A Tuesday Reunion

Yesterday I spent some time filling out my planner for the week. One of my goals is to be more diligent about scheduling my time. That encompasses responsibilities and fun! So when I sat down yesterday and entered appointments and to-do’s in my Agenda 52 Planner, tomorrow’s entry was especially exciting.

Years ago when I worked at the law firm, I had the pleasure of working for a legal assistant named Sallie. We were a good match and I enjoyed working for her until life took us in different directions. We lost touch for many years, and then one day I decided to see if I could reconnect with her through Facebook, and was happily successful!

Tomorrow (or today, depending on when you read this) we are meeting for lunch and I think we both are as excited as little kids. It will be so nice to catch up with each other after such a long time. She is a wordsmith, in addition to many other things (a lawyer, a realtor, a homeless animal advocate), and I look forward to hearing all about life since we worked together back in the day.

I’m not sure lunch is going to be long enough.

A Good & Faithful Man

A good and faithful man lived in the white brick house next door to my mom. Retired, he took care of his house and he watched his grandchildren when they got out of school each day. One day he decided to mow my mom’s yard when he mowed his own. Mom looked out the window and was surprised to see him pushing his mower across her backyard. If I remember right, she opened the backdoor and waited for him to see her there — at which point she said, “Jose, you don’t have to do that! My son-in-law mows it when he can.”

Jose just smiled and nodded his head and said something to the effect of he didn’t mind helping out today.

Eventually, my husband stopped taking his mower to my mom’s because Jose never let the grass get tall enough for my husband to be able to mow. Every time Jose mowed his yard, he would just keep on going until Mom’s yard was mowed, too. It wasn’t just a blessing to Mom. It was a blessing to my husband because he didn’t have to load his riding mower onto the trailer and make the 80 mile roundtrip to mow Mom’s yard.

Mom always said, “We need to do something for Jose. He is so faithful. We need to get him a gift card, bake him a cake, or something.” This was around the time Mom got sick for the last time, and we were preoccupied with doctors’ appointments, radiation treatments, and chemo pills. So we never got around to doing something for Jose.

The day of Mom’s funeral, we were so comforted by the people who came to pay their respects. The person who surprised us, and possibly touched our hearts in the most unexpected way, though, was Jose, sitting in the back row of the funeral home chapel. He smiled and shook our hands and told us how sorry he was for our loss.

Not long afterwards, my sister and I both agreed, “We need to do something for Jose.” Once we decided on selling the house, we made plans on how best to utilize the funds we would earn after the sale. At the top of the list was “something for Jose.” Our commitment to that grew even more, because our good neighbor remained faithful, continuing to mow our yard while we worked on the house.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a thank you note for everything he’d done and my sister went to the bank and withdrew some nice, crisp bills to include with our note. We both agreed that while the sum seemed quite generous by some accounts, we wished it could have been more.

We met up at his house on a Saturday morning and rang the bell. Jose came to the door with his usual smile and we both hugged him and gave him the envelope. He didn’t really look at it at the time; we chatted for several minutes and he told us he had meant to mow the yard before the new owners moved in, but his mower broke down. I told him it was alright because my husband had stopped by with his own mower after doing some yard work for his mother in Dickinson. He just hadn’t been able to mow the backyard because he couldn’t get the mower back there. Jose smiled and said, “I got it after I got my mower fixed. I wanted the new owners to start out with a nice yard.”

After chatting a few more minutes and emphasizing how much Mom (and we) had appreciated him over the years, we hugged again and said we hoped we would see him sometime. We started walking back to our cars, and then had the thought that maybe we should tell the neighbors on the other side how nice their new neighbors were, and say thank you for being good neighbors all these years. We rang their doorbell a couple of times, but no one ever answered, so we started walking back to our cars to leave. At that moment, we saw Jose trotting across the front yard of our old house.

“You made a mistake! You made a mistake!”

Jose thought we’d accidentally put money in his thank you note that was supposed to go towards a bill! We started laughing and told him that it was for him, at which point he said, “Oh, NO! It’s too much! I never did that expecting to get paid!”

We reassured him that we knew he didn’t, that he was a good and faithful neighbor and we wanted to bless him the way he had blessed Mom and us. He shook his head, and then told us a story:

When he first bought his house, he didn’t have a mower and wasn’t able to get one. All he had was a weed wacker. So he used the weed wacker to keep his yard as trimmed up as he could. While he was trimming his yard, he said he prayed to God. He told God, “If you’ll help me get a mower, I will use it to help someone else.” He got a mower and then he said, “I had to keep my side of the bargain.” He didn’t want to ask, and he hoped she wouldn’t get upset or “call the cops” — he just started mowing a little bit of Mom’s yard, and then a little bit more, until he was mowing the entire yard.

