Of sadness and happiness and being oh so very lucky…

Me and Sandy at a McDonald family gathering, early 90’s.

Sometimes you can get a text message that makes your whole day. Sometimes the message breaks your heart. Sometimes…all of the above.

I got the photo to the right during a class this morning, and as soon as I saw that it was from one of my favorite cousins, Margaret, I had an idea of what it was. I opened the message and my breath caught in my throat.

There is so much in this photo to unpack, and I’m only just scratching the surface, but here goes. On the surface, this is a picture of me and my cousin Sandy who left us last month due to a degenerative muscle disease that he has had for many years. Most of the time my husband knew him, Sandy used a wheelchair. I honestly can’t put a date on the last time he was independently mobile like he is in this photo. Sandy and I…I don’t know how to even begin to describe our relationship, and if I spend too much time trying this post will be over before it begins and I will have to walk away and compose myself. There we are, though, pouring over what I’m sure is either photos from an Amy Grant concert or Camp Glisson, just as we always did at the quarterly McDonald family gatherings that I attended every three months of every year of my life until I went to live in England. How many extended families see each other THAT much? My mother’s people are close, y’all. Close.

My father’s family, the Allens, usually saw each other at Christmas and very often my Aunt Inez (the one of his four sisters that was the closest to my father and was very much a second mother for me and Susan) would join us when we hosted the McDonalds – but the rest of my paternal extended family just wasn’t as close in the same way, I suppose?

The second thing I noticed in this photo happened as I was trying to identify when it was taken. When you have a get together EVERY three months there are a lot of possibilities. First thing I noticed is that it is not Christmas. How do I know that? Two things:

  • My dad, who is in the background holding a child, is not wearing anything red, green, or otherwise both in a plaid. The man is nothing if not consistent. Also, I am not wearing shoes. Leaving aside the jokes about being born and raised in the Southern United States, I would have had shoes on in December. It really does get cold in Georgia, I promise.
  • There are no presents or wrapping paper anywhere in the photo. One thing I remember clearly about the number of McDonald Family Christmases that my parents hosted was that there was always a mountain of wrapping paper for me and Susan to clean up when it was over. 

Next, I had to confirm that it was indeed at one of the 8 parsonages where I lived growing up. I’m guessing from the curtain and the photo behind Sandy’s head this was taken when Mom and Dad were in Commerce. The dish in my hand is one of a collection that had a rooster right in the middle of the plates and bowls that my parents had. I’m sure there is nothing but whipped cream in it, either.

Further, once I enhanced the photo a little I could see that the necklace I’m wearing is most likely my Sigma Beta Sigma necklace that I wore my freshman and sophomore years of college. I stopped wearing it when I got to Maryville in 1991 because MC did not have social greek organizations and I was 19 and all about BLENDING IN so the necklace stayed at home with my folks.

We are narrowed down now to somewhere between August of 1989 and June of 1991, and I’m leaning toward the spring gathering in 1991. My hair was short, but not yet the gorgeous Molly Ringwald inspired orange that I dyed it shortly before graduation in June of 1991. THAT IS MY NATURAL HAIR COLOR, PEOPLE. Also, please note the Artist-Wanna-Be pose that I’m striking in that chair. Back then I was in theatre and was going to be an actor, and since Sandy had been involved in theatre and performing, it was an easy match.

So, if this is around March of 1991, I was 19 and a half and Sandy was 28. We were the two edges of the gap in age for our McDonald cousins. Susan was the youngest (she is 4.5 years younger than I am) and Havelyn (not pictured) was the oldest. There were 7 of us and we ranged in age (at the time of this photo) from 14 to…I don’t know, Havelyn might have been in her 40s then? Susan tended to be more into playing with our second cousins who were all younger than she, and I desperately wanted to be cool like my older cousins. Sandy never treated me like anything less than an equal, even with the nine-year age gap. He came to visit me when I was at Young Harris and he wrote a song for me afterward. It is one of the great regrets of my life that I no longer have the cassette that he gave me that had that song on it.

