More often than not the girls and I go out to eat after church on Sundays. (Russ too, if he’s home of course!) Now that is definitely not the type of Sunday dinner I grew up with. Mom apparently didn’t think feeding 6 kids every day was enough, so on Sundays she always invited a bunch of other people over, too. We would have pot roast, or fried chicken with steaming platters of vegetables… classic Southern Sunday fare.

New generation, new tradition. These days we often eat at the Sombrero, the little mom and pop Mexican food place up the hill from our church. We call it ‘The Hat’, as in, “Wanna hit the Hat for lunch on the way home?” We each have our favorites; Madi likes the chimichanga, I always get a tamale with a side of guacamole, and Charlotte gets a side of Spanish rice with a large order of queso dip which she proceeds to pour over the rice and calls it lunch. That child has never met a white food she doesn’t like. After a steady Sunday diet of The Hat, we kind of burned out on it (no pun intended– it’s actually really good food!) and switched over to a Mongolian stir-fry place a couple of blocks away. Healthier probably, though Charlo still managed to pair (white) chicken with (white) noodles only, until I started placing pieces of broccoli in her bowl accompanied by one of my patented stern sideways glances. Yeah, the girls don’t buy those looks from me either but they pretend to, bless them.

A few weeks ago I suddenly remembered that the reason the main thoroughfare by our church is called Nolensville Road is because about 10 minutes down that road there is one of those great little Southern towns I love to visit– Nolensville, TN. Back in the day (B.K.– ‘before kids’) I used to occasionally drive out to a charming little local coffee place there and then go poke around in some of the shops, but it’s been a few years since I’ve done that. The town is so small it doesn’t have a town square, just a handful of stores on either side of the main street but I had recently heard they now had a fabulous barbeque restaurant that people SWORE was the best ever, so I thought we ought to maybe check it out. We Southerners take our barbeque verrrrrry seriously, and the comparative merits of the many different varieties of ‘que  available in each town can be very hotly contested– churches and families have split down the middle over these kinds of things, folks. So I figured Martins Barbeque Joint definitely merited a visit. We started with take-out, which was indeed REALLY GOOD, and a couple of days later Madi and I headed back to Nolensville by ourselves and discovered some darling shops:  Three French Hens,  Village Antiques, The Roost and a great Amish country store called The Feed Mill. We were in heaven, this is totally our cuppa tea– the prices were so reasonable and there was so much to look at that we were able to take our time wandering around and found all kinds of little treasures that didn’t break the bank. Then at the first of this month Russ actually had a rare weekend off, so after church we invited our pastors Danny and Jill Chambers and their very cool offspring Sydni, Isaac and darling Destiny to join us at Martins where we proceeded to get down and greasy with a ‘que feast. It was so much fun that this Sunday after church the girls and I got in the car, took one look at each other and chorused, “Martins!” And away we went.

Now you should know that for all of my talking about ‘antiquing with the girls,’ that usually just means Madi and I (or Madi, my sisters and I when we’re in Arkansas.) Charlotte… not so much. I mean, she occasionally goes with us, and she’s been raised right so she doesn’t complain the whole time but to be fair it’s never really been her thing. Until, possibly, NOW. I think she may have hit that magic age where putzing around antique shops sounds like something to do instead of something to endure– either that or she just decided to bow to the inevitable, whatever. At any rate, after our lunch when I told Charlotte that Madi and I wanted to make a quick, quick stop at those shops we had discovered a couple of weeks ago but it wouldn’t take too long, to my surprise she said, “Sure, sounds fun.” I surreptitiously raised an eyebrow towards Madi, but danged if Charlotte wasn’t as good as her word. She did have fun, we all did! Madi inexplicably fell head over heels in love with a peely-paint concrete chicken that weighed a ton and had a faintly quizzical look on its face, so of course, we had to get it for her. She promptly named her Petunia and carried her around the rest of the day.

**Pictured here nesting happily in the fat middle of Madi’s bed.

Honestly, between our silly stream-of-consciousness running commentary on everything we saw and relentless teasing of each other we laughed so much that we made a spectacle of ourselves. I’m talking full-out, snorty laughing, the kind that does a body good, startles passers-by and probably adds years to your life! Lordy, I enjoy these girls. I mean, yes, we have our moments but overall? I continue to describe them the same way I always have, since they were tiny babes in arms without the ability to roll their eyes at me– “they are SO much nicer than we deserve!”

