, son!

Our family had a near tragedy in July when one of my twin grandsons, the adventurous one, nearly drowned on the day after his 25th birthday while vacationing in Miami. Before being released from the hospital, doctors advised him not to fly home. So, he had to endure nearly a 24-hour long bus trip and required a few days more of recovery after that leg-cramping bus ride. Thanks to God and an alert lifeguard he made it back.

Speaking of misfortune, we lost two family members this year. The passing, in February, of my courageous, sky-driving, septuagenarian cousin, Akintunde Kenyatta, and my lovely Aunt Juanita Staton, in July. They will be deeply missed, but they left us with wonderful, lasting memories.

In September, my cousin-in-law, Alton Moore, husband of my cousin Patricia, was elected as Town Commissioner in Williamston, NC. Meanwhile, cousin Velda’s, grandson Justine went off to college.

With US travel restrictions to Cuba lifted, my world-traveler brother, Chico, and his wife, Barbara, took advantage of the opportunity and visited the Republic this year as did Velda and her hubby. Another cousin, Renata, said goodbye to the Big Apple and moved to the Peach State.

One of my most heartwarming experiences this year occurred after my constant postings on Facebook regarding my search for the daughter of a dear friend of mine paid off. I had not seen Phyllis since she went off to college in the 1970s, nor had I had any communication with her since her mother died in ‘83. Thanks to Facebook, we reconnected last month, and through a joyous telephone reunion caught up on old times.

There are other family highlights and tidbits that I’ve omitted, but I’m going to make this a wrap and wish all my family, friends and readers a very Merry Christmas! May you also enjoy a prosperous, peaceful and Happy New Year!

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Mother’s (Birth) Day and other Special Occasions

Had my mother lived she would have turned 91 years old on her forthcoming birthday, October 22nd. Instead, she slipped into eternity early on a warm summer morning four years ago.

I’ve seen where many people wish Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary or post other heartfelt greetings to their deceased loved ones on social media; and if that works for them, that’s fine. But I can’t help but wonder – why?

When my mother’s birthday arrives in three weeks, I won’t wish her Happy Birthday on Facebook nor will I post it in any other public place. Because if the Bible is to be believed – that the dead know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5) – then mother won’t know that I wish her a Happy Birthday anyway. And as much as she expressed her disdain for social media when she was alive – by the off-chance that there is Facebook in the hereafter, she surely would have nothing to do with it.

My mother’s chosen religion forbids their members from acknowledging birthdays and other so-called pagan holidays; so when she was alive wishing her happiness on such an occasion often led to a repetitive interchange between us.

Mother would say, “You know I don’t celebrate (whatever the holiday in question).” And I would protest, “But I do.”  The conversation usually ended there, until the next time. Yet, to my pleasure, she never refused to accept the cards or gifts that I gave her on those days. And she always (perhaps begrudgingly, although she didn’t show it) acknowledged the gesture with a polite, “Thank you.”

I regretted the fact that mother would not allow me to take her out to dinner, to a stage play, or someplace special on her birthday, but it bothered me more on Mother’s Day. Even before I became a mother, I relished Mother’s Day and considered the day to be a special occasion for honoring and showing reverence to all mothers and especially good mothers like mine.

Since my siblings and I were adults when mother decided to convert her faith, I have wonderful memories to cherish of earlier times of family get-togethers at my parent’s home on holidays like the Fourth of July (Can you say crab fest?), Thanksgiving, and Christmas. And for a few years, even after my siblings and I married and had families of our own, we’d all bring our kids to the grandparents home on festive occasions. Unfortunately, those happy get-togethers dwindled and eventually stopped; too soon.

In three weeks when mother’s birthday arrives, I won’t publicize it on social media. I will acknowledge it privately. And before the day is over, I know I will smile with tear-filled eyes as I remember a recurring dialog that she and I shared many times in the years before she died.

“You know I don’t celebrate birthdays.”

“But I do.”

 

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Resurrecting Memories for Legacy II

Curiosity drives some of us to become amateur genealogists because we enjoy learning what we can about our ancestors and distant kinfolk. Other buffs, knowing the importance of family history, simply want to preserve the information for generations to come.

I was blessed to be the first of my maternal grandmother’s 21 grandchildren. Although circumstances, like birth order, sometimes conspire against us, being the first-born grandchild has its advantages. We tend to remember things that our younger siblings and cousins may not remember or may never have known.

The process of writing my second book is awakening memories of distant relatives and my interactions with them.

Rhea Williams was the first cousin to my Grandma Hattie Staton. I recall meeting Cousin Rhea only twice. Both meetings occurred when I was a very young girl, and she was in the winter of her life. I initially met my cousin when mother took me to visit her home on the outskirt of Oak City, North Carolina. She lived in a tiny cabin down the road from grandma’s place. I suspect that mother was preparing me for the visit when she told me before we arrived that Cousin Rhea was a sweet, old lady and she was partially blind.

