Driving up the road today to Puyallup and, at 45 minutes away, the closest Sonic to me, Hayes Carll’s “Grateful for Christmas” popped up on my playlist. Though I’ve listened to this album what seems like a million times, for some reason, I don’t guess this song ever sunk in until today.
Just last night, I thought about how this Christmas will be the first one that my little family (me, Mr. D, and Little D) will spend alone. We try to switch between Oklahoma (my family) and New York (his family) every year, like a lot of military families do. But since we moved to The Great Northwest just a month and a half ago, we are staying close to our new “home” this Christmas. Tonight, my family is gathered at my Granny and Papa’s house, celebrating a little early due to everyone’s crazy schedules. My sister/cousin sent me a video of our grandparents’ reaction to the new TV that we grandkids went together to buy for them. Of course, I sat here and cried as I watched it… The past few years have been unkind to my family, yet somehow we keep going.
When I was a kid, Christmas meant going to my great-grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa (the across the street neighbor), who would give us paper sacks filled with an apple, an orange, nuts, and hard candies. It was old-fashioned, and it is something I feel fortunate to have experienced. The house would be filled with my great-grandparents, my grandparents, great-aunts & uncles, cousins, and kids–lots and lots of kids. The house was too small, too hot, and always filled with a nice cloud of second-hand smoke. We’d show up around 7 and eat snacks until Grandpa Harrison said it was time to open gifts. In the later years, we’d always have to wait until after 9:00, after my Aunt June closed up the liquor store she owned. After all, Christmas Eve was a big day for her. We’d find a space to settle in, and one of my uncles would play Santa. We weren’t the kind of family to sit around and wait for each person’s gift. No, we’d tear into it as soon as it reached our grubby little hands. I remember always wanting to have my Granny in sight, because for some reason, she was the one who I always took that extra time to find THE perfect gift for. It was chaotic. It was loud. It was dreaded by some and loved by others. But it was MY chaotic, loud, crazy family. As the years past, so did my family. First it was Grandpa, then an aunt, an uncle, Grandma, and my crazy Aunt June. Pretty soon, the cousins stopped making the pilgrimage to our hometown because they had growing families of their own. All that was left was my Granny, who had become the head of our family, and an uncle, who didn’t seem to make it over much since Grandma died.
The celebration moved from my Grandma’s to my Mom’s house. There was plenty of space, a game room for pool & dominoes, and we needed that extra room for all the new little ones, to whom my Granny and Pa were now the great-grandparents. The setting was pretty much the same–loud, chaotic, but less smoky since most everyone had either quit smoking or they went to the gameroom with the exhaust fan to light up. A few of us might get a little tipsy, and we’d even sneak Granny a 7/7 when Pa wasn’t looking. The kids would start begging for gifts way too early, and I remember wishing that Grandpa Harrison was around, since he seemed to be able to make us not be pests when we had been that age (or maybe I just didn’t realize I was a pest). My brothers became the uncles playing Santa, and we patiently waited to open our own gifts later so we could watch the kids tear into theirs.
The Christmas Eve I remember best was in 2008, when my little one was so into dressing up like a princess that all Santa brought her were Disney princess dresses. She wanted Nana to play with her, even though the dresses really weren’t sized for grown-ups. But my mom, being the awesome nana that she was, did her best, and I was fortunate enough to snap this picture…
Last year, our first without her, we did our best to try to keep it as normal as possible. We met out at her and my stepdad’s house. We went through the same motions, and we survived (which I think was the ultimate goal), but I think we all knew it would never be the same.
So this year, my family is gathered at my Granny and Pa’s. My brothers, my sister/cousin, my nieces & nephews, my stepdad, and my grandparents–that’s all we have left. It’s difficult to think about how an entire generation is gone from us–my mom and her two sisters, all taken so suddenly. Yes, I still get angry at how unfair it is. I am angry that my grandparents have been forced to endure so much suffering. I’m angry that they have three fewer daughters and four fewer grandchildren than they should have. I’m angry that the four of us “kids” are without mothers and that our children are without a Nana. I pray to a god that I don’t even feel to PLEASE have mercy on my grandparents and let them live out the rest of their days without knowing any more loss. I pray for the safety of myself, my siblings, our spouses, and our children, not for my own selfishness, but simply so my Granny and Pa don’t have to suffer this kind of pain ever again. They’ve had more than their share in this lifetime.