And so that’s how Jose started mowing our mom’s yard. He did more than that, though. He kept an eye out for her. One day he saw her taking her trash bag to the outdoor can and she stumbled a little. He jogged over to make sure she was okay, and then he told her, “Just put your trash bag by the front door and I’ll put it in the can for you.” From that point on, he took care of that for her every week.

He is definitely a good and faithful man, and maybe a little bit of an angel, too.

The Gift of Lifetime Friends

My guy and I, along with our girl, spent years 1997 – 1999 living in Huntsville, Texas. We moved there, where we’d originally met in college in 1985, when AJ accepted a position in the Human Resources department with the state prison system. Though short, those were good years for us, in large part because we became friends with another married couple who would prove to be more like family than friends.

We visited a church called Family Faith one Sunday and really liked it. The worship was powerful and the sermon series on family was spot on for what we needed at the time. I don’t think it was very long at all, maybe two or three weeks, that one of the ladies there, Lucy Arnold, told me, “You need to meet Alena. I just know you will be great friends.”

I am so grateful for Lucy’s intuition, because she was 100% right regarding Alena. I was 33 years old, Alena was 24 — we immediately hit it off and became fast friends. We both loved to read, we were both relatively new mothers since we had toddlers and she had another baby while we lived in Huntsville. I loved how easy it was to talk with Alena — about anything and everything. She always took her life experiences and turned them around to what God had done for her, what He had taught her. Even though she was younger than me, I learned so much from her!

The bonus of our developing friendship was the friendship that grew between our husbands, too. When two married women become close friends, friendship between their spouses is not always a given. The fact that the four of us enjoy each others’ company so much is a real gift and one we do not take for granted, and it was Clyde who officiated at our wedding vow renewal a few weeks ago. A two hour drive now separates us, but when the opportunity to fellowship presents itself, we are delighted to rearrange schedules, whatever is needed to be able to spend that time together!

Today is Clyde’s 60th birthday and with his characteristic spontaneity he decided to take a day trip to his favorite place, the beach. Alena contacted us to see if we could meet them and their kids out there and, of course, the answer was “yes!” We made it out to Peregrine, going toward San Luis Pass, and the guys got the little portable grill going for hot dogs while Alena and I took a walk down the beach. Such a sweet visit catching up with each other! Upon our return, a fire pit had been dug and a small wood fire was burning in preparation for s’mores. We sat around the fire and talked, and then Clyde wrapped up our evening by leading us in a couple of worship songs.

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Friends and sisters by choice. ❤

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Lots to smile about – we’re together!
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Alena & Clyde, with their kids, plus a few “extras” along for the ride!

How I miss having these people nearby! I love you, Tauriainens! You are the best! ❤

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Alena & Clyde Tauriainen, AJ & Laura Jinkins

 

Another Adventure Begins

Tomorrow morning, after our church service, my girl and I will embark on a multi-state adventure!  We’ll be traveling to New Orleans on the first leg of our trip, stopping over with family and then continuing on to Decatur, Alabama Monday morning.  My guy will be holding down the fort, managing all our critters and doing “bachelor” things while we’re gone:  he’s well stocked in frozen pizzas, burritos, and chicken pot pies.  Hey – he made the grocery list, not me!

I’ve never been to Alabama before and I’m excited to see something new, to check another “never been there” place off my list.  The best part will be visiting with friends we’ve missed for quite sometime.  Alabama is now their home, and while it is definitely where they belong, we can’t help but wish it shared a state line with Texas so they weren’t so far away.

One of Jami’s dearest friends is getting married later this week and she is one of the bridesmaids.  It’s one of those emotional moments in life:  I’m so happy that McCauley has found her Philip and they are beginning married life together.  But I’m also a little misty-eyed, a little sad (in a bittersweet way) because it’s just one more sign that all these precious kids I’ve known for so long are growing up.  I can’t begin to explain how this caught me off guard.  When I stand next to McCauley, she towers over my short self, and if I’m honest, Jami has a good three or four inches on me, too.  So it’s not a secret that they’ve grown up if one just opens her eyes and looks.

I’m proud of who they are becoming.  Even though their paths to this point in life have been a little less than smooth, a little more crooked than straight, the bumps and curves are shaping them into strong, confident young adults seeking God and His plans for each of their lives.  Sometimes it’s difficult to not know how things are going to turn out at the end of the story, but I guess that’s where He’s shaping me, teaching me to trust Him and to trust them to listen to His voice.

Some Things Never Change

This morning/afternoon, I spent three hours talking to my dearest childhood friend.  It was like balm to my soul, a long overdue visit with someone who has loved me almost as long as my parents and sister, and a little longer than my husband and daughter.  We met on the last day of school in seventh grade.  We were like Anne and Diana, Trixie and Honey.  From the first moment we met, we were kindred spirits and friends forever.

