The Old Dirt Road

As I sit on my queen Anne bed – very high off the floor, I can hear soft music playing and smell one of my favorite candles burning. More beautiful than the music are the sounds outside. It’s cool – just finished raining and my bedroom windows are open. I can feel the breeze wafting over me. I can hear the rustle of the leaves peacefully blowing outside on the trees. Every once in a while, I can hear a night bird calling. The country night is quiet and relaxing. I can faintly hear the soft moan of my neighbor’s cattle in the distance. 

How I love the country! But our life here has become too hard. It used to be that people moved to the country for a simple life. That only works if you can make your living in the country. We have found that we sleep here and live in the city where we work every day – and each weekend we kill ourselves mowing, weeding, mending, repairing, trimming, planting and on and on. It’s too much.

If I had a million dollars, I would buy a piece of land with an existing small farm already established. It would have huge cottonwood trees all around the property and an old farm house with character and soul – one that housed a thousand memories of days gone by. The big eat-in kitchen would have a screened back door that squeaked when it opened and whose slam, upon exiting, would flood peacefully over me. There would be many out buildings filled with remnants of past residents – treasures to explore. There would be a creek nearby and lots of pens and pastures. My days would blur together into one blissful dream – rising early to the sounds of hungry animals and feeling such a sense of satisfaction when they would all greet me with anticipation as I brought them breakfast. Oh, the smell of fresh cut alfalfa, of honeysuckle in bloom on the trellis and lazy afternoon breaks spent barefoot on the front porch swing with a glass of sweet tea and a cool breeze. 

I would garden and can and tend animals and feed us wonderful, healthy, home-cooked meals. And my grandchildren - when they came to visit, I would watch from the porch until I saw the dust from their car coming far off down the dirt road. And when they got out of the car, they would run to me and I’d scoop them up in my arms and snuggle my face into their little necks. Then I’d teach them all about life and love and death and sadness and all the wonderful and tragic things a farm can teach you – even when you don’t intend to learn them. And I would tuck them into bed beneath quilts I had made from long gone clothes and scraps and as I turned out the light and crawled into bed next to the love of my life, I would feel so full – so content – so complete.

Perhaps the dream is better than the reality would be and besides, I don’t have a million dollars and I can’t earn my living in the country, so I will be grateful for the wonderful life God has given me when we move back to the city.

But when you get to Heaven, you’ll know where to find me…down the old dirt road.

The Empty Nest

Today my fourth child turned 36. I remember when I was 36. Jay and I had been married for two years, after blending our 5 kids together. We were living in Tucson, Arizona and our youngest was only five years old. It’s hard to imagine that so much life has passed since those days. So much has changed.

When I was 36, I never would have thought I’d live in Utah someday, nor that I would have enjoyed a 20-year career or that I’d be a grandmother of 16 by age 62. I never dreamed that so many lessons would have been learned, so many opportunities explored, so many trials completed and so many mistakes made. If I were 36 again, and I knew what I know now, I would be afraid for the future. I would cringe at the thought of the deep trials that lie in wait for me – some self-imposed, some out of my control. But God protects us from that foreknowledge because He knows that we can only bear the troubles of today. 

Now all those child-rearing years are behind me.  Now I am Grandma and a mother figure to younger men and women in my life and my community. 26 years is a lifetime between 36 and 62. Everything changes, and everything stays the same. My children are grown with children of their own yet I’m still mom – still privileged to receive their love, to listen to their problems, to be their friend and to enjoy my new-found status in the world. 

I’ve learned that money and possessions don’t bring happiness. It’s the act of loving and receiving love from people that fills your heart with gladness and your soul with peace. 

We are now retired, and what society calls “empty nesters”. But while it’s true – it is just the two of us here, our nest is far from empty. It’s filled with leftover memories of the last 30 years together and current memories in the making. It’s a busy life filled with family who have become friends and new friends who have become family - with extended family, kids and grandkids, with sorrows, joys and challenges, with acquaintances, neighbors and co-workers – all busy navigating though the common occupation we all have called LIFE.

And that, my friend, is not empty at all.