Sometimes those thoughts start overwhelming me, but then I remember to be thankful for what I do have. I am thankful for the smiles and the laughter that I saw on the video that came through on my phone tonight. I’m thankful for the technology that allows me to receive that video. I’m thankful for those voices that are just a phone call away when I miss them. I am thankful that in spite of the tragedy, in spite of our dwindling numbers, we still have a Christmas, and we still keep trying. Like my Granny said, when someone asked her how she could handle everything that’s happened to her, “What choice do I have?” I can either let myself be angry and depressed, or I can see the blessings right here in front of me and the blessings waiting for me in Oklahoma.
I’m Grateful for Christmas this year. It’s not what I planned, and it may not be ideal, but damn it, I’m still here.
Life is back to “normal” this week–or as close to normal as I ever get. Mr. D is back at work, and I’m left to my quiet days of preparing for our move and trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. Usually, Sunday nights are my peak times of contemplation, but last night I was too engrossed in reading Atchafalaya Houseboat: My Years in the Louisiana Swamp. I seem to be on a roll lately when it comes to stumbling upon great reads, and this book only extended my streak. So because I was wrapped up in this woman’s tale of simple living in the Louisiana bayou, my brain ramblings seemed to have saved themselves to come alive this morning.
Influenced by the book, I begin thinking about what I want in life. What do I see at the end of the day, if that day were the most ideal I could imagine? The truth is, all I want, and all I’ve ever wanted is someplace quiet with pretty things to look at. I find myself saying, “Someday…” or “When we’re retired…” but I’ve been thinking about how I can start finding that quiet place little by little now.
In the middle of our quest to find the perfect rental home in the Great Northwest, last night we ran across a place that, while in Suburbia, called out to us as a potential quiet place for the next few years. The house isn’t as modernized, and it’s much smaller than others we have been considering, but across the street are trees and a bike trail. It’s minutes from the Puget Sound, and it’s nestled between two golf courses (a huge bonus for Mr. D). The back yard probably isn’t as large as *I* would like, but we haven’t really been finding that anywhere up there anyway. While no other place has really spoken to me, the combination of the location and the good school district made this one seem right, even if it’s missing a few of the luxury features I previous deemed necessary.
I’ve also come to realize that “quiet” is something I need to search for more inside myself. My brain is suffering from atrophy due to extended time in front of a computer screen. In the past few days, I’ve been thinking about the importance of Facebook and whether it’s really necessary in my life. The truth is, because neither of us will be living close to family, it is a convenience when it comes to keeping up with the goings-on of those we love and for sharing our lives with them. However, I tend to be a little obsessive about my electronics, so I definitely know I could reduce the laptop time and still survive. This isn’t to say that it will happen overnight, but I do see myself chilling a little and not freaking out if I miss a “really important” status update. I plan to spend more time in the middle of a book than in the middle of a Twitter feed. I want to write more prose and fewer one-liners. I hope to re-teach myself how to experience the world around me rather than experience what’s happening on my phone while navigating through my surroundings.
I have a unique opportunity here, and I am thankful for it. I hope that the independence that this move forces on me will help me recenter and find that quiet place, not only around me but inside me. I know there are some who might read this and think, “Yeah right… Good luck with that, but I know you…” and I don’t fault you because I’m saying that myself. I’m a social media addict, a live music/bar scene good-timer, and a person who pretty much never shuts the fuck up. But if I don’t challenge myself to live more like this subdued thinker inside me, then how will I reconcile ALL the parts that make up Daisy? There’s more to me than the profanity-spewing, inappropriate, never-serious loudmouth that I portray myself as most days. I’m growing tired of that person who has seemed to be the primary personality that has risen from my grief and my insecurities. Don’t get me wrong, she is a vital part of who I am, but she does not define me.
A nice, quiet place… That’s all I’ve been thinking about for the past 24 hours, and I think I’m on my way there.
THIS is the kind of blog entry you get on days when I say, “But I don’t WANT to write.” Writing is a skill that needs to be practiced, and I refuse to give up on it just because I’m feeling tired and uninspired on a given day. So if my thoughts seem a little disconnected, at least you know why!