So while this photo initially brought tears to my eyes because I miss him – I miss this kind of family, this kind of gathering where we are all happy and enjoying each other’s company and not worrying over ill health or missing the latest family member to leave us… I am happy in those memories in a way I haven’t been lately. I’ve put Amy Grant back in my Spotify for Sandy, to remember how he took me and Susan to see her in Atlanta at the Omni. I’m going to the Highland Games and repping Clan Donald, even though I’ve only gotten my own genealogy back to the ancestor that left Scotland for America.

I said to Susan today that we were so very lucky to grow up in this family, filled with love, always visiting and keeping in touch. In the world today where so many people have so little and families aren’t always able to see each other as often as they would prefer, I can say with pride that I did not have back then that I was raised part of the McDonald family (or clan, as my Uncle Lewis used to call us). Raised up in love.

What a long strange…year…it’s about to be.

Starry, Starry Blackberry Wallpaper

I’m not going to do my standard “Year in Review” post today.  I’m also not going to list resolutions for the new year that I will certainly break.  What I am going to do is tell you my plans for the year, so that this time 2014 I can look at this post again and see how close I got to getting it all right.

A short disclaimer:  This optimism is destined not to last, so enjoy it while it is here.  I’m sure I’ll be back to my regular emo ray of sunshine self very, very soon.

This year is going to be very lucky for me and mine.  We have a house.  We will have a fence and a deck soon.  Our basement floor will return to normal.  We will get all our boxes from the overseas move unpacked before summer.  We will have guests from the UK and the US and Canada and wherever else we have friends to come stay with us. I will be having a Eurovision finals party at my house in May. Daisy and Clown will maintain, healthy and happy, as they are today.

Our family will grow.  We’ve gotten downright scientific about this whole process, and while we will definitely increase the canine population of the house with a larger and fuzzier newcomer, I am confident that we will also add to our family of humans.

I will get something published.  In the past, I have resolved to “make part of my living with my writing” and I’ve done that. Daisy’s book and my others are still available on Lulu.com. This year, however, is when that takes a step up.  This is the year that all my nano-noveling and other pecking at my keyboard will be shared with the world, as well as the year that I truly start to believe that I have a story to tell that people want to read.

I will be doing more things in the name of self-care.  There will be yoga and meditation to quiet my mind as well as a dedicated effort to start running again while my knees will still allow me to do so.

There will be travel.  Watch this space, as I will be filling all five or six of you in on my travels in a more timely manner than I have in the past.  Along those lines, and in combination with the above publishing work, there will be a photo book in the works of our honeymoon trip.  We are fairly decent photogs, me and my Mister, and I want to share the incredible experience we had with others.

I am going to be a better listener and friend, and will spend more time doing and less time talking about doing.  Of course, this blog doesn’t count…

Finally, I’m going to look back on this post on 1 Jan 2014 and smile at all I’ve accomplished this year.  Happy New Year, Lettuce Readers.  Live long and prosper, and all that jazz.

Soon and very soon…

See that view? That’s what my parents see EVERY DAY as they eat their meals, venture out onto their back porch, or just gaze out the windows in the great room. I don’t know what mountain that is, exactly, but I’m sure my dad does. He was born and raised just across the road from where this picture was taken, and has made these mountains home his entire life.

There are just 20 days left until Simon and I leave for our much needed holiday in America. While I’m still fretting over fitting in visits to everyone that I want to see, scheduling a time to meet with a real estate agent in Greenville, and possibly chasing down leads for jobs for me once we move back, I’m also just desperate to be home. I think it’s the amount of time I’ve been away this time that’s making the homesickness worse, plus the stress of the house not selling and all the rest.

But seriously, if you had THAT view to look forward to, why would you ever leave? Soon and very soon, we are going to see…home.

Visitors on my Birthday


Visitors
Originally uploaded by Nancy Allen

For my birthday this year I woke up to three gorgeous whitetail does in my parent’s “backyard” (really, it’s the woods!). Isn’t she just adorable? Thank goodness for a zoom lens, and apologies for the quality but it was taken from the other side of a window.

Today I’m thankful for the ability to see the wonders of our earth like this little doe and her two “girlfriends” having brunch in the backyard. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!