Posts Tagged With: family

Road Trips and Travels with Dad

When I was growing up, our family travels were usually limited to Beaumont (to see my maternal grandmother) and San Augustine (to Dad’s family farm, where his parents lived). Beyond that, we’d go to Fort Worth, where his sister lived and to Longview (where his brother moved in1970). Occasionally we visited friends near Houston in Humble, where we lived for almost 4 years. We just didn’t have the money for a real vacation.

I was 15 before we went on a real vacation — and that was the summer of what I came to call the Texas History Tour. A couple of days at Galveston (beach for us, hotel with pool for Mother), a couple of days for San Antonio (the Alamo, the Riverwalk area — which was being developed then — and other sites, including Breckenridge Park and Zoo) some time in Austin (where Dad attended the University of Texas) and Fort Worth. I learned lots of history during that trip, including details of Dad’s few semesters as a student. He showed us where his boarding house was, where he worked. Of course, we had to visit the capitol itself.

Only after I grew up did Dad and Mother have the money and time to expand their vacations. For a while they had a pop-up travel trailer, and then an RV, and enjoyed camping with friends (again, with electricity and air-conditioning for Mother).

For a few years, Dad and Phil took time travel to West Texas for deer hunting with cousins.

After Mother died, and then Phil, Dad and I had new opportunities to travel together. The first time was rather sad — after Phil died, Dad and I flew to Florida and drove his Jimmy back, with a travel trailer of his belongings. That was the first time Dad had been in a plane, other than not-so-happy experience years before. It was fun to be with him despite the sad occasion, in part because he was so curious about everything. New places and people meant that he had lots to observe and absorb. Driving back from Florida together gave us more time, driving through places we’d never been before, tracing the Gulf Coast from Florida before ending up back in Egan.

Not long after Phi’s fiancee moved to Phoenix, we flew out there to visit her for a few days. Once more, I was amused to watch Dad watch everything. His curiosity meant he was always interested in new areas, new places. And after Phil’s fiancee moved to Germany for a few years for a job, Dad surprised me by announcing that we were going to visit her and see where he’d been stationed at the end of World War II and at the beginning of the Occupation. It was my responsibility to make the arrangements. He got a passport, and we were off as soon as I’d turned my grades in that fall term.

I’d grown up hearing some stories about his time in the service. Now I got to see places as he talked yet more about his service time during and following the Battle of the Bulge and into the Occupation. Often it occurred to me that this was a trip that he and Phil would have truly enjoyed together, so in part I felt that I was there for Phil as well.

While Darcy worked, Dad and I sat in the house, talking a lot. He’s go out on the balcony, which had a wonderful view of not only houses, but farming and mountains. He spent lots of time out there, despite the cold, noting the planting patterns, where people walked, and anything else he could notice. I’d walk to a bakery or a store. Sometimes we took the bus around, and once more his attention to the smallest details fascinated me. That someone could drive such big buses in such small streets (obviously built before cars and buses) amazed him — he even noticed that the driver occasionally moved the side mirrors in so that he could maneuver more easily. One day we went to a Christmas fair in Bonn, walking and shopping, stopping for coffee and chocolate. He loved that people were allowed to bring their dogs in with them (on leashes).

One day, the three of us took the train down to Weinheim, the small town where he’d been stationed. With Darcy’s little bit of German and my ability with a map, we located the street where he’d been billeted. The town was never bombed and after the war lots of people found their way there. When he’d been there, the town had a population of maybe 4500 or 5000, and when we were there, there were probably 48,000 people. He was successful in locating where certain things had been. On our train ride back north, he pointed out places that had been important for one reason or another. Many times, he just spent time enjoying the landscape, the river, and the houses. The trip was only for a couple of weeks, but he talked about it for the rest of his life, remembering details and talking about all sorts of things. What a treasure to have experienced that with him.

