THANKSGIVING DAY GRATITUDE

Despite all the madness in our world right now and what I consider to be a rough November for us, I’m still thankful for so many things.  We are in the middle of selling our house and buying another one and there is a lot of chaos involved with getting prepared to pack and move our entire household.  Mama’s unexpected passing early this month still weighs on our mind and attitude.  Having Darby put down less than a week ago still hurts.  And hovering over all of us is the threat of Covid 19.  All of this together could certainly put a damper on Thanksgiving Day, but I refuse to let that happen.

Our immediate family (us, our kids and grandkids) are together in St Petersburg at our oldest daughter’s house.  Later we will gather around a huge table of food prepared by Joshua, the girls and Robin; they have already been cooking for two days.  Mama’s influence has already been felt on this Thanksgiving Day; Katie has made biscuits using Mama’s recipe and Rachel has made Mama’s “world famous” pecan pies.  But I’m truly thankful that we could all be together when there is so much anxiety about being together due to the virus.  And I’m thankful that my dad will spend the day with my brother’s family in Huntsville instead of sitting at home by himself. 

Despite the uneasiness in the world right now, we can find peace in our heart and soul by knowing that a loving trustworthy God is in control and is working all things for good for those who love Him.  Sometimes it takes a while to accept that but I think I’m there.  Happy Thanksgiving Day to all!

REMEMBERING DARBY

For the past twelve years we’ve had a little “shadow” named Darby.  We found her on the internet in Ft Walton Beach, Fl where she was living in a foster home.  The foster “mom” said she was quiet, looked like she had been mistreated by some bigger dogs, but had a great personality.  As we got acquainted, we found some strange things about Darby leading us to believe something in her past must have impacted her significantly.  For instance, when we tore off a sheet of aluminum foil Darby ran out of the room.  She didn’t like to be hugged or squeezed or kissed and would even snap at you if you were brave enough to try. She was playful and had a bounce in her step as walked around the back yard.  Her tail was usually curved up over her back and her ears perked.  She had big brown eyes that seemed to stare into your heart.  She didn’t like children after they got big enough to walk around and chase her so we had to lock her up when the grandchildren came to the house.

The vet estimated she was about two years old when we got her so she was around fourteen years old.  Her health had began declining; she had a significant heart murmur that caused her to cough frequently and then she started having seizures.  We put her on medication for that thinking maybe she could stay with us for a while longer, but she didn’t do well on the meds.  This morning she had two seizures while on the medication and really over the last two weeks or so her condition declined rapidly.  So, after today’s seizures and watching her stumble around trying to walk we knew it was time for Darby to leave us.  She had been by our side for years, so we wanted to be with her when she was put to sleep and it was tough.  But it would have been an injustice to keep her with us in misery so we’re all better off (or we will be when we get over losing her).

Thanks for the memories and good times Little Girl!

A LOOK BACK: VISITS TO THE BEACH

By far one of the best things we did when our daughters were growing up was visit the beach; it was essentially an annual ritual when the girls were young.  We often went with another couple who had a daughter the same age as Katie.  Robin and the male friend were classmates in school so we had a string friendship already.  One of the rituals of our beach trips was sculpting a large sand display- not a castle, however.  I wasn’t creative enough to build a castle, plus I think the Gulf beaches’ powdery white sand was the wrong building material for a castle.  We made animals.  I can remember making a turtle, an octopus, maybe an alligator.  We made a mermaid and maybe a sand-woman lying on the beach.  The girls did most of the heavy work hauling pail after pail of wet packable sand but it was a family project.  Once we had a big pile of sand we’d go to work on our agreed-to work of art. 

Our normal destination for these trips was Orange Beach or Gulf Shores, Alabama and another ritual of the trip was multiple visits to Sea-n-Suds, a local seafood restaurant built on poles over the Gulf waters below.  More often than not we ate fried blue crab claws, and they were delicious.  If you went for lunch you could get out of the hot sun for a while, avoid the huge dinner crowds and watch others frolic on the beach while enjoying your meal. 

