BeYouTiful.

Be-You-Tiful!       

I saw that on a sign in a store I was visiting for the first time, a craft store. 

I thought about buying the little sign to put near my bathroom mirror, but decided it was too expensive. Instead, I decided to write about it. 

Growing up with a house full of sisters, I witnessed a lot of primping in the name of beauty.  Even though we were all taught about ‘beauty on the inside’ – every unwanted task ‘built character,’ according to Mother – I think, like most girls, we all strove for outward beauty, too, to some point.  As the youngest, I wanted to emulate my older sisters, but I never liked dresses or pantyhose, and I was no good at the hair and makeup routine.  In spite of my sister Missy’s best efforts, I was still a tomboy at heart and was most comfortable bare-faced, wearing jeans and a ponytail. Missy would fix my hair and do my makeup for special occasions, but if left to my own devices, I would scrub it all off and tie my hair back. 

Besides — Mother didn’t have pierced ears, and she didn’t wear makeup save for a touch of lipstick on special occasions.  Was my mother beautiful?  Oh, yes.  She had lovely skin, thick, wavy hair, and shapely legs.  She had a twinkle in her blue eyes and a warm smile accented with her trademark gap. 

My sisters eschewed elaborate makeup and lengthy hair rituals.  It was just not important to them (or to me).  My sisters who did use makeup and did spend time with curlers and Aqua-Net looked lovely but never overly ‘done.’  Less is more, Mother would say.  And it didn’t matter what else you wore, as long as you were wearing a smile.  My sisters all wore lovely smiles, with clear eyes and kind words.  My sisters are all beautiful, makeup or no.

I think that helped me feel confident in my choices.  I could throw on some blusher and lip gloss when I had to, but I wasn’t about to get up at 5 a.m. and spend the next two hours putting on my face and wielding a curling iron. 

In the awkward years of adolescence, I tried to find myself in the magazines and department stores.  I borrowed my sister’s clothes to try to look more stylish and more like her.  I tried to talk my mom into buying me a pair of Sperry Topsiders, the loafers I saw in Seventeen magazine.  I was convinced that if I had those, I could surely pull off that Phoebe Cates back-to-school look.  No go.  At various times I tried to update my look to the Farrah Fawcett feathered ‘do, the poodle perm and the Dorothy Hamill wedge cut.  Um, no.  None of them worked for me.  I figured I was doomed to be utterly plain and style-free.

In my twenties, with a little more confidence, I dressed up a little more and wore makeup more often, under my sister’s tutelage, of course.  Mostly it was because Missy wouldn’t go out with me unless I did.  It was a fun time, and I always marveled at how she could look so put together, even in a pair of jeans.  It never rubbed off on me, though – she was Missy, and I was not.  I couldn’t borrow someone else’s look.  I had to find my own.

Let’s be clear – I don’t consider myself beautiful.  As far as looks go, I think I’m pretty solidly in the middle between ‘Eek!’ and ‘Wowza!’  I never had much of a figure; I’m built more like a tree trunk than an hourglass.  I’m content to hide my legs and cankles under jeans most of the time.  My butt is flat, which led me to live in nothing but Levi’s 501 jeans for a while.  They fit me better than girls’ jeans ever did.  I don’t have an eye for fashion, so I stick with what I know, which is jeans and sweatshirts.  As Mother would say, “All my taste is in my mouth.”

My best feature is probably my eyes, but they’ve been behind glasses since I was 7.  (Of course, that is what all fat chicks get complimented on, anyway.)  I like my hair, too. It has always been thick and full (less so now as I age), but it does have a mind of its own.  A wave here, a cowlick there, and it was just too stubborn to do what I wanted it to.  So short hair or ponytails have been my go-to styles. 

I have rarely worn makeup.  I rationalized that if you didn’t like my face the way God made it, you didn’t have to look at me.  (I still feel that way.)   I married a man who has never been crazy about makeup on women.  ‘What are they trying to hide?’ he says.  He says makeup is best when you can’t see it.  So if I don’t wear it, he can’t see it – perfect, eh?  And he still thinks I’m beautiful. Confession: I recently replaced the 20-something year old makeup in my bag with a few new, fresh items.  I don’t need much, but a touch of lip tint is nice. 

So – honestly – I love the BeYouTiful sentiment. 

I came to terms with my face a long time ago.  (Still working on the body part.)  I am no beauty queen, but I am me, and I can still be a strong, beautiful me.  I want to smile with confidence, hold my head up, and look the world in the eye.  I want to wear bold colors and stand up straight instead of shrinking back and trying to hide.  I want to stop holding back and hesitating.  I want to speak my mind.  I want to love my life and who I am and where I’m going.

And I want you to do the same.  BeYOUTiful.

 

 

 photo credit: GabrielaP93

The Big Five-Oh.


Next year, I’ll be 50.  Half a century – you know, Nifty Fifty – ripe fodder for jokes about ‘Old-Timer’s Disease’, gag party gifts like adult diapers and Geritol, and paybacks for all the ribbing I gave my sisters as they reached that golden age.  

Fifty isn’t old.

Fifty isn’t traumatic.

Fifty isn’t the end of the world or the end of my life.  At least, I hope it isn’t.

But fifty is the number of years my sister Missy was given on this earth, and as I approach that birthday, my head and heart are filled with a certain apprehension – what if my life stopped right here?  Am I ready?  Would I fight it, or would I accept it?  Would I be strong enough?  I confess that because my sister Wendy died just a week shy of her 43rd birthday, I could think of nothing else when I reached 42.

When my sisters died, I was an adult, and so were they.  I am sure it is much more difficult for people who lost their brothers or sisters as children – I cannot even imagine, and I cannot speak for them.  Children tend to blame themselves when things like abuse or divorce happen; I suspect that they would also blame themselves if they lost a sister or brother.  I did not have that guilt; as a grown up, I knew it wasn’t my fault.

Still, the sad regret is there – the what ifs…the if onlys… the second-guessing…the replaying of events in my head.  And it’s not just family whose passing makes me compare my lifespan to theirs.  My friend Jon was only 32 when he perished in a house fire.  My dear friend Shirley was 47 when she succumbed to a pulmonary embolism (blood clot).  At each of those ages, I looked in the mirror and asked the questions for which I had no real answer.  I suppose this is a normal part of grieving and moving on.

Life offers no guarantees.  Today I talked with a friend about people who overcome extreme personal adversity, such as the loss of limbs or a grave illness, to live their lives not defined by, but in spite of, those circumstances.  We talked about how attitudes toward death can determine how we live.  We agreed that even for people like us, who do not live under the cloud of a serious disease or catastrophic injury, life holds no promises.  We talked about how life can change – or end – in a moment.  Can we ever really be ready?

So, at 32, with young children, I was grateful, but still checked my smoke detectors.  

At 42, I looked at my own family and was thankful that my sister’s passing would leave no children motherless. 

At 47, I thought about Shirley and how much she had done for others all of her short life. 

And when 50 comes, I will think about Missy and what a terrific grandma she would have been, and I will cherish every moment with my family.

Because sometimes, it feels like borrowed time.

photo credit tawest64

Goodbye, Girl.

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Sweets and Desi

In the beginning there was a chocolate Lab, whose dalliance with an Australian Shepherd resulted in 11 pups; all but one survived.  So the ten that were left were perfect pairs: a pair of chocolates, a pair of Blue Merle Aussies, two pair of black Labs, and a pair of Red Merle Aussies.  The owner had promised Mr. Stuck a pup or two, so after the requisite waiting period, we went to choose.

The ten little pups were adorable, as pups tend to be.  We had first pick of the litter.  I was immediately drawn to the little fuzzball Aussies with their beautiful markings.  My better half was charmed by the little chocolates, a boy and a girl.  The girl was obviously the runt, quite a bit smaller than the others.

Mr. Stuck picked her up and held her, and she curled into his hand.  “Well, hello, Sweets,” he cooed softly, using the nickname he used when our daughter was young.  She fidgeted and gave a little whine.  Immediately, he found out why.  He put her back down and wiped her mess off his hand.  “I want that one,” he smiled.  “We’ve bonded.”  The other chocolate pup, the boy, trotted boldly over.  “That one, too.”  He wanted both chocolates.  Fine with me, as long as I could have the Blue girl with the different-colored eyes.  We couldn’t believe it, but we were going home with three of those puppies, and we were excited!