For Christmas weekend, he and I flew to Athens. We walked up to the Acropolis, and I cherish the photo someone took of us standing in front of the Parthenon. I took him to eat in a taverna in Plaka, and he loved all the vegetables. Friends of mine met us for coffee at our hotel near Syntagma Square. And Dad was with me when a realtor picked us up to take me to see the apartment I was thinking of buying. After I purchased it months later, he enjoyed seeing photographs of the work I did in the apartment, proud that I took the time to paint it myself, that I managed to find furniture and get it delivered (negotiating in my limited Greek).

He’d come to the beach with me, and with Kay and me. It surprised him that he enjoyed it so much — but he found it very relaxing. He spent lots of time sitting on the deck, watching the surf a little bit away, drinking coffee — or lying down and reading.

Periodically we’d talk about road trips we’d like to take. We never did, though. Our trips were confined to the farm. The last couple of years he was alive, I did the driving, and he got a kick out of that. Frequently he’d compliment me on my driving skills, grinning that someone had taught me well (yes, he taught me – when I was 9). For the first time, he had the opportunity to enjoy the scenery while someone else drove. It was nice, he’d say, to have a chauffeur.

One spring, we flew to Reno. I rented a car and drove us to Lake Tahoe to a time share I’d bought. There was a late snow, and we spent much time in our room. Just watching the snow entertained him for hours, along with the snowplows clearing roads. Getting him to dialysis was another adventure — one day it was impossible because of the snow, but I managed to get him to a second dialysis day. His home clinic assured me that that would be fine.

As Dad became less able to travel, we simply sat at home in Egan, with short trips to Crowley for dialysis or shopping, occasionally spending time in hospitals. Even so, we traveled far and wide in memories, in conversations, and in imagination.

Dad was interested in so much. He loved to read. He watched television shows from PBS and History Channel. I don’t think he was ever bored. I know I’m not. Indeed, we’d often wonder how people could be bored when there was so much to know, to study, to see. Always curious and ready to learn, he probably would have enjoyed more traveling than he got to do. But he was happy with what he had seen.

Frequently I am reminded of Dad and his curiosity about new places, his wide-ranging interests. It’s not difficult to trace the genesis of my own itchy feet and love of learning.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Emptied Space

This weekend was Labor Day weekend, always in the past the time of my dad’s family reunion — the Richards family reunion that his maternal grandfather started. It’s the first time we haven’t held it on this weekend, but instead will meet in a month, the first weekend in October, and establish the new reunion.

Once, I suspect, this weekend made sense. With a Monday holiday, that allowed everyone to travel to San Augustine, spend Sunday morning at church and then go on to Papa Richards’s for the reunion meal. It was outside. In time, it moved across the road to Uncle Ben’s house, then back across the road to Papa Richards’s house after Uncle Ben died. The heat became more problematic, and as the elders aged, we moved the reunion into town to a community center that we rented. Now, though, many have died and fewer can come at Labor Day. So we’re moving to a friend’s place that will accommodate us all, regardless of numbers, and to the first weekend in October, when it’s cooler.

This weekend I found myself thinking about the reunion, and about Dad, and Mother, and Phil. About those who can no longer attend the reunion.

And when Seamus Heaney died this week, I also found myself thinking about his poetry. One poem in particular, “Clearances,” stayed with me, about the death of his mother.

Part of the poem, though, haunts me. I felt it when my mother died — to my own great surprise. And I feel it now, since Dad has died. Let me share those lines with you:

” Then she was dead,
The searching for a pulsebeat was abandoned
And we all knew one thing by being there.
The space we stood around had been emptied
Into us to keep, it penetrated
Clearances that suddenly stood open.
High cries were felled and a pure change happened.

I thought of walking round and round a space
Utterly empty, utterly a source
Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place
In our front hedge above the wallflowers.
The white chips jumped and jumped and skited high.
I heard the hatchet’s differentiated
Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh
And collapse of what luxuriated
Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.
Deep-planted and long gone, my coeval
Chestnut from a jam jar in a hole,
Its heft and hush became a bright nowhere,
A soul ramifying and forever
Silent, beyond silence listened for.”

When Mother died, I felt that hole open up, a hole that she had filled. I knew that no one could or would ever fill it.

When Dad died, yet another hole opened, again one that could not be filled.

Between them, they’d taught me so much. Mother taught me about patience, about independence, about so many things. Possibly, even, more than either of us even realized at the time. Now I have a much greater appreciation for her own struggles with depression, with anxiety, with a sense of value. Perhaps I had to grow up more quickly as a result, and felt that I missed out on something that other “normal” families shared. Yet as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate so much more how she had to feel, and wish that I could apologize to her and thank her at the same time.

Mother was a traditional stay-at-home mother. She worked outside the home until children came, and then gave that up. To my knowledge, that’s what she wanted. I had the security of knowing she’d be there when I got home, that a snack would be ready.
Even when I knew that I wanted to work outside the home when/if I ever married, I realized how fortunate I was.

Dad worked and brought in the paycheck. Yet he spent far more time at home, and taking part in the household activities, than many men of his generation. Dad cooked at times, cleaned at times. We all had chores. We all worked. Dad spent afternoons and nights with us. He didn’t go out with other guys. When he was on a bowling team, we all went. When we had school events, Dad was there, along with Mother.

When Mother was ill– when she was having severe problems with her anxiety, problems we called “breakdowns” in the 50s and 60s, he stayed with her when many men wouldn’t have done so. “For better or worse” was lived in our house — those weren’t empty words, not at all. And we knew it.

Mother and Dad fought against the odds of different religions to marry and to create a harmonious home that was respectful of both religions, both traditions, both families.

Both sides of my immediate family knew each other. They still do. They ask about each other.

The empty holes that my parents left with their deaths are still there, but I also am left with, as Heaney noted, “the space [that] had been emptied / Into us to keep.”

Those holes aren’t really empty. They are clearances, where something passed from Mother and then Dad and now reside in me.

The holes are in fact filled beyond belief, filled with the myriad memories and lessons.

Maybe this reunion weekend was a time for such recognition, such comfort. I’m not feeling desolation right now, though I still sense the loss their deaths have left. I’m feeling the spaces they still fill, despite their deaths.

But I think today of the spaces they emptied — and what they emptied into us. I have so much that is a direct result of something Mother or Dad or Phil said or did. Or simply what they were. Our lives are still tied, though perhaps in different ways now.

This Labor Day weekend I spent time with Kay, with our cousin Barbara (Dad’s niece) and her husband Herb, with our cousin Carolyn (Mother’s niece) and her husband Larry, and our friend Charles, whose dad also worked for Sun Oil and who grew up in the camp with us.

Next month, my cousin Mike (Dad’s nephew) and his wife Sissy will meet me at the beach house. Maybe we’ll get together with our cousin Jim (Dad’s nephew), who lives on the island.

And on the first weekend of October, we’ll have the new, revised reunion. Many of my immediate family will be there. My dad’s sister certainly will be. A number of their first cousins from the Richards side will be there also. And some of the younger generation will be as well. We’ll all bring food, eat far more than we need, and share stories and laughter.

The place we meet and the time we meet don’t really matter. That we meet does matter.

We spend time together not out of obligation, but out of love.

That’s what family does.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s All Relative and Friendly

It’s Labor Day weekend, and I’m at Crystal Beach, enjoying the beach house that my sister and I rebuilt last year. One of the pleasures — even joys — of having this new place is more room — and private room — to host family and friends.

Not that I couldn’t do that in the previous one, but it was only about 650 square feet in one room with a kitchen in it and a bathroom. You know the term “open concept”? That was the layout. It had a double bed, two twin beds, and a futon. If you wanted privacy, forget it. You just had to retreat into a book and your own head.

Here, though, in 825 square feet, Kay and I have 3 bedrooms, one bath, and a kitchen/living room. With a double bed in each bedroom (and a sleeper chair in addition, in one), and a double-size sleeper sofa, we can accommodate 9, depending on sleeping arrangements.

