Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Come Sail Away

My father passed on November 2nd of this year. We had a "homecoming" service for him and were invited to get up and say something. I had written down what I wanted to say because I was afraid that I would be so overcome with emotion I would not be able to wing it and/or get through it. I was right on both counts as it turns out.

My father loved humor and is probably the reason why I carry on the family tradition. So, with a wounded heart, I approached the podium with my notes in hand. I looked out to an audience of standing room only and in his honor began, "My name is Karen. I am the oldest daughter of Kenneth Smith....and his favorite." The room erupted in laughter and I winked at my two sisters laughing through their tears. I relaxed a little and then looked down at my notes, praying I could remain strong throughