Sunday, October 22, 2017

Grits, Gravy and Gratitude

All true Southerners know that grits and gravy are two staples in a well-balanced diet, and that they should always be accompanied by at least a couple of light and fluffy homemade biscuits. I remember when I was a kid there was an ongoing debate between Mom and Dad regarding who was the better cook when it came to grits and gravy. Daddy would get that mischievous twinkle in his eye when he teased Mom about her cooking skills, and she would reply with a giant huff quickly followed by, "Lord, help, Atticus, you're mean as all get out. Quit your teasin' and eat them derned grits. Here, put some of my gravy on 'em to cover up the taste since you cooked 'em too long." Whenever they would try to rope me into their food feud, I'd always tell them they both cooked the best grits and gravy I'd ever eaten ... I may not have been the brightest kid in the world, but I was smart enough to know that choosing one of them over the other would have had much less than a good outcome for me.

Last week, Ollie and I got on a plane ... yes, I said a plane ... and headed south to visit my family in Tennessee. As the plane taxied down the runway, memories came careening through my mind ... some happy, some sad, some a mixture of both. It had been five years since I'd been back to my hometown ... five years. The last time I traveled there was the day after I came out to the vice president of the company I work for in a conference at our office. Memories of what happened that day and my subsequent trip to Tennessee swirled in my mind, mixing together with memories of countless other trips I've made back home over the years. And just when I thought I couldn't think another thought or feel another emotion, I became keenly aware that this journey back home would end with new memories ... some happy, some sad, some a mixture of both.

It's a perfect fall day here in Kansas ... sunny with temps in the upper 60s ... and I'm sitting outside as I type this post. Ollie the wiener dog is relaxing comfortably at my feet on the sun-warmed boards of the little deck at my apartment, and I'm thinking of how different this weekend has been from the previous one. Last weekend was filled with family and friends and lots of activity, and this weekend has been filled with what most of my weekends are ... laundry and cleaning and a silence that's only broken by the sound of Ollie barking. I'm not at all sure of why it feels like my time with my family was so much longer than only a week ago, but it does. Time is odd that way, isn't it? Sometimes it creeps along slower than a snail climbing a mountain, and sometimes it flies by faster than Superman on his way to save Lois Lane. 

Last weekend, my Friday evening was spent having dinner out on the patio of a lovely restaurant overlooking the Tennessee River. I met a group of friends I went to high school with, most of whom I hadn't seen since we graduated 40 years ago. Wow, 40 years ago ... though we tried our best to convince our server that it was only 15, I don't think she bought it. It was an absolutely perfect evening, one filled with great food, an absolutely gorgeous setting and sweet, sweet fellowship among good friends.

I spent last Saturday morning at the home of my great niece Rachel, her husband Kevin and their two precious children. Most of the time I was there was spent talking with Kevin as he sat on the couch and Ollie and I claimed our spot on the ottoman in front of him. There were several reasons why I decided to travel to Tennessee last week, and spending time with Kevin was definitely one of the most important ones. Some of you may recall from a post I wrote about him earlier in the year that Kevin was diagnosed last fall with ALS, a vicious disease that can often progress quite rapidly causing the affected person to lose the ability to speak, eat, move or breathe independently while their cognitive skills remain fully intact. Though Kevin is experiencing significant progression of the disease, he continues to be able to speak and to hug and to laugh and to smile. To say that Kevin is a great guy is a huge understatement ... he truly is one of the kindest, most loving and compassionate men I've ever known, and the time I spent with him last Saturday morning will forever remain as one of the greatest blessings in my life.

Later that day, I stood with my sister and my nieces and nephews and their families at the graves of my mom and dad, my brother Jerry and his wife Charlotte as we paid our respects to Jerry's oldest son Jerry Jr. who recently passed away. It was the first time many of us had seen one another since my mom's funeral a little more than 12 years ago, and though the reason for our gathering was a sad one, there was the overriding affirmation that we are family and we will always be there for one another. There were a lot of tears last Saturday afternoon as we shared our memories of the young man we all knew as Little Jerry, but there was also an abundance of laughter as we dined together later that evening. I'm reminded of what my nephew Chris, Little Jerry's younger brother, said as we stood in a circle at the cemetery ... "Life is short," he said. "Life really is short."

While I'll spare you the details of the other things I did on my visit back home, I will tell you this ... I came away from those few days filled with more gratitude for the people I love and for those who love me in return than I ever have before. In the spirit of being open, honest, real and transparent, I've experienced some things this year that have really knocked the wind out of me. While those things have made me question my value in every aspect of my life and wreaked havoc on my ability to trust other people, they've also made me more thankful for the people in my life who are real and true and forever.

Thanks to diabetes, there were no grits or gravy on the menu for me on my trip to Tennessee, but trust me, I was filled to the brim with gratitude and love ... I was indeed, friends ... I was indeed. 


Chip Ayers said...

What a wonderful beautiful story. Like always, I look forward to your many adventures in your stories. So glad I got to see you on your trip to Tennessee. I enjoyed celebrating with you and the gang Friday night on the Tennessee Rives

Anonymous said...

Terri I've never been to Tennessee and I've never met you. But you touch my heart every time I read your words and you paint a picture of love I won't ever forget. Please start writing more again. Thank you.