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.