Mothering

Here I sit in a hotel room on our way back to Utah from a work trip in Arizona. We’ve had a long and busy trip and it’s nice to enjoy some quiet. Jay is asleep, and our two canine traveling companions are curled up at my feet. There is something so comforting about a watching a sleeping dog. Every care of the day melts away as you watch their little chests rise and fall – and every once in a while, their eyebrows twitch – just to let you know that they’re still aware of your presence.

We had a rushed trip, as always. Rushing to get there, rushing all week at the conference, then rushing over to see our kids and grandkids before we rush back home so we can rush back to work.

I got to spend a few, ever so brief and precious hours with our three grown children and their families. There is a certain oddity in this stage of life – when your children become adults and you are supposed to treat them as friends and peers. Your mind can grasp the concept, and it makes logical sense, but someone forgot to tell your heart about this adjustment. I look at my adult children and I see the tear stained cheeks that I kissed when they were hurting. I see the quirky faces they made with their friends during adolescence, I see the hurt in their eyes when they had a major disappointment and the sparkle when a dream came true. How can I separate those cherished images from the way I am supposed to view them now? How can I turn off my mothering and step back to take a lesser role in their lives? 

This is the circle of life. My mother had to let me go before I had to let them go and someday they will let their children go. I handle it pretty well, this new role I am cast in, until it’s time to say good-bye. When I hold them in my arms, it doesn’t matter their age – whether they are taller than I – they are my blessed, beautiful children. Their form is familiar, and their smell is imprinted in my memory. To touch their hair and hold them close takes me back and they are my children. I breathe them in and hold them an extra minute – before I release them back to time and its seasons. But before I let them go, I swallow hard and find within me a smile and a strong constitution. I do it for them, so they won’t feel guilty for growing up and finding their own way in this world – and leaving me behind – as they should – as I did to my mother and she to hers.

I can hear my husband’s content breathing as he’s deep in sleep. My dog’s eyebrow twitches at me as if to say, “come to bed – the day has been a good one,” and I’m thankful once again for my rich life complete with children of all ages.

Still, if I had it my way, I would creep into their rooms tonight, sit on the edge of their beds and gently touch their foreheads.  “Good night my Bethany, good night my Kelly, sweet dreams Brian, Mommy loves you John, Mommy loves you Taylor – Mommy loves you all…”

A Man and His Tractor

It finally happened. Jay got a tractor. Not just any tractor, no. This is a Kubota - orange, rugged, powerful, a work horse, man’s best friend…at least THIS man. 

It belonged to his Mom and Dad. I remember the day he first laid eyes on this thing of beauty. We all lived in Arizona and his parents had just purchased it from some friends. There was no doubt that Jay was more excited about their newly acquired piece of equipment than both of them put together. He did a great job of being “happy for his dad” and hiding all the envy that took over his entire body. He told his parents that very day that “if they ever wanted to sell the Kubota, he wanted first dibs on the purchase.”

After we moved to Utah, Jay would inquire about the tractor during most phone calls back home for the next year or two that it lived with Mom and Dad – just to make sure they were taking care of it and hadn’t forgotten his offer to purchase.

Then one day, the call came - the call he’d been waiting so semi-patiently for. They had decided to sell him the tractor – and not only sell it, they would deliver it, 850 miles, uphill, and he would have it in his possession before the month ended.

Many men have wanted things, but few men have ever wanted something as much as Jay wanted that Kubota. He nearly counted the hours and marked the passing of time with revelations like “It will never be Sunday again without a tractor” or “I will never go to sleep again without a tractor”. Finally, it came, and his world became complete. As he sat down on that vinyl seat for the first time, the two became one – from that moment, there was a bond so strong that wind, rain, dinner time or darkness could not break it. 

Our place has greatly transformed thanks to my old orange friend, a grand steed, and the knight that rides her!

As I watch him sleeping next to me, exhausted from another marathon of moving dirt way past dark (again) after a full day at the office, I have to smile. It feels good to see him so happy, finally, after waiting so many years – years of talking about, planning for and dreaming of what has now become his reality.

A man and his tractor – what a marriage made in Heaven! Thanks Lord for yet one more rich blessing and…oh yeah…thanks for the tractor too!