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Anne and Diana
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Trixie and Honey

I remember we spent the entire summer between seventh and eighth grade talking on the phone.  We obviously couldn’t go anywhere, being too young for drivers’ licenses.  Her mom was the city secretary, so she worked every day and my mom was busy with my little sister and volunteer work at our church.  So I laid on the carpeted floor in my parents’ bedroom, the receiver of the princess-style phone between my chin and shoulder and she probably did the same at her house on the other side of town.  We talked about all the things that not-quite-eighth graders do:  who our friends were, which teachers we hoped to get, which classes we liked and hated, how much we hoped our moms would let us start wearing makeup to school.  Boys were just barely on the radar — we’d both had baby crushes the year before like all girls that age do.

When summer ended and the school year began, we were very happy to discover we were in the same English class.  We were in Mrs. Goen’s class and we were not given assigned seats so we were able to sit near each other.  We passed notes back and forth, finally had our first serious crushes (unrequited, of course), learned to diagram sentences, and she became my first and biggest fan when she read my poems and short stories.  I remember her asking me that if anything ever happened to me, “would you please leave me all your writing?”  Eighth graders can be so dramatic!

I won an honorable mention in a Houston writing contest that year and the awards ceremony was held in the La Fontaine Ballroom of the Warwick Hotel .  My teacher said that I could ask a friend to attend the ceremony, along with my parents and so I asked Renae to share the most grown-up moment of my life to that point.  Lynn Ashby, a well-known columnist for the Houston Post, was the guest speaker and I knew we were on the fancy side of town when I spotted an exotic and rare “anchovy” atop my salad.  The night was absolutely magical and I was so happy my best friend was there to share it with me.

We made it through the remainder of junior high, spent another summer talking on the phone, and began our freshman year of high school.  We just thought we’d been something in eighth grade.  All the confidence that we’d built up being the upper classmen to the seventh grade “kids” was dashed to smithereens when we migrated from a campus that consisted of one large building to a campus that covered several acres.  Eight minutes were allowed for class changes to ensure there was enough time to traverse from one side of campus to the other if your classes were so unfortunately scheduled.  I’m sure the 900 “fish” that descended on Alvin High School that first day looked quite comical, trying to find lockers, classes, and the cafeteria without looking totally lost.  Thankfully, we had each other for support as we navigated our “new normal”.

By this time she’d decided she wanted to be a brain surgeon and I was pretty sure I was going to be the next Great American Novelist.  We met most days in the sub cafeteria beneath the auditorium for lunch and discussed the future and all its possibilities.  And the cute guys, of course.

Two months into ninth grade, my dad took a job overseas and I was gone for fifteen months.  Neither of us developed the knack of written correspondence and so we were excited that my dad’s employer allowed us to return home for a month in the summer to visit family and friends.  I still remember meeting Renae and three other friends at the Pizza Inn on Gordon Street to eat pizza and talk, talk, TALK!  It was wonderful to be home, but I didn’t regret moving to the Caribbean, because the islands offered so much inspiration for my poems and stories.  In fact, I fell in love with St. Croix and seven months later when my dad said we were moving back to Texas, I really struggled with mixed emotions.  I was thrilled to be moving back where my dear friend lived, but I didn’t want to leave the island, either.  So when I returned a few days after my 16th birthday, she understood my mixed up emotions and was a true friend in the way only a kindred spirit can be.

We had a few classes together over the remainder of our high school years and made lots of memories.  We went to plays together (Dracula, The Merchant of Venice, Wait Until Dark, to name a few), hung out when studies allowed, and never stopped being each other’s confidant.  One autumn, her parents took us to the Texas Renaissance Festival and christened me “Jaws,” because I could not stop talking about all the wonderfully fantastical things I’d seen that day — and later I returned the favor by calling them “Papa Jaws” and “Mama Jaws” because they truly treated me as one of their own and I’d come to love them as though they were my second parents.

Graduation came and went and we spent the summer hanging out when we could prior to entering the “big leagues”:  college.  She went off to Baylor and I stayed at the community college, before transferring to Sam Houston.  Life got really busy and it became harder for us to whittle out time for visits, but we stayed in touch as much as possible.  Eventually, we both graduated, got jobs, and ended up living in the same apartment complex in Houston.  Work schedules (lots of overtime at the law firm where I worked; her work in the Medical Center as a speech pathologist) and social lives (she had a Greek boyfriend at the time; I had a black cat) managed to make that apartment complex seem HUGE, but we knew in our hearts that if either of us ever needed the other, we would be there for each other.

Then . . . she took a position at a hospital in Ohio and our lives changed forever.  Before it was a walk across the complex, or a car drive down the road — but now it was half way across the country and I wondered if our friendship would be able to survive that “new normal”.  Thankfully, I discovered it could and would.  She was there to stand by me when I pledged my vow to my husband, and I was there to stand by her when she pledged her vow to her husband.  We sent photos back and forth of our children, and while phone calls are not as frequent as either of us would like, when we do connect it’s as if we’re still those not-quite-eighth graders, lying on the carpeted floors of our parents’ bedrooms sharing our hearts as only two kindred spirits can.