I apologize to all three of you keeping up with my blog. I promise I haven’t stopped writing. I’m just a little distracted this week. Mr. D is on vacation, and he seems to think that we need to “do stuff” around here to prepare for the upcoming move to the Great Northwest. This translates to “Daisy doesn’t get to sit down with a gallon of coffee and write on her blog.” Stupid “stuff…”
So in my absence, here’s a little something for your listening pleasure. This song has popped up in conversation twice over the course of the day (unsolicited by me both times!), so I see it as a sign. The super cool gentleman singing it happens to be married to my newly found mentor in life (more about her later), and I will have the pleasure of seeing him at the end of October as my final farewell show.
My first childhood memory is riding in the car with my Aunt Debbie, hearing Kenny Rogers on the radio, and swearing to her that I was going to marry him someday. In kindergarten, I told my teacher that the Beatles were my favorite band, as they seemed to be played quite frequently on the only station my little ladybug AM radio could pick up. My teenage years were filled with daydreams of rock stars with long hair who could thrash on the guitar yet sing a power ballad that made my puberty-fueled hormones go into overdrive. In college, I ran across a little band called Sublime who defined my musical tastes for 6 years that followed. Through my musical journey, though, country music–especially classic country–was a constant source of joy and comfort.
My sister/cousin (daughter of previously mentioned aunt), Willow*, gave me my first Cross Canadian Ragweed CD, and I was introduced to this so-called “Red Dirt” music. I was a little familiar with the sound, as I had the pleasure of seeing The Great Divide a few times in college out in the prairies of western Oklahoma. The more I listened to Red Dirt, the more I liked it. Jason Boland & the Stragglers soon followed, and I even found out that my old schooldays friend, Travis Linville, had a little band called the Burtschi Brothers. For Willow’s 30th birthday, she, my mom, and I stood outside at an amphitheater in Eufaula, OK, surviving being pelted with hail during a crazy-ass thunderstorm just to see Mickey & The Motorcars, Wade Bowen, Boland, Reckless Kelly, Gary Allan, and Ragweed. It was one of the best days of my life. Little did we know, less than a year later, my mom would be taken from us, suddenly and tragically.
After my mom died, I was floating in a haze of the most extreme anguish I had ever felt in my life. I am not a religious person–some might label me an atheist or an agnostic or a secular humanist. So the whole concept of praying, heaven, and seeing her in the afterlife provided no comfort for me. All I knew was she was gone, and it hurt like a motherfucker. So one summer night, my friend Coco* invited me out to go see the band No Justice. An old friend of hers is a member of the band, and as much as I love music, she knew I’d love their show. So we loaded up and headed south of the border (that means Texas) to see this band I’d never heard of play songs I didn’t know.
Walking into that honky tonk and hearing this music that combined everything I loved about rock, country, and blues changed my life. By the end of the night, I was patting Brison Bursey’s hair, taking pictures with Steve Rice, and drunk bartering a BBB tee from Joey Trevino. This was my church. I felt something come alive inside me, something I hadn’t felt since singing “Songs About Rain”with my Mama and Willow in our panchos the year before.
After that, I bought every No Justice CD and learned every song until I could sing them in my sleep. I hit every show within a decent driving distance whenever I could. I talked about them incessantly on Twitter and Facebook because FOR CRIMENY’S SAKE, this was the best band ever, didn’t you know?! If I was so in love with their sound, then everyone else should be, too, dammit! Some friends called me obsessed, and Coco just called me a stalker. I just called myself… Okay, I called myself a stalker too. But I regret nothing! Do you hear that?! I don’t even regret my birthday last year when my friends and I were almost banned for life from not only No Justice but from the Motel 6 in Altus, OK (and quite possibly the city of Altus, in general).
It also helped that the local radio station here in my little border town, KKAJ, plays a fantastic balance of new, old, and TX/Red Dirt country. I started branching out, buying albums with the vigor that I usually saved for fancy coffee. The next thing I knew, I was hitting every live show that came to town, and some that even involved a road trip or two… More than anything–the music, the performance, the artists–this is what helped me survive the worst time of my life. My friends and family were actually probably the most important, but the music is what helped me heal on the inside.