I’m not kidding about that. I am not remotely smug about the fact that Madi and Charlotte are who they are. It kind of goes without saying that Russ and I are not ideal parents. We do have our strengths, but dear Lord in heaven, we have so many weaknesses, too. We haven’t done any of it perfectly– not our marriage, not raising these girls– but we have tried to do it with all of our hearts. HOWEVER, I am more than aware that this family is only one or two bad decisions away from the kind of heartache I see in so many families that have, in my opinion, done the job so much better than we have. Teenage pregnancy, addiction, drunk driving, date rape, shoplifting, scary choices in friends– my girls are not immune to any of it. I ask for God’s protection over them All. The. Time. But there are no guarantees in this life, and God in his infinite wisdom does allow that whole pesky ‘free will’ thing, so sadly we each have a God-given right to screw our lives up all over the place.

I don’t think that they will.

I pray that they don’t.

But I’ll love them no matter what. Passionately, to my last dying breath, and probably way beyond.

So when we have a laid-back, bumming-around day together like we did yesterday, I make a conscious effort to not only be ‘present’ in it, but at some point to literally take a moment and just soak it in. After hanging out in Nolensville for a while, we headed on down the road for a Sunday drive to enjoy the over-the-top extravagance of our Tennessee countryside in the springtime. We made an unplanned stop at a historical little church with an interesting looking graveyard we happened to pass. The three of us walked around reading tombstone inscriptions out loud and calling to each other to come over and look at a particularly poignant verse or beautiful headstone statue. Weird maybe, but traditionally one of our favorite things to do. There was a breathtakingly gorgeous old magnolia tree right in the middle of the cemetery and the oldest graves were around the foot of it, some dating back to the late 1700’s. We spent quite a bit of time there, kneeling down and trying to spell out the faded words of stone. Madi scrupulously avoids walking over the graves and scolds Charlotte and I when we are careless about it, regardless of our protests that we are not being disrespectful. Our theory is that hello, there is probably only dust down there now and if the spirits of the departed are indeed able to see us they are probably grateful that we are here and still care about gleaning some of the details of their lives from their monuments. But Madi is adamant. We paused at a very, very new grave in the newer part of the cemetery, so new that the dirt mound was still covered over in fresh straw and the flower bouquets were barely wilted. The headstone did not yet have the death date carved on it, but we could read that this was a woman, born the same year as Nanno and Papa, buried next to her husband. A lot of unspoken words hung in the air as we stood there, a lot of scenarios imagined and then rejected. Soon maybe, we will have to deal with what we are choosing not to at this moment. Soon, but not now.

As we turned to walk back to the car, the girls caught sight of a rather elaborate playground set-up at the edge of the parking lot. They looked at each other, grinned, and without a word they both broke into a full-out run, bee-lining straight for it and leaving me in their dust. I started to yell, “Hey, come on, we’ve gotta get home, Charlotte has homework…” But I didn’t. This was the moment, the one where I stopped and soaked it all in.  I leaned against the car, shaded my eyes with my hand and watched them. Madi climbed on a plastic elephant perched on top of some huge coiled iron spring that looked a little precarious– probably banned from public playgrounds years ago for safety reasons! She may be 17, but she is tiny and lithe and managed to wedge herself into the baby seat and wildly rock back and forth while Charlotte hooted and yelled at me to watch her crazy sister. They drifted over to the swings and side by side, legs pumping, they soared into the impossibly blue sky, back and forth, back and forth. I could see their lips moving as they talked to each other, Charlotte listening intently as Madi waxed eloquent about something, holding on with one hand as she gestured with the other. I had a moment of fervently wishing I had my camera, and then decided I didn’t need it. Slowly turning in a full circle, I mentally ‘shot’ the entire scene like a cinematographer– sunlight and shadow dappling the empty parking lot, the stained glass windows, the added afterthought of a wheelchair ramp incongruously clashing with the staid exterior of the old church building, the faded gravestones and sun-bleached obelisks of the cemetery, the magnificent magnolia, a big black cow in the backyard of the house next door methodically ripping out patches of grass and chewing them, the playground equipment, the blur of motion and metallic sound of my girls on the swings. I breathed deep, I closed my eyes. Click. Yep, entered into the archives. This is one of many, many gratitude-drenched, full-to-the-brim sacred moments with my on-their-way-to-leaving-us girls that I’ve captured in my heart.

I will not let slip it away.

19 Responses

  1. rachelbaker

    OK, I (and probably every other reader of this blog) love your family.

    Other than that, I totally understand the whole graveyard thing don’t worry. Most of the rest of the the family trapse around graveyards for family tree research – although I find that interesting – I leave them to do the hard work and just read the gravestones, the names and try to fill in the gaps of what their lives may have been like. In fact we were on a way to a graveyard when I first went into labour with Hannah. In the end I did have to admit that I was having contractions and we turned around, because giving birth in a graveyard might have been a little odd.