They grew up fast, the three of them, Desi, Porter, and Sweets.  I named Desi, which was kind of a variant of Dizzy, because she was a playful, goofy pup.  Porter’s name came from a brainstorming session with the kids in the car, trying to think of a good name for a brown dog.  The momma dog was named Tootsie Roll, so that was out.  We offered up Brownie, Chocolate, Hershey, and other names along the same line.  None fit.  Eventually, we ran out of ideas.  “Try to think of brown things,” I urged the boys.  They then made a potty-humored joke, so I knew we’d better think of something quickly or this session wasn’t going to improve.  Mr. Stuck and I noted a billboard advertising beer, which inspired us to rattle off all the different varieties we could think of.  ‘Porter,’ we realized, was perfect.  And after what she did in Mr. Stuck’s hand that first day, and their ‘bonding,’ ‘Sweets’ she was and would always be.

Because we live out where there are acres and acres of trees and underbrush and salt water nearby, there are lots of wild critters around.  The dogs gave chase to just about everything that showed up here.  We had installed an invisible fence, but Porter would still take off after a rabbit, running through the boundary without hesitation.  Problem was, he’d lose the rabbit, and then not want to come back to our side of the fence.  Desi and Sweets would sit facing him, about 10 feet away, with the buried fence in between.  Porter would sit and whine until we had to physically go over and bring him back.

We soon realized that even though Porter looked like his mom, he acted like his dad — he was active and loved to run and chase, and he never failed to engage with whatever animal came by.  This became a problem, so we had to find a better place for him.  Fortunately, a man Mr. Stuck worked with was looking for a companion dog for his own, and he wanted to train them together for hunting.  After hearing about Porter, he arranged to come out and pick him up.  He brought his dog along, and the two dogs hit it off well.  We knew it was the right thing, because the man had a large fenced ‘corral’ area for the dogs to run, and that’s what Porter needed.  We couldn’t have him escaping several times a day, as he had been.  Plus, he’d receive good training and a lot of love, so we were confident in our decision.

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A sister moment.

It was sad to see Porter go, but it was best for everyone.  Desi and Sweets stuck close together, and they were far calmer than their brother.  Yes, Sweets would chase rabbits, but it was more as a distraction than anything else.  Desi just wanted attention; she’d drop to the ground on her back and with pleading eyes, beg for someone to rub her belly.  Sweets would hang back.  She always took backseat to her more gregarious sister, but they stayed close.

Years rolled on, and the girls mingled happily with the neighbor dogs, followed the boys to the bus stop, and wandered down to the oyster beds across the street.  Desi’s coat would be covered in whatever they found — puddles, blackberry vines, squirrel carcass, dirt — but she was always so happy, it never mattered.  But they got older and slower, and so did we; their coats showed gray, and so did our hair.

Recently, we noticed Sweets limping.  We felt along her legs and paws, with no reaction.  We thought maybe it was arthritis, because she was more than 10 years old now.  She still came when you called her, but it was tougher for her to get up and down.  She slept a lot, and she looked tired.  She was an old dog.

One day a couple of weeks ago, Number Young Son asked me if I’d seen Sweets lately.  I thought for a second and replied that I had seen her the day before when I pulled in the driveway.   He said he hadn’t seen her all day, and she didn’t come when he called her.  No big deal — we thought maybe she had gone off on an adventure and she’d be home when she got hungry.  I reassured him that she’d be back.  Nevertheless, he looked for her: under the porch, where she liked to sleep; in the woods, where she chased the critters, and on the neighbor’s property, where Sweets liked to socialize with the other dogs.  He went up and down the road and looked and called and whistled, but she never came.

We found out soon after that the dogs had gotten into the garbage can, where there were chicken bones.  The lid hadn’t been secured on the can, so they were able to knock it over and check out the contents with ease.  Now, we wondered if perhaps that was a factor in her disappearance.  I guess we would never know for sure.  Desi was fine, but you could tell she missed her sister.

So, tonight, it’s been two weeks since we’ve seen Sweets.  I have been hoping for a happy ending; a joyous reunion of family.  She is family, of course.  But that was not to be.  Tonight, I went out on the deck as Mr. Stuck heated the grill for dinner.  I made an offhand comment on the smell that I thought was coming from the bait-filled freezer.  I came back inside and sat down; the ribs were in the pressure cooker and the broccoli was on the grill.  I could take a break.

Pretty soon, Mr. Stuck came in, set down the  flashlight he carried and said, “I found Sweets.”
“Where?”
“Way back under the porch, curled up.  She probably died in her sleep.”

Aside from the emotion of the situation, the logistics of it are unpleasant, at best.  We will have to retrieve her somehow, wrap her in a tarp or something, and give her a decent burial.