In this past year and a half, I’ve had the honor of seeing the following performers:
- No Justice (5 times)
- Brison Bursey Band
- Eli Young Band
- Tim McGraw (hate to admit it, but best country “concert” ever)
- Lady Antebellum
- Arbuckle Express
- Jon Wolfe
- Joey Green
- Mike McClure (2)
- Gary Allan (5 times total, lifetime)
- Jeff Allen (NICEST guy, and it was a pleasure to drink a beer with him and see him change his shirt in the green room)
- Johnny Cooper (2)
- Miranda Lambert (stayed for 2 songs before I left that mess @ Billy Bob’s)
- David Allan Coe
- Jason Boland & the Stragglers (3 times total, lifetime)
- Tom Petty (BEST birthday gift EVER from Mr. D)
- ZZ Top
- Earl Thomas Conley
- The Departed (with that guy Cody Canada, for those of you who don’t know…)
- Leftfoot Sally
- Randy Rogers Band
- Chad Sullins Band
- Turnpike Troubadours
So yeah, it’s been good times. I know that after we move to the Great Northwest, that my opportunities to see live performances of the music I love best will be practically nonexistent, so I’m trying to cram in as much as I can in the next 4 weeks. So far on the agenda are: No Justice (my last stalk!), Dierks Bentley, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and MAYBE Granger Smith (if I can talk the spouse into it or if I can sneak out of the house).
Maybe I am a little obsessed. Maybe I am kind of a stalker–but a loving, benevolent, respectful stalker. Maybe I won’t be satisfied until I have a band koozie collection that inspires my friends to call Hoarders on me. But THIS is where I feel most alive. THIS is where I remember my Mom and how we’d sing along and not give a damn. THIS is my sacred ground–a crowded, smoky bar where the beer is cold, the music is loud, and everyone feels at home.
And to not leave on a sappy note… Here’s my favorite No Justice song, which I plan to bribe the band to play 17 times in a row when I see them on October 1!
*Remember, names changed to protect the innocent…
I probably don’t have a single friend who doesn’t get all dreamy-eyed when she hears Miranda’s twangy “Sometimes I wish I lived in an Airstream, homemade curtains, lived just like a gypsy, break a heart, roll out of town, cause gypsies never get tied down…” The whole gypsy-rambling thing seems pretty popular these days, be it fashion, decor, or state of mind. It’s too bad that literal modern gypsies are usually actually parts of home roofing and paintless dent repair schemes. But I digress…
Women my age romanticize this lifestyle, probably mostly because we were that generation who was raised simultaneously with just enough feminism to yearn for independence but just enough traditionalism to also realize that husband, kids, and Food Network cooking shows aren’t so bad either. My Granny has never seemed to let on that she’s ever dreamed of anything outside her farm house and chickens–or maybe her generation just isn’t as vocal about it. Either way, here we are, singing along to a song on the radio, imagining ourselves in a 1955 Ford truck pulling a vintage airstream to destinations unknown.
I’ve been a tad obsessed with Route 66 since my college days, when I was a waitress at a roadside diner off Old 66 where we served dishes named after popular songs of the 50’s and 60’s. A jukebox with all those songs sat in the corner, and you could get two plays for a quarter. This is the reason I can’t hear “The Sound of Silence” without thinking of sticky floors and rolling silverware. The best part of that job was meeting the people who were traveling Route 66, or what was left of it. Some would actually start in Chicago, and some just ended up there and decided it was as good of a place as any to be. I still remember the couple from Panama City Beach, FL who tipped me $20 and offered me a place for spring break should I end up in Florida, simply because they liked my accent (which was thicker back then). I’m sure that my knowing a little about the history of the area and it being a slow night didn’t hurt either. They were the first ones I’d met, though, who were passionate about driving Route 66 in its entirety. These two retirees genuinely appeared to be having more fun than any old people I knew, and I wanted that. I started reading everything I could about 66–the history, the downfall, the revival. The idea of making this trip settled into a special place in my mind, and whenever I dream of getting away, the compass points west.
I can’t afford a classic Ford or a trailer right now, so I have to settle for the tag on the back of my Mom Car being framed by the words “The Mother Road: Route 66.” Even if I had the money, right now, I don’t have the time. Little Daisy is in school, and Mr. Daisy has a career that doesn’t allow for huge amounts of time off. But someday it’ll happen. And until then, I’ll just keep thinking about following the sunset until I reach the ocean. Then it’ll be off to a new adventure…