Monthly Archives: December 2011

I must have blinked …

Tonight I sat still long enough to identify what’s been eating at me for the past several, head-spinning days, from Grandma Nola peacefully slipping from this life into Heaven in the early hours of Dec. 21 to the funeral, a memorable but bittersweet Christmas Day, to my ka-thunk! onto the ice, a couple of days off to paint and primp granddaughter Kianna’s bedroom (and she’s not even here yet to make it really light up), to a somewhat whirlwind trip this morning to Warrensburg to visit my brother and mom.

Whew. (And an uber-long sentence to describe it all).

Me and my brother, Robert, on his 50th birthday. That was five years ago and he's seven years older than me. You do the math: in two years, I'll hit the Big Five-O.

I worked the odd-hour weekend shift at the Tribune tonight (and again tomorrow evening). Kelly texted me at about 6:30 to let me know Natasha’s boyfriend, Kory, had arrived from Virginia, and they were headed back to Centerview/Warrensburg. Once again, our nest was empty. But I could tell from my bride’s text that it wasn’t a happy empty. It was empty. During the emotional roller-coaster of the last several days, Natasha has been an anchor, a constant. When that dawned on me, it hit me: My baby girl is all grown up. I must have blinked, because her sister is eight months pregnant. My little girls are women. What’s even more amazing is how they can be so diametrically different in so many ways, yet resemble each other — and how they both reflect their mother’s incredible inner strength, undying optimism and passion for life. So much attention is focused more and more on yet-to-arrive Kianna, and our little family enjoyed that together this week.

Kishia and Natasha, once upon a time ...

I recently heard someone mention that a man had retired or changed jobs because he wanted to spend more time with his family, to which someone else remarked, “No one wants to spend that much time with their family.”
If those someones had my family, then yes, they’d absolutely want to spend more time with them. Our empty nest reminds us just how blessed we are.

All grown up in '08, a few weeks before the presidential election. Kishia just planted an Obama sticker on her conservative sister.


Natasha holding her prize Mini-Rex "Buddy" in a senior picture six years ago.

Kelly holding her prize Natasha, 24 years ago.

And me with a chicken on my shoulder four years ago. You’ve gotta love how the Creator brings order out of chaos, and sometimes you just have to embrace life’s random moments.

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Spoiling Kianna already

When Kianna Allene Brown arrives Feb. 19 (thereabouts), she'll come home to this cute, cute baby room.

First, to file under “what not to say to a pregnant woman, especially when said pregnant woman is your wife.” Son-in-law Darnell has the same malady that has plagued me all my life. It’s the “think-it say-it” curse. The way he teases our daughter and eight-months preggo mom-to-be, Kishia, I knew what he was getting ready to say, but I was powerless to stop it. Kishia got up from sitting on the floor and walked across the room.

Darnell: “Stop waddling.”

Kishia: Shoves Darnell down the stairs.

Darnell, being a wiry but solid guy, managed to avoid injury.

Yesterday and today were true family work days. Natasha is home on Christmas break, so she went with me and Kelly to work on getting baby Kianna’s room ready at the Darnell/Kishia Brown home in Jefferson City. Yesterday I had “happy pills” with me to ease the pain and discomfort of my bounceless fall on black ice Tuesday morning.  Today’s foray to the ‘Capital City was sans happy pills, so by about 7 p.m., I was ready to be rendered unconscious by any means available.

The paint fumes didn’t quite do it.

Darnell and I measured, cut and put up trim and door casing, and painted closet doors and Kianna’s furniture. We managed to goof off just a bit, too.

Grandpa Jackson with buddy and dad-to-be Darnell.

Kelly, Kishia and Natasha did the room decorating, turning a bumper pad into curtains, meticulously applying tree, blossom, flower and butterfly transfers to the wall, and sundry other decorating-type things that Darnell and I didn’t notice because we were too busy, um, painting.

Kianna’s room is now ready for her Feb. 19 arrival. And Kishia is clearly ready for Kianna’s arrival. She and Darnell will be — already are — great parents.


Kishia and Natasha, sisters working together. (Do I need to point out which one is eight months pregnant? Notice I didn't say "waddling.")


Grammy Jackson's handiwork!



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Today’s blog is brought to you by Sodium Diclofenac (anti-inflammatory) and Tramadol (pain med), courtesy of a Jodie-size patch of black ice that put me on my side and butt in the middle of Ash Street at 8:05 this morning. Myself said to me as I got to my feet, “This will hurt worse later.”

“Later” came around 12:30, and after three hours and about a dozen X-rays at University Hospital-Urgent Care, I was given the good news of no fractures or dislocations. My record now also reads, “Unremarkable exam of left elbow.” In this case, “unremarkable” means “good thing.” But it still sounds, so, well … unremarkable. (By the way, the pain is “remarkable.”)