Sometimes we are here together, as this Labor Day weekend. Sometimes, Kay comes down. Other times, I’m here. We’ve both had friends stay with us.

And this time, we have had not only a friend but relatives.

I came over on Thursday, and our cousin Barbara and her husband Herb followed me; they’d been in Lake Charles overnight. Kay arrived a couple of hours after we did. Barbara and Herb and I had lunch, then rode down the beach for miles, looking at the beach houses and observing the many flocks of brown pelicans up and down the beach. Some groups of them were on the beach with terns and cow-birds. Others swirled overhead, dive-bombing into the Gulf to snatch fish out of the schools near the surface.

We rode, we stopped, we looked. We laughed a lot. There was a running commentary about the houses, the colors, the designs.

Kay had brought homemade tamales from Zwolle, Louisiana (home of the Zwolle Tamale Festival). We feasted.

Friday morning, coffee and doughnuts from Dannay’s. More laughter, more fun. Barbara and Herb packed up and left for Houston, where they were going to see their son play with the band he’s in.

By mid-afternoon, our friend Charles drove up. I’ve known Charles for 56 years — we moved into the Egan SunOil camp on his birthday in 1957. We started first grade together; we graduated high school together. Our parents moved houses onto lots across the street from each other when the camp was broken up. Now that all our parents are dead, we still have those houses.

Lots of time for tamales and cheese dip, naps, and various adult beverages.

Saturday was very slow and lazy. We did some shopping. We visited. We sat on the deck. But mainly we just hung out together. Didn’t want to waste our energy — we knew we’d be going to Galveston. That’s because last night we had tickets for a concert in Galveston. Going over about 5:30 was perfect — no lines. The concert was at 8; Robert Earl Keen played a solid two hours. By 11 we were back at Crystal Beach — again, no lines at all at the ferry. The timing was perfect — we drove right onto the ferry with no wait.

Over the last couple of days, lots of people have crowded the beaches here, seeking the last free weekend before schools really absorb them. I’ve avoided the beach — too crowded. Many of our neighbors have also come in, pulling out their golf carts and firing up grills. Music wafts in from many streets away at times. It’s lively, to say the least.

But us? We’re pretty low-key. We talk and laugh and eat and nap.

Today, we woke up whenever we wanted, drank coffee an diet Coke, munched on breakfast stuff. There was no agenda, other than a visit from another cousin.

For lunch, my cousin Carolyn and her husband Larry drove over from League City. Again more laughter and lots of chatter. We told stories about our family, about our mothers, our grandmother. Carolyn and Larry decided not to fight the long multiple lanes of waiting lines at the ferry and left to drive back via I-10 instead.

You can roast in those lines. And spent far more times than you want. I know; I’ve done it before, and will do it again, when necessary. Obviously, there were lots of people heading over here to the beach today. Another reason I’ve stayed home today, other than going out to lunch.

By afternoon, I was sleepy. I took my iPad and lay down under a quilt, read for a while, and dozed. Periodically, I’d get up, wander to the bathroom or kitchen. By six, it was time to rise and join the world.

In between, we watched television. This afternoon, for instance, we’ve watched several Alfred Hitchcock films. At least Kay and Charles have; I’ve napped. Dinner is over.

And Psycho is now on. Can’t stand the shower scene. But I watch nonetheless.

Tomorrow we’ll pack up, clean the house, and leave for now. Others will be doing the same. I know I’ll be back next weekend.

This house was built for such times. Not only for Kay and me. It’s a place where we relax completely. And we entertain.

Our house doesn’t compare to some others — even on our street. It’s modest. Others are much larger, more ornate, more expensive. But it suits us. Not too much to maintain.
One of the reasons I bought the original place in 1997 was that I could sit on the street in my car and hear the surf. I could see the beach. Once I saw the place from inside and the deck, I could seek the potential. True, there was no insulation. The plywood walls were dark. But it was close enough to the beach. And I could paint.