Although I’ve tried to block two experiences from my memory, I have been unsuccessful.  We often took the kids to an amusement park in Gulf Shores and on one particular visit Katie wanted to ride the Sky Coaster.  On this ride you are strapped into the equivalent of the rock strap of a sling shot.  Then you are winched up backwards until the people below look like ants.  The operators count down “3…2…1…fly” and you (I) pull a rip cord that begins a free- fall down, down, down; then up, up, up the other side.  After that you just swing back and forth until the pendulum stops.  The other adventure was parasailing behind a boat driven by what appeared to be young teens.  These seem like enjoyable things to do EXCEPT I’m afraid of heights.  So, for these two adventures I plead temporary insanity and I’m so thankful Rachel never asked me to ride the Sky Coaster with her.  I will point out that Robin and the girls have parasailed together and they really had a great time but for me- I think I’m “one and done.”

Once the kids were gone Robin and I continued our beach trips when we could, but not every year.  We switched destinations to Pensacola Beach, Fl.  Our fried crab claw obsession is satisfied by Peg Leg Pete’s in Pensacola and the beaches in the Gulf Islands National Seashore are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen; particularly towards Ft. Pickens. 

I have so many great memories of being at the beach; napping in my chair, walking on the beach at night watching the sand crabs scamper in front of you, looking for figures in the white fluffy clouds, playing cards with Robin, watching the sun set over the gulf waters…

As comedian Ron White quotes his dog, Sluggo, “It’s going to be good day Tater.”  And the bumper sticker pretty well sums it up: “A bad day at the beach is better than a good day at the office.”

A LOOK BACK: INDIAN PRINCESS

The YMCA sponsors a program called “Indian Princess”/”Indian Guides”.  The program is a father/daughter or father/son program designed to bring dads closer to their children with activities for them to do together.  I went through the program with both of our girls and have many fond memories of being with them.  So this is the first of a series of look backs – favorite memories of times together with the girls. 

Our Indian Princess program consisted of maybe seven tribes which made up our nation.  We were in the Navajo tribe along with another 8-10 girls and dads.  We met monthly at someone’s home and the host dad/daughter made invitations to send to the other members and also came up with a craft of some kind for that meeting’s activity.  There were also set activities for the girls to do to earn badges for their vests and stones for their necklaces.  Once they completed a level they earned a feather for their headband. 

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These photos show some of the crafts we made together and also show the vests headbands and patches and feathers that Rachel earned.  We had Indian names for each other: Rachel was Setting Sun, Katie was Rising Sun and I was Thunderbird. 

A couple of times a year we had a nation campout weekend at the Y’s campground on Lake Guntersville.  Each tribe had its own cabin and we all ate in the camp cafeteria.  On Friday night, the first night of camp, we all gathered at the open campfire spot and had a HUGE bonfire.  Our tribe usually had responsibility for getting the fire prepared for Saturday night’s fire.  We soaked rolls of toilet paper in kerosene and wrapped them in wire.  Saturday night’s fire began with the nation chief and medicine man rowing to the shore in a canoe with their torches lit.  They walked to the trail in front of the cafeteria and lit the torches of each tribe’s chief then we all marched silently to the bonfire site.  Selected dads and daughters slowly beat drums as we walked up the trail.  After the big bonfire we all returned to our individual cabins and built small campfires where the girls roasted marshmallows and made ‘smores.  The girls played and played until finally bedtime rolled around and we crawled into our bunks and listened to the dads snore; it was often hard to get a good night’s sleep.  Sunday morning we had a church service at the amphitheater after breakfast, and then loaded our stuff to come home, take a shower, change clothes, and share our weekend adventure with Mama.  We also had a float in the annual Christmas Parade.

I don’t know if the program still exists; our participation was in the late 80’s to mid 90’s.  The program could have fallen by the wayside for being politically incorrect.  It was certainly never meant to be that; just a way to promote dads and daughters being together, drawing closer and sharing memories.  And today, I’m so thankful for the memories we shared and the good times we had.  Rising Sun, Setting Sun, your Thunderbird loves you and thanks you for those memories!

THOUGHTS ABOUT MAMA

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal.  Love leaves a memory no one can steal.”  I heard this quote on a Hallmark Channel movie some time ago and it has never been more real to me than right now.  The first few days after Mama died were whirlwinds of getting stuff done; I didn’t have time to think about her and grieve her loss.  That has hit this week; Tuesday, Wednesday and today have been difficult both mentally and physically.  Mentally, today has been a bit better I think; but I’m still tired. 