My happy pills bring bouts of drowsiness and whimsy. As a result, I now find myself longing for spring. My mind will focus on a bird’s nest that I photographed in May 2007. Good night …

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Memoir-in-progress: Dec. 24-25, 1975

Note to self: You’ve been a certified nerd a long, long time. Twelve years old and keeping a diary? I know, I know, you called it your “little book,” but it was a diary.

Note to reader: I was in seventh grade, living in Jefferson City. Didn’t know it at the time, but it was the final Christmas that my family was “intact.” By the time Christmas ’76 rolled around and Queen had completely rocked my world with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” my parents were divorced.

From the “little book” … (Sorry no photographic evidence):

“12-24-75: I’m about to go to bed. Kathy and I put on our X-mas program. George is hurt, but I prayed for him. He’s lots better. It’s hard to go to bed on X-mas Eve.

12-25-75: Christmas Day! I didn’t think anything about getting a hamster. I went downstairs at 7:15 this morning. I heard Mom talking about a loose hamster, but I didn’t know what to think. It had gnawed out of the box Mom had it in. She caught it so then I had it as an X-mas present. Early this morning Dad brought out a big triangular box. I guessed right off: it was a guitar. I’m making friends with my hamster, Christmas, a female, and this has been a great X-mas.”

MEMOIR MENTIONS: Kathy is my sister. She was the baby of the family until I was born 21 months after her. Kathy recently turned 50. I’m next. Kathy and I performed a family-only Christmas program (song and skits) for several years. George was my mutt dog. He was about eight months old. I recall that he jumped off the back of the couch and hurt his leg, but it didn’t bother him for long. Must have been a good prayer, huh?

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Christmas 2011

Christmas is an automatic time marker, the surest way to tell that another year has passed.

The most satisfying way to visualize the march of time is by watching our girls enjoy the march of time. Here’s Kishia and Natasha in 1988 and 2011.

Kishia and Natasha, Christmas Eve 2011. Kishia is due to deliver Kianna Allene Brown in seven weeks. Our joy of impending grandparenthood is surpassed only by the joy of Kishia and hubby Darnell to be parents.

Kelly holds Kishia, left, and Natasha, showing off the soft sleepware made by Grandma Nola who we said good-bye to on Friday.

Specific Christmas memories? Best gift(s) ever: 1973 – microscope. Worst ever: Not sure if it was ’73 or ’74 when I opened a present inadvertently labeled for me. My youngest sister’s (training?) bra. That microscope gave me a window into the unseen world and fully unlocked my already active imagination. (We’ll skip the effects of the other aforementioned, mislabeled gift). Then 1978, my brother gave me a typewriter. For me, it was one of my life’s most profound moments, a validation — and encouragement — that even as a freshman in high school, I was destined to be a writer.

Maybe not the same dramatic impact as when John Walton presented John Boy Walton with Big Chief writing tablets in that 1971 classic, “The Homecoming,” but close. And speaking of that Christmas season classic, here’s a clip that contains one of the most moving scenes of any film I’ve seen. If you don’t want to watch the entire clip, the scene I’m referring to goes from the 5:59 mark to the 11:00 mark.

“Things stay in my mind, Mama. I can’t forget anything. And it all gets bottled up in here. Sometimes I feel like a crazy man. I can’t rest or sleep or anything until I just rush off up here and write it down in that tablet. Sometimes I think I really am crazy.”

Oh, yes, I know, John Boy. I know it.

Now to lighten the mood, how about some Will Ferrell as “Elf”?

Good night, Christmas.

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Kelly and Grandma

Nola Faye McDaniel became my grandma by marriage 29 ½ years ago. My bride, Kelly, was her first grandchild. In many ways, Nola was as much a mother as a grandmother to Kelly. Our daughter, Kishia, who will deliver Grandma’s first great-great-grandchild in seven weeks, was her first great-grandchild.

Today’s post is a very personal reflection by Kelly. She wrote these thoughts six months ago when it seemed certain that Grandma Nola was going to enter Gloryland at any moment. At the time, Kelly was taking turns with his sisters staying overnight with Grandma in her home, until it was painfully obvious that she needed around-the-clock, skilled nursing care.

kelly and granny

Kelly paints Grandma’s nails Sunday morning at Frene Valley Healthcare in Owensville. The close-up is Kelly’s reaction to Grandma’s request for “bright red” next time. Grandma never was fond of red.

We had Grandma for six more months after Kelly wrote this. She passed into Heaven at 12:41 a.m. Wednesday, with 12 family members surrounding her bed, singing a hymn. Just 10 minutes earlier, Kelly was lotioning her sweet grandmother’s feet, legs, hands and arms.