I’m sad.  I’ve been feeling guilty about not canvassing the neighborhood and affixing ‘LOST DOG’ signs to anything that didn’t move.  I wanted to look for her, but I think we all just resigned ourselves to the idea that she had gone off to die.  We assume that she died of natural causes, because when he found her, she looked exactly as if she was sleeping.  Of course, we would never want her to suffer.

Goodbye, Sweets.  We will never forget you.

Remembering June.

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Been in rather a blue funk for a few days.  In addition to the letdown after the hyperventilation surrounding high school graduation for my youngest; the impending 6-week hiatus from our dear friends; and the sick week I just had, it’s June.  June is Father’s Day and graduation, or, for those with younger kids, the month when school lets out and kids are underfoot.  Roses fill the air with their perfume; gardens explode in green; we celebrate the summer solstice; and Sir Paul McCartney and my friend Chris blow out birthday candles in June.

And it is also my sister Missy’s birthday.  Next week she would have been 52.

Two years ago, two of my sisters and I flew down to Georgia to visit Missy and join the sister who was already there.  It was the occasion of Missy’s 50th birthday, and she was in the hospital.  We wanted to make sure to give her a 50th birthday none of us would forget.  We brought along goodies she loved but couldn’t get in Georgia and took decorations and funny things to make her laugh.  Once there, we went shopping for more.  We got her a cake and even a little contraband — small ‘splits’ of wine we thought she might like to try.

None of us could voice what was aching in our hearts.  We were there because we feared that this birthday would be her last.  She needed us, and we needed her.  So we went down to spend time with her, all of us, together.  We would bring some fun to her for awhile and show her some sister love. Our eldest sister was already there helping to care for her, which was a blessing.  We came to see her husband and children and give them some support, as well.

When we first surprised her in her room, on our arrival, it was wonderful.  She hadn’t known we all were coming, and it was a joyous occasion.  Missy perked up, and we set about fussing over her, laughing and joking like old times.

A couple of nights later, in the darkened and vacant hotel lobby, with poster board, markers, and stickers, the four of us made signs to brighten her room.  We laid the paper on the floor and drew around our feet; we traced our hands and thought of silly slogans to write.  We talked and sang and danced and laughed until we nearly wet our pants.  I haven’t felt so close to my sisters in a long while.

The day of her birthday, we arranged for her to be taken out of her room for a few minutes while we set up her party decorations.  We had hoped to put a sign on the outside of her door, as well, but the staff wouldn’t allow it.  No matter — we had streamers and hats and noisy things and cards and little fun gifts for her.  We had cake and shrimp and the contraband wine.  We had to stall the nurse a bit, but when it was all ready, we gave the high sign for her to come in.

She was happily surprised at the party; in addition to her husband and sons and us girls, she had other visitors and well-wishers.  We sang and chatted and she opened her gifts; we had silly hats and glasses for her, as well as a big round ‘button’ made of a paper plate pinned to her gown that said, “Ask Me about AARP!” (American Association of Retired Persons)  We all had fun.  Afterward, she was tired, so we toned it all down and left her to rest.

I will always remember that visit more for the bonding we shared during those days than for what specific things we did or talked about.  We all carry the scar of losing the sister who died with our parents fourteen years ago; that is a sad, but strong, bond we already share.  Even as different as we all are, our love for each other is steadfast.

I wish I could better describe that feeling of oneness with my sisters; it is rather new, as we are not all close in age, and therefore didn’t all grow up together.  We are of three different groups within the family: the two eldest sisters and my brother, who is firstborn, are the first group; after a five-year gap, there are two more girls; after another five years, Missy and me.  We have always been a close family overall, but after we lost our parents and sister in 1999, we realized how short life is and we drew tightly to one another.  We are not often all together physically, either, since one lives in Georgia, one spends half the year in Arizona, and the rest of us live in Washington.  For those few days, we were all together, with no agenda but to be grateful for them and enjoy ourselves.

There is a lot more to this story, but there will be time for that.  Let’s just say that she left us at the age of 50, which was far too young.  Life is so damned short.

So I’m blue.  My heart aches with the weight of memory and loss.  Junes will come and go, but they will always be Missy’s month: not only was it her birthday, but her husband’s birthday is the week before, and their wedding anniversary falls in between.

Dads and grads may take the spotlight, but June belongs to her.