The first part of the quote I’ve experienced off and on the past few days.  And absolutely, Mama’s absence just leaves a deep gash in my heart.  I thought about the last time I was over at their house with my guitar and we played some old hymns together; she on the piano.  I’ve heard Mama play the piano all my life, but I never enjoyed it as much as the day we played together and I have looked forward to going back and playing with her again.  And to know I won’t be able to do that hurts so much.  When she wasn’t puttering around the house preparing food or cleaning up after eating she would sit in her chair and we’d talk (at least until I nodded off for a little nap).  She always wanted to know about the kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids.  Those conversations were just normal catching up, but now they have a new meaning.  We won’t have those discussions any more.

And I can’t imagine the agony my dad is going through.  His companion for seventy+ years is not with him.  I hurt for Daddy too and I know his emptiness is far greater than mine. 

But the memories; sweet sweet memories.  No one can take them from us.  The memory of playing and singing with Mama is special; it hurts to know we won’t be able to do it again (here) but nonetheless I have that memory to hold and cherish forever.  Same with the conversations.  Because of her great love for us and ours for her, we have so many memories that “no one can steal.”

And for those memories and our love, I can still celebrate the fact that Mama was with us for a long time, she was relatively healthy, and did not have to suffer through a long and painful death. 

And Mama, I hope you, Nell and little Carter are having a wonderful time!

A MOTHER’S LEGACY

“Her children arise and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praises her.”  Proverbs 31:  28

My mother traded in her earthly tent for a crown early Tuesday morning and our family is reeling once again.  She left behind a loving husband, two sons and daughters-in-law, four grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren with another due in December.  She also left behind a niece who was more like a daughter than a niece, and many many friends.  To say she will be missed would be a gross injustice to the impact she had on so many lives.  She had an outstanding role model- her own mother. 

Mama would bake for weeks ahead of a holiday or family get-together to make sure everyone got their favorite dessert or veggie dish.  If anyone loved babies more than Mama I don’t know who it would be; I’ve seen some close rivals, but I’m not sure anyone could actually outlove her with a new baby. 

She defined the word love, yet I found ways to bring out her anger.  But even in her anger I still knew she loved me and only had my best interest at heart.  My sweet mother, when her dad sent her to the store to buy a plug of chewing tobacco, would bite off the corners and chew them on the way home.  My sweet little mother could drag a 60-80 pound bag of cotton with me riding on top of it to the dump wagon.  She washed and ironed almost everything including Daddy’s handkerchiefs, pillow cases, dish towels….  I often wondered why but I didn’t ever find out.  She worked at home until I started school, and occasionally was a substitute teacher.  When I started school she went to work in the school system to help pay the bills and feed two hungry boys.  Then she worked until she retired. 

Now she can rest.  But the vacuum she leaves behind in our lives is just a void that can’t be filled.  I love you, Mama. 

JOHNNIE MAE MILLER CHAMBERS

February 22, 1931-November 3, 2021

A MILLION TOMORROWS

Many things swirl in my head today; covid-19, peaceful demonstrations/protests, riots, vandalism, looting, burned buildings.  Many things I’ve seen before as a child and thought we were beyond all of that as a society.  Sure, I knew there were still pockets of all of these things, but I thought, as a whole, we had learned the lessons that would take us to a better life for everyone.  I guess that is still a possibility, that all of this unrest is not our way of life and the media of course is going to focus on whatever gets attention.  But I will admit that it’s worse than I thought, and certainly worse than it should be.

But amid all of these thoughts are pleasant and happy thoughts.  We’re enjoying spending extra time with our daughter, son-in-law and new granddaughter and today, June 8, Robin and I celebrate 46 years of marriage.  I remember funny things from our wedding night.  As Robin stood outside the church our good friend, Bill, cranked his Harley Davidson motorcycle for the first time since rebuilding it.  I didn’t hear it; I was already standing in place and was a nervous wreck anyway.  Once we left the church, I stopped at a gas station to clean the car windows that our wedding party decorated for us.  We had a four-hour drive to Calloway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga for our honeymoon; and I got lost.  So, we were late getting to Pine Mountain.  We saw a police car and asked him for directions to our motel and he just said “follow me.”  So, we had a police escort to our honeymoon site.

Fond memories of a great day in my life, but we have 46 years of fond memories and some memories that are almost unbearable to recall.  But that’s what life is, isn’t it?  It is experiences both good and bad and we hope the good outweighs the bad.  It certainly has for me, and I’m so thankful for my life and my wife.

Even amid all the turmoil I’m reminded of a line from John Denver’s 1975 song, “Today”: “A million tomorrows shall all pass away ‘ere I forget all the joy that is mine today.”

Happy anniversary Robin!! I love you!

BEAUTY FROM ASHES

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.… to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…” Is 61: 1-3

For three years we have held to the promise and hope of “beauty from ashes”. Sometimes our grip slipped a bit and we were afraid we’d let go, but we held on. It has been a bumpy ride at times; some days it seemed we couldn’t stop crying, just couldn’t make another step. It’s still that way, but those times seen to happen less frequently, and the duration is shorter.

We still miss Carter terribly and long to see him, hold him and watch him play. His memory will never leave us nor do we want it to. So today we will pay tribute to Carter and honor his life. We’ll remember how precious he was and I think Robin and I will be in Clam Bayou at 3:08 this afternoon to drop some flowers in the water.

But I will also breathe a prayer of gratitude for living long enough to see the fulfillment of His “beauty from ashes” promise.

Phoenix

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O.W. CHAMBERS AND O.W. REED

Olen Wesley Chambers (my paternal grandfather, also known as “Big Daddy”) was born May 13, 1906.  Olivia Walker Reed was born May 13, 2020.  It’s interesting to me that my grandfather and my granddaughter have the same birthday, separated by 114 years, and the same initials.

When I think about Big Daddy and all the changes he saw in his lifetime I’m amazed.  He lived through the Great Depression with a family to feed and care for.  Daddy was born in 1929 so technically he lived through the depression also, but probably doesn’t remember too much about it since he was so young.  But most all of the conveniences we take for granted came about during Big Daddy’s lifetime.  The telephone was invented in the late 1800s but wasn’t common in many houses until much later; same is true for electricity.  Cell phones were not even a dream on the horizon and now kids have their own phones.  Social media, the internet, even the computer, not even in Big Daddy’s field of view or imagination.  He knew farming, plowing with mules, hard work and long days.  I remember when Big Mama and Big Daddy enclosed their back porch and put a washer and dryer there.  Until that point Big Mama did the laundry in the basement with an old washing machine similar to this:

1930s washing machine

Then she hung the clothes outside on a line to dry.  Even Mama hung clothes outside to dry for many years and I can’t recall exactly when she got an “inside dryer”.

Thinking about all of the changes in Big Daddy’s life makes me wonder what little Olivia will see during her lifetime.  Technology is developing so rapidly I can’t even conceive what she will experience and see.

I remember my employer building and furnishing an entire room with seating for around 20 people for video-teleconferencing.  It cost a lot of money and in its day was pretty sophisticated.  Now, as we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic anyone with a computer can host a meeting on Zoom (or a similar platform) and the App is free.

So, no, my imagination just won’t carry me far enough to dream things this baby girl will see in the next 100 years or so.  But it’s exciting to think about it.

*NOTE:  After posting the above, I learned of the death of Ravi Zacharias yesterday .  In my opinion, Ravi was one of the century’s most prominent Christian apologists and I would put him right beside Chuck Colson and C. S. Lewis.  I never had the opportunity to hear him speak, but I’ve watched him on You Tube many times and have a couple of his books.  He was remarkable, and somehow, the world seems a little empty today. Rest in peace, Ravi.

MAY 19, 1982

Thirty-eight years ago today our first child was born. It was a long day of labor for Robin to finally end with a C-section late that night. I don’t have access to old photos or I would put her baby picture in the post. But here she is now, with her new baby, Olivia.

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Their birthdays are just six days apart so we’ll celebrate May birthdays. We seem to have birthdays in clumps in our family. July, December and now May have multiple birthdays in each month. We’re going to their house later this morning and Robin is going to make fresh biscuits for Katie’s breakfast (her favorite food). It is a rare treat for us to be with Katie on her birthday so today will be very special. We are unashamedly proud of our daughters, their husbands and children.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KATIE!! I love you very much!!