A frail-looking, slow-moving, woman greeted us at the door and invited us into her dimly lit one-room cabin. Age curved her body, and thinning, white hair framed her pleasant face. I studied that face, curious to see what blind eyes look like. But all that I could determine was that one of her eyes was fully closed as if it were sleeping, and the other eye partially open.

Cousin Rhea appeared to be a kind woman, but when she stretched a scrawny arm toward me to take my hand and said in a whispery voice, “How you doing child?” I nervously backed away from her and attached myself to my mother’s side where I stayed during the duration of our short visit, my face partially concealed behind her skirt.

The last time I remember seeing my cousin was when her grandson, Perch, dropped her off so she could visit with our family at our home in Washington, DC. And I’ll never forget what happened the first night that she was there.

It must have been after midnight. Everyone in the household had gone to bed and were likely asleep when I awakened because I had to pee.

In a sleepy haze, I climb out of bed and walk toward the bathroom where I switch on the light and step the few inches toward the toilet. I am about to turn around and sit when something on top of the tank catches my eye. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. There is a mason jar partially-filled with water. Resting near the bottom of that jar is an eyeball.

For a second as I am standing there, I think I’m dreaming. I stare in wide-eyed disbelief at the lidless eye. The eye stares at me. I stare back at it. Never in my young years had I seen an eyeball that wasn’t attached to someone’s face. I am transfixed by the sight before me until my imagination fools me into thinking that the eye is moving; it is floating to the surface of the water.

Then, suddenly, I am wide awake. Faster than the Road Runner being chased by Wile E. Coyote, I switch off the bathroom light, haul ass back to my bed and throw the covers over my head. Until I fall asleep, I lay there shivering and praying that I won’t wet the bed, because there is no way I was going back in there. Not tonight.

The next morning when mother and I are alone, and Cousin Rhea is still sleeping, I ask her about the eye in the glass in the bathroom. She tells me that Cousin has a glass eye. She further explains that the artificial eye replaces Cousin’s natural eye, and she removes it each night before going to sleep. Although I heard mother’s patient explanation, my young mind refused to comprehend, and I left many questions unasked. Where does someone find a glass eye? Do you buy them at the grocery store? How do you put it in and take it out? Can the glass eye see me?

As an adult, looking back on what then was a chilling experience but is now an amusing memory, I decided to do some research on glass eyes. I was surprised to learn that the first in-socket artificial eyes were made as early as the 15th century. And contrary to what the naive little girl believed, a prosthetic eye (as they are now commonly called) cannot restore vision. It is merely for cosmetic purposes.

Today, the cost of a custom prosthetic eye will run you somewhere between $2000-$8000. If you are lucky, health insurances will cover the cost. Recently, my out-of-curiosity search on eBay found glass eyes selling for as little as $30.

I don’t know the cost of Cousin Rhea’s glass eye. I suppose they were less expensive back then. Nevertheless, according to family oral history, it didn’t cost her a thing because the county welfare department paid for it.

You are probably as curious as I was to know how Cousin Rhea lost her eye. Narratives tend to get convoluted, but I will retell the story as it was told to me.

One day Cousin Rhea was visited by a circuit preacher as they were sometimes called. During the act of blessing her, the preacher poured oil on Cousin’s head. Perhaps, he was attempting to follow the Scripture that reads, “Thou anointest my head with oil.” Some of the oil rolled down Cousin’s forehead into one eye. (I imagine that must have burned like hell.) Not to make light of the issue, but the blessing apparently did not cover the eye that got the oil because it cost Cousin her sight.

I don’t know who, if any, of my cousins or siblings, remembers Cousin Rhea but I certainly do. Like I said, being the first-born grandchild sometimes has advantages.

 

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A Celebration of Life

small 20180211_085700Written by Velda Holmes

Guest Author

 

Several years ago, I went to the funeral of a co-worker.  There were a few tears shed, but mostly there was laughter, smiles, and heads nodding in agreement with something said that was spot-on. A celebration of a life that had touched many people in a positive way. I left that funeral thinking, “Isn’t this the way it should be? He would’ve wanted it that way.”

The recent passing of a beloved cousin, Akintunde Kenyatta, made me reflect on that funeral.

Akintunde Kenyatta
Akintunde Kenyatta

I believe it was early 2007 or 2008 when Akintunde reached out to my Aunt Mildred. He was searching for the Parkers. (His dad’s side of the family.) Aunt Mildred’s husband, Willie Parker, was one of nine Parker siblings.  Unfortunately, my aunt had to inform Akintunde that her husband had passed away, but his two brothers, Alton and Allen Parker, lived in North Carolina.

Akintunde contacted them, and I happened to be at my Uncle Allen’s home when he visited. As is my nature, I was immediately suspicious. Who is this cat? I wondered. No “Kenyettas” in the family that I know of. Hummpf, this joker is a flimflam man!

He laid out his roots, starting with his father, Chesterfield. At the mention of that name, my uncle perked up. Yes, he knew his dad! Both men smiled and talked for a long while. I knew then; this was “legit” as they say.