And so the place came to be mine. The furniture came with it. I painted. I bought some new dishes and brought things to make it mine. I bought sheets and bedspreads. With a television, a DVR, and a CD player/radio, it offered entertainment too.

I spent New Years 1999/2000 here with friends, watching fireworks and drinking champagne. Dad spent time here with me, with Kay. I have wonderful memories of our family here.

When Hurricane Ike hit here and left me with what I called “the lovely slab,” I didn’t really want to rebuild. Not then. But I didn’t sell the lot, either. I couldn’t afford to, and I didn’t really want to. I loved coming here; I always had. So I kept the lot, eventually bought a used camper trailer, moved it here, and enjoyed more beach time with Dad and Kay.

Many times Kay and I talked about rebuilding, and though we didn’t we knew that one day that would happen. Dad knew too.

So last year, we did. And we spent our first Christmas without Dad here, beginning a new family tradition.

This place is new, but it’s filled with old memories — from summers with my grandmother who used to rent down here, from the times spent here until Ike wiped it out. The furniture is a mixture of old, new, and repurposed from flea markets and estate sales and antique stores. When Kay asks about moving something here that one of us already owns, I ask here whether she can stand to watch it wash away or disappear (after all, another hurricane is always a possibility). Usually, she decides not to move it here if it’s really something sentimental.

Now, though– we continue to put our touches on this place. Today, for example, we got a wrench — didn’t have one, but we didn’t need one either. We’ve got a drill, but I know we need a set of tools here. That’s on the list of “things to get,” which grows.

But we fill the place with new memories too. Every time we visit, together or alone. With friends. With relatives.

Whether the houses around us are large or small, ornate or plain, this area has rebuilt. It’s living again. It’s got its groove back.

Tomorrow I’ll head back to Lake Charles.

It’s only a two-hour drive, and the road runs both ways. There’s always more time, more time for visits with family and friends.

Barbara and I are already planning on a visit when she and Herb will come down to meet me here — with their daughter, her husband, and their two babies. We’ll hope to get her brother Jim here too since he lives on the island.

Time to savor those family ties, those friendships.


Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Small Steps

Tuesday sunshine streams through the front door glass and through the windows.  As I sit here in the new office space, the sunshine through the window lets me see that the yard needs mowing again, so that’s another chore to add to the never-ending list.

Yesterday was a good day, all in all.  I talked to Dad’s primary-care physician finally — and we’re waiting to see a few things before decisions about hospice are appropriate, she advises.  First, does his mental state improve once he’s off the Duragesic patch?  Second, can we get his pain under control?  And third, what does his nephrologist say?

By last night, with the patch off for 24 hours, he was clear and himself.  We had a good conversation, and he recognized my cousin Carolyn immediately, which was great.  They had a chance to talk, and that was good for both of them.  He was tired, but clear-headed.  He hadn’t had any pain meds since 11 a.m, but it was also not a dialysis day; this meant that he’d had PT in the morning, taken the pain pill, and been in bed all day.  We’ll see what the pain is like today, when he has PT, then dialysis.

Today will give us a better sense of how the pain is.  Dad’s doctor is waiting to have her call returned from the nephrologist, so we’ll see what happens then.  She doesn’t want any decisions made based on his mental state on Monday, when he started pulling needles and tubes out at dialysis.She and I talked for a while, agreeing that Dad’s pain level was our key here, and his quality of life our guide, coupled with information from his nephrologist.  So we’re on hold, sort of, waiting to see what happens.

But she knows I’m under no illusions about the future, too.  I’ve talked to cousins and aunts now, and they’re aware of the changes, the talks with doctors, and the decisions.  I texted everyone on Monday, after talking with Kay and making decisions about actions.  By yesterday, I’d talked to everyone.  Decisions will be made, but not necessarily in the next few days, which is a great relief to me, at least temporarily.  Those decisions will get here soon enough.  I have space to breathe, to work, and to think now.  And — fingers crossed — to enjoy Dad, clear-headed and conversational.