Words that are Sometimes Words

The sun is slipping further down the horizon I have a few more chores I want to complete while there is still light. Then I see her. Her eyes twinkling with delight as her small frame runs towards me. “Ride, ride Mom!” she calls out, her rosey cheeks jarring as she bounds barefooted across the lawn on this summer night. “Tacko Mom…ride”. At first I think “not now, it’s almost dark and I have a few things left to do” and then I look into her hopeful face and her little hand reaches out as she comes to me at last. “Okay Kai, let’s go ride on the tractor,” I reply. “Tacko, Mom,” she says over and over as we approach the barn. Her tiny brown feet walking carefully over the weeds and straw. She almost never calls me Grandma. All women are Mom to her after just 27 months of living. We roll up the metal barn door and she peers, with wonderment, into the dark and shadowy barn. Then, she spots it. “Tacko Mom!” she proclaims as she runs and climbs aboard. 


It’s only a lawn tractor but to her it is a huge and powerful machine that takes she and Grandma to all kinds of amazing places. We start it up. The engine is loud and echoing inside the metal building. The headlights come on and paint a bright splash of light against the shiny metal wall. We back up and start off – out the driveway onto our country lane to see what we can see as the sun is slipping closer to the horizon.

I can feel the weight of her body on my leg. My right arm is around her, my hand resting on her stomach while I steer with the left. She places her little hands lovingly on mine as we ride down the road in silence. We see horses – and rocks. We see a dog and a car on a distant road. Each object must be thoroughly discussed, with words that are sometimes words. 

Every once in a while, I feel her looking up at me. She peers into my face as if to say, “Thanks for taking time – for making me more important than those last few chores”. It gets dark as we turn around. The headlights blaze a trail for us and all kinds of interesting bugs dance in their beam – only to flutter away into the darkness before she can touch them. On the last stretch, she is silent, occasionally rubbing her eyes and I can feel her body relax as she sinks in a little closer and lays her head against my chest. We are quiet. Only the roar of the engine fills the night. As I squeeze her to me and kiss her forehead, love, contentment and sheer joy spread over me like a warm blanket on a cool night. This angel on my knee is a gift from God and I am so privileged to have these special moments to cherish long after she is grown, and Grandma isn’t a celebrity any more. But for now, I will gladly forfeit my plans to soak up her love and adoration any time I can.

The crickets and the dogs greet us as we pull into the driveway and back into the barn. Daddy is waiting in the yard for her. I carry her to the fence and she runs to him to tell him all about our great adventure, with words that are sometimes words. He swoops her up and they disappear into the house. As I stand there, I feel so full and so grateful for the chance to be her Grandma and for the anticipated pleasure of every future Tacko ride we will share.

My Work Family

There is a saying, “you can’t pick your family” – and that’s true. Families are put together, by in large, without any majority vote. You basically get to choose one person, your spouse, and even then, sometimes it takes a couple of rounds to get that one right!

In this regard, the workplace is a lot like a family. You are thrown together with a group of vastly different people and expected to not only cooperate and work together, but to like it in the process. Everyone knows that we spend more time with our work family than our biological one. So, if we will spend endless houses with these people, shouldn’t we really make it mean something?  So that in the end, we don’t look back on the 30-40 years the average person spends earning a living, and feel like we wasted it all?

When I think of the menagerie of human beings that I’ve been joined to in the work place, I find a tenderness comes into my heart – really – even for those I complain about. Because, for better or worse, we have a history. We stood together in horror as we watched the Twin Towers fall on television in the break room and it was with them I cried, not my blood relatives. We’ve shared in the joy of births and the sadness of deaths, the agony of divorce or betrayal and the unbelievable hurt endured when a child rebels. We come along side one another, these strange bed fellows; people we would not have chosen for friends, yet we are sharing the majority of our lives with. I am challenged, from this day forward, to make each day count. To touch the heart of at least one member of my work family every day and to remember that each of them were strategically placed into my life for me to learn from and for them to gain, in some way, from me as well. I am richer for knowing each of them.

They say you can’t pick your family – and thank God – how boring and mundane life would be if we could!

-Maggie