From then on, there were phone calls, lots of jokes, Facebook posts, shared family history, and pictures. Akintunde was passionate about family. In turn, we became passionate about him. He brought fun and joy wherever he went. He came to every annual Parker family reunion he could. The most recent one took place in October 2017, at Virginia Beach. It was special because we were not sure if he would attend because by now he was putting up a good fight with his illness. A fight, we were all sure if anyone could beat, it would be him. We were in the fight with him, too. Praying, sending flowers, sending cards, blowing up his Facebook page. “That’s right,” we all said constantly. “God is still in control.”

In spite of ill health, he came to the reunion. He was visibly frail and weak, but still flashing that sunshine smile. His attendance was special because he met another cousin who he had met only once before, Loretta Brown, who, as it turns out, had not been to a reunion herself in several years. Thanks to modern technology we all shared antidotes, pictures, and ideas via Facebook, so meeting in person was an added treat.

Sadly, 72-year-old Akintunde passed away a few days ago. We will miss him terribly. We search for favorite photos of him, little drawings he made (he liked to draw) and other memorable items. There is so much that we can say about him, like how much he loved his wife, Kim. He was a BIG Baltimore Ravens fan. All of the family is still in awe of the feat he performed about three years ago. He went skydiving.

He was a musician, an awesome brother, a super proud father, grandfather, a great friend, and a loving human being. He has taken his place now among the elders. I believe that many of our family members reading this will be nodding their heads in agreement, and smiling and laughing in celebration of his life.  He would want it that way.

Alton, Akintunde and Allen
Alton, Akintunde, and Allen

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Contemplating Death and Dreams

Doorway To Heaven Or HellSome people consider dreams as just a random string of thoughts, which we may not even remember upon awakening. And then there are those who believe in psychic dreams, where future events are revealed to us while we sleep. My mother had such a dream before her death. I had forgotten about it until recently when I began rereading some of my journal entries.

Mother’s doctor had her hospitalized on the day that she and the rest of her family learned she was terminal. Within weeks, unrelenting, she told her doctor, the hospital staff, her visitors, and anyone else who would listen that she wanted out of that hospital. She wanted to go home.

After my dad died in August 2006, mother, always the independent-minded woman, had continued to live sufficiently on her own in the house they had bought decades ago. Now, literally on her deathbed, and as she imaged still in control of her life, she made up her mind that she would not die in the hospital.

Since she kept insisting on being released, her doctor suggested that we look into in-home hospice care.That sounded practical until I discovered that her insurance, Blue Cross, would not pay for in-home hospice, which I was told would cost around $500 per day. Infeasible! Since only God knew whether mother would live for days, weeks, or months, we had no choice but to adhere to mother’s demands and bring her home. My sister and I would take turns staying with her. We would prepare and bring her food, administer her medication and assist with her personal needs.

During that stressful period, my sister and I put our lives on hold and took turns, staying a week at a time, at mother’s house. Since she was tethered to a breathing machine, mother’s mobility was limited, but you wouldn’t know it if you heard us constantly insisting that she stop climbing out of the rented hospital bed. Mother has always been strong-willed, and she was determined to do for herself for as long as she could. On the occasions when my sister and I were there together, we would sometimes look at each other, and shake our head from side-to-side silently deploring mother’s stubbornness. I don’t know how my sister spent the days during her watch, but I utilized much of my time journalizing.

In a study by University of Texas psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker, he writes that writing about stressful events helps us release the intensity of our feelings and come to terms with them. How could anyone knowing that their mother is dying comes to term with that? What I knew then and have always known is that writing about my feelings, writing about nearly anything – depending on the situation – makes a difficult period easier and a pleasant experience more joyful.

Since I am in the process of writing a book about her, I’ve been rereading my journal entries recorded in the weeks preceding and immediately following mother’s death which occurred on June 18, 2014. Although I know I wrote it back then, it isn’t any easier reading it now. In fact, sometimes I become emotional and have to make a serious effort to calm myself before I continue. Painful emotions never go away; they just lie dormant until resurrected.

In one journal entry, six months before mother died, I describe a lucid dream that mother told me she had about my dad. Rereading it got me to wondering about dreams and death. This is what I wrote:

Sunday, January 12, 2014 – 8:36 PM

Mother told me that she dreamed about dad for a second time since he died. She said that in the last dream, three nights ago, dad was all dressed up in a suit. “He was looking nice, really sharp.” She said. As he was walking toward her, he stretched out his hand and said, “Come with me.”  Mother said that although she knew she was asleep, she was consciously aware that dad was dead. And she also remembered that her mother used to tell her that if you dream of a dead person and the person tells you to come with them if you go, you too will die. Mother began backing away from dad until (in reality) she fell off of the bed and awoke on the floor.

“Did you hurt yourself?” I asked. “No,” she replied, “But I’m glad I woke up.”

My mother was always an intuitive person. Is it silly when I wonder if the breast cancer that had been in remission was rekindling during that dream? Was it a premonition or a coincidence that mother died six months after having that dream? I don’t believe in coincidences, but I will always wonder if mother was holding dad’s hand when she left us.

Life is filled with mysteries, some to never be solved. Dreams are one of those.

 

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