  2. Tweets that mention » Sundays | babybloomr --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tori Taff. Tori Taff said: New: Tried to make a "Tuesdays with Morrie"/"Sundays with Tori" joke, but it kinda fell apart under scrutiny. […]

  3. rachelbaker

    Oh, and I want to come and visit you on a sunday!

  4. bettyrwoodward

    It sounds as though you had a great time. I’m envious of you still having your children with you. Rachel had already mentioned our graveyard trips and I love playgrounds as well. I’m really surprised you didn’t go and join them on the swings etc. I love having grandchildren now so I can go on swings and soft play areas again. While they were here at easter I was in a large indoor play area with them climbing and sliding. Really fun but a bit sore the next day.
    Petunia looks lovely. Is she going to live on Madi’s bed?

  5. VA-Cathy

    May I say, again, I LOVE reading your blog!! My daughter is 16, soon to be 17. I love a day with her. Since the boyfriend arrived on the scene – I love him too – but the days of just us are fewer. Strangely enough, our girl days usually involve southern gospel music, especially Family Fest, which is what brought me to your blog! Small world, huh??

  6. DonnaMariePatterson

    Hi Tori – I’m so glad that God blessed you with a beautiful day to share with the girls! I believe it is these kind of memories that we will share through eternity. Even if we ‘lose’ those memories here on earth, they will be chrystal clear in heaven.

    I had to face that ‘dreaded day’ Easter Sunday. Mama went Home. Mama and Daddy always waved goodbye until we were out of sight. Now they are together and happy again. I’m happy and sad. Sad that I can’t rub her velvety arms anymore. Happy that when I’m with her again that those arms will never have to wave goodbye to me again.

    God is good!


  7. Janice

    Hey, everyone, I’m back again. I just caught up with the last 2 entries. You are so right about storing up memories, it is really important. We lost Momma this past Wednesday. The car quit on them, Mom got out to help Dad and a truck hit her, killing her instantly. My dad saw it all, he’s beside himself with grief, but he’s still leaning on and praising God. Dad had a wonderful woman for 53 years, not many cann say that. Take advantage of every moment you have, you may not get another.
    I could sure use some prayers right now. I want to try to understand why, with the would as messed up as it is, HE would take someone as sweet and loving as my mom. She made this wotld a better place to live in.
    Tori, you and Russ are doing a great job raising those girls. Listening to you two, it is obvious how much you love them. Keep trusting God to guise you.

  8. rockin robyn

    Another beautiful heartfelt family story by Tori!

    Sounds like you had a special special day. I can so see your heart in your stories and it makes me feel… (I’m sure it makes all of us feel that we’ve known you and the Taff family forever) The picture was so beautifully painted – because I saw the girls running off to the playground before I read it.

    I am so in tune of late to my limited time with my niece. She comes from a broken home. She’s 12 and my brother gets her every other weekend except if she has plans with her friends or her mom. My brother brings her to visit and me and two of my sisters take her away for the day… taking her shopping, out to eat or just goofing off at one of our homes. Everytime we have a good day with her we always throw whispers to her heart “we had a great day, didn’t we”, sort of as ghostly whispers that will hopefully convince her to come back again. Her friends are already – sometimes – creaping in there into the #1 spot over three lonely pathetic aunts, just trying to keep her grounded and out of harms way, and away from bad influences. But soon the boys will come around and she won’t have time for us as much anymore. With no children of our own, it’s kinda sad to think about. But I know she’s a good kid and I too pray that God will keep her walking the straight and the narrow.

    Life! Isn’t it sooo beautiful. It’s a jig-saw puzzle and you spend your days trying to fit all the pieces together. When that last piece is laid down, then is when you get to enter into that golden city where nothing will confuse you ever again… no sadness, no sickness, no good-byes… no more wondering when will this happen and why did that happen… We will know all the answers to questions we’ve pondered here on earth.

    Until then we can glory in special times with family and friends!

  9. MostlySunny

    Donna and Janice – I’m so sorry about your recent losses. Fresh grief — and tragedy — those are tough. I pray that you and your families will be able to lean on the One who knows the “why” of it all. Bless you.

    Tori – I’m so proud of you! You are a great Mom; please don’t forget that! I’m so glad you didn’t just dump the girls off at the mall and throw some money at them and say “See you later. I’ll pick you up at 6:00.” Treasure these moments WITH them; they’ll be gone before you know it. No, no one is immune to the junk in the world, but the more time we spend with our kids (and having fun with them), and praying them through…none of it is wasted.

    I love Petunia! She/he/it will be a constant reminder of a great day!

  10. tori

    rachelbaker– OK, I agree that giving birth in a graveyard would have been weird but DANG, you would have had the best birth story ever!

    bettyrwoodward– I can just picture you playing on the playground with your grands! And Petunia has settled in on the top of Madi’s dresser.

    VA-Cathy– Yeah, those boyfriends are definitely distractions… What is your daughter’s name?

    DonnaMariePatterson– Donna, I am so so sorry. And I totally understand those “happy and sad” feelings. Your mother raised a lovely daughter.

    Janice– What a nightmare for you and your sweet dad! I am in shock. There are no pat, easy answers to things like this and I won’t try to offer any– but please know that you are absolutely in my prayers. You have friends standing with you here.

    rockin robin– Thank God your niece has you! Don’t ever underestimate what a huge difference you can make, and what a godly impact you can have on her. Russ had someone like that in his life as a teen, and they are still a beloved part of our family today.

    MostlySunny— Thank you for those kind words. And you’re right, I will treasure these times.

  11. LindaB

    First of all, Donna and Janice, I am so sorry for your loss of your mothers. I know your hearts ache. And like Tori has already said, you have friends here who will pray for you and stand by you. May God comfort and encourage you in the coming days.

    And Robyn, bless your sweet generous heart for making quality time for your niece! I loved the part where you said you and your sisters whisper to her heart that “we had a good time, didn’t we?”, hoping she will return! I believe you are giving this precious girl a wonderful life-changing gift of yourselves! Boys may come along and distract her for a short while, but you have planted yourselves in her heart forever with kindness and love when she most needed it. She’ll always remember you spending time with her and enriching her life. So many kids of divorce today live that one week with one parent and the next with the other——a divided existance and an unsettling life, at best. You and your sisters have brought some security and “same-ness” into her life that, I’m sure, has brought her great comfort. God bless you!

    Betty, there ain’t enough Aleve in the Western Hemisphere to allow me to play on the playground like you did with your grandchildren! More power to ya!

    And Tori, you and Russ are GREAT PARENTS! You’re right about there being no guarantees that they won’t take a wrong turn here or there, but your foundation of love, respect, quality time together, and “being present” when you are with them and really “knowing” and celebrating who they are is as close to a guarantee as you can get. Good job!

  12. ibclcisme

    That was beautiful. Surely you didn’t *mean* to make me cry at six a.m., but alas, here I sit in a puddle of tears.

    Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

  13. VA-Cathy

    Hey again – my daughter’s name is Micaela

  14. Anita

    Sounds like a perfect Sunday afternoon! I am trying so hard to enjoy every moment with my kids I can because I know it goes by so fast:-)


    Tori! I know exactly what you mean! I missed quite a bit of Bert’s teenage & college years due to drugs, but I would do that when it was possible. And, now that she is graduating from college in 2 weeks, having a baby in 4 weeks, (whadda I gotta do? come to Nville myself? DONT TEMPT ME!!), I am still taking those mental videos, as well as pulling out pre-school ones from archives! When I am teaching my first graders now, I stop for a minute, sometimes, & pull out of storage those elementary years – the honesty & simpleness of it all, before the fears, cautions and pressures came w/ her age. I am so very proud of how she turned out, how she kept the standards for herself that I had taught her, & yet didn’t even keep for myself there for a while. Life is so very good, & so is our God! Oh, & I am now convinced I murdered my porch plants. Oh, well, gues I’ll stick to ferns – I just dread having all those stuck up in the house during winter – shedding those little leaves all over everything!


    Oh, Janice – I am praying for you and your family! And, it really isnt for us to understand, only to trust – though easy for me to say! But, be assured that you are in many people’s prayers!

  17. auburn60

    Wow. I’ve been reading but haven’t had a minute to comment…

    Donna and Janice–so sorry for your sad news. We will pray for you.

    Tori, I remember having both daughters living at home (I sound like an old grandma!) and having those unexpected times to treasure. Ours usually involved uncontrolled laughter and someone being somewhat inappropriate (OK,maybe it was me.)I’ve seen the way you look at Madi and Char…as if you still can’t believe the miracle of having them, even after 17 years of motherhood. It is a sacred thing.

  18. Adelekruger

    OMG… this was an amazing post (not that they all aren’t).. I could totally picture this… My daughter is now 8 and we too have lots of fun…. I too believe that I make too many mistakes to deserve such an awesome child! You know what? You always make me feel good about myself and my life when reading your posts! Thanx a million!

  19. jonny

    See Tori, your mistakes make other people feel much better about their own!! = )

    Seriously, a truly beautiful entry. If either of my two children had ever come to term, I’ve always been convinced at least one would’ve been a girl. Probably the 1st. OK, this was a mother/daughter thing, but it still made my miss not having a girl or two of my own yet = /

    Also, sorry to read about the loss of the two mothers. Many prayers have already been proffered!



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