Our youngest, Natasha, arrived from Warrensburg just four minutes before Nola’s final breath peacefully carried her into the arms of Jesus. As Grandma’s spirit soared, Natasha softly sang “Blessed Assurance.”

Here’s Kelly’s reflection, “How do you let your hero go?”


I never envisioned a world without my grandma. It just wasn’t something I would or could ever imagine. She has always been there. My grandma’s name should be included in the definition of “unconditional love.” Oh, yes, Grandma scolded and shamed you for doing things that she considered not right. But all through that scolding, you knew she loved you and her love would never change.

Some say it is a blessing to be able to know when your loved one’s time is drawing near. I still don’t see that blessing. I guess I’m just selfish because I don’t want to give up my grandma. I know she will be better off in Heaven, but I guess it’s like she is the walls of my house — without her I feel like I can’t continue to stand.

Staying with her while she is so ill is so difficult. I keep grasping for a sign of grandma: A spunky look or sentence. An order to do something the right way, cook an egg right, make green beans right, eat enough … on an on.

I lotion her legs and she has to put lotion on my face. How do you give that up? Grandma says, “Kelly, we really know each other, don’t we? All those years you lived with me — we really got to know each other well.”

“Yeah, Grandma, we really know each other.” She grabs me and cries, I cry — why are we crying? I don’t know. I guess because we know in our hearts it won’t be much longer. We won’t be able to hold each other much longer. We won’t be able to sing songs to each other much longer. We won’t be able to talk about all the cool things I did growing up. We won’t be able to talk about all the ornery things Grandpa and I did to scare her. We won’t be able to talk about recipes or gardening.

Who will tell me my hair looks good or bad this way? Who will be brutally honest with me in a loving way? Who will remember all the scary times, the funny times, the desperate times, the celebrations with me? Who will I visit and have slumber parties with, eating cookies and laughing and drinking hot chocolate with whipped cream after 9 o’lock just because we can? Who will keep reminding me of all the old songs we have sung together?

When I’m not with Grandma, I’m constantly scanning my mind for memories. Once I find one I hold it close, so close as if it is necessary in order for me to take another breath; it is what will keep me from dying from loss. Memories of holidays, the many nights when I lived with her, her teaching me new recipes, the two of us sewing clothes for my next school trip. I’d find an outfit I liked in the Montgomery Ward catalog – and she would just make it. No pattern. We’d spend the whole weekend just sewing an outfit for me. I was so proud of my designer outfits, because they were “Grandma Originals.”

Who will call me when I’m having a bad day just to tell me a joke? (Sometimes a dirty one). Who will tell me she knows I can do whatever I set my mind to because I always have, and if I don’t, she will whip my butt?

Each evening I tuck grandma in just like she tucked me in so many times. I kiss her forehead and I tell her I love her so much, she reaches up and grabs me, looks right in my eyes and says, “I love you so much, too.”

Grandma reminds me sometimes of when she and Grandpa drove all the way to Alabama to save me from an abusive situation. She reminds me of all the times she and Grandpa saw the marks that were left and how it hurt her so much to see them. My hero – how can you let that go?

Will I always keep grasping for a sign of Grandma? I still grasp for a sign of Grandpa? How do you let your hero go?

Grandma has always been so strong. When I lived with her as a teenager, she would work in 100 degree heat in the furniture factory, come home, fix supper, till the garden, weed her flower beds and still keep moving until the moment we sat down in the living room together to watch “The Jeffersons.” She’d laugh and laugh and slap her leg and laugh some more. When we went to bed, she lay in her bed — and I in mine — and she’d talk on and on for another 30 minutes or longer. Sometimes I fell asleep listening to her tell stories into the night. Then she’d get up before daylight and do it all over again. Nothing could stop my grandma, and if you thought you could, she would let you know real quick that you couldn’t and better not even try. How do you let that go?

Who will tell all those old stories to the little great grandchildren? Who will sing them songs? Who will cook their favorite pie, cookie or cake like Grandma did?
Grandma will tell you the greatest thing she ever did was give birth to my mom. She and Mom have a bond like no other. I know Mom will continue to tell us the stories and cook all the favorites when she can, but I won’t have Grandma. How can I let go of her?

Grandma and Grandpa were the only grandparents I ever really had, and oh boy did they spoil me! I regret now all the times I didn’t appreciate Grandma for every tiny little thing she did, even the many times she spit-cleaned my face or threatened to spank my butt. Even now I won’t argue with her, even though I know sometimes it is best for her to do what I need her to do. She taught me you always respect your elders. She taught me so much: How to plant the perfect tomato, how to get an ornery stain out, how to make the perfect biscuit, pie crust, cookie. How to turn a nickel into a quarter if you had to. Never waste anything. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Wastefulness is a sin. So many lessons, so many values, so many memories.

How can I say goodbye to my hero?


December 23, 2011 · 8:34 pm