Yesterday I made progress here at home, with my friend Patty helping me.  I worked in the kitchen, clearing more cabinets, wiping them out and cleaning them, and sorting through food, spices, dishes, and everything else that was crammed together indiscriminately.  Now the food items are all together in the new little pie safe I bought in Lake Charles at an antique store/flea market.  Spices are in one covered container.  Only the cooking oils and salt and pepper and chili powder are in the cabinet near the stove.  In the narrow cabinet space between the refrigerator and the stove, where all sorts of things were shoved and way out of date, more cleaning was necessary — lots of mouse evidence from gnawed bags, loose beans and cornmeal, and so on.  Now that’s where the boxes of storage bags, plastic wrap, aluminum foil and garbage bags now get to stay.  They’re organized, easy to get to, and centralized; they’re no longer scattered in three places.

We’d stop and talk.  It’s the first time she has ever been here to Egan, so she was interested in everything.  She got to experience my day, with people simply walking in the house and chatting.  She met my good friends here and got to talk to them.  She and my cousin Carolyn talked.  After she left, I turned to Carolyn and said “Bessie Cobb.”  Carolyn smiled and said “I’d already thought that!”  Bessie was one of our grandmother’s oldest and dearest friends, a short little round woman from New Jersey who was just as straight-talking and direct as they come.  Bessie was just another one of our family, and Patty has always reminded me of Bessie.  Now I have confirmation of my impression.  Shared memories and experiences with Carolyn anchor so much for me.

We’d talk and visit.  Then it was back to work.

Typically, I was hoping for more, but then I always do.  Patty got the clothes washed, dried, and folded and worked on Kay’s room while I worked in the kitchen.  She’ll come back on Friday, and by then I hope to have other progress evident.  Now I’m washing Dad’s clothes.  I’ll do a bit of work here in the office area while the clothes are washing and then drying.  Maybe, only maybe will I get back to the kitchen area.

Small steps and progress — I can see this, though there are moments when I look at all that is left and get discouraged at that.  I forget just how much has been done in a short four weeks.  That’s me — I typically expect more to get done than is truly possible in a given amount of time.  I’m learning, though, to keep focused on the progress.

So . . . today:  clothes for Dad, more organizing of boxes in here, more garbage bags of “toss” and more boxes of “donate” — and then maybe the yard.  If the riding mower is working properly.  We’re supposed to get more rain on Saturday, and I want to get the yard done before another deluge.  The ground is soft, but it isn’t too boggy for mowing.  Not yet.  The clover is attractive, but we don’t live in a wild meadow, after all.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m one of those kid’s toys, the Weebles.  I get knocked around, knocked down, but keep popping back up after a little while, back in place.  Now, though, I think I’m a Weeble on a roller coaster.  The roller coaster ride differs every day now, with one day bringing me to the very depths of things when Dad is in great pain and moaning that no one should have to live like that, and the next taking me to the top for a little while — for a moment of respite when he’s pain-free and clear and talkative — before the track plunges down again.  I know the roller coaster won’t last forever and that at some point it will even out and glide home and stop.  Until then, I’ll breathe, and like the Weeble I’ll roll around, bounce around, and stabilize.  Repeat.  Repeat. Repeat.

Visits like the one yesterday from my cousin mean so much. She’s always been more like my older sister; we’ve always been very close.  I talk about needing a “Carolyn fix” at times, and those are always good for me.  We talk about all sorts of things.  Our mothers were sisters; they’re both dead now.  Our grandmother is dead.  Our aunts are gone too.  Her sister Terry has been gone for few years.  My sister is 7 years younger.  Carolyn and I talk about being the family memory now — and her children and Terry’s look to us.  It’s a sobering thought when you realize that you are now one of the family elders.  In our rather matriarchal family that’s a big responsibility.  A joy at times, but a responsibility.  As much as we talked to our mothers and our grandmother, there are still questions we’d love to ask, mysteries we’d love to get solved.

I’m energized today.  Tired and allergy-eyed, but energized and mobilized.

Progress yesterday.  Progress today.  Small steps.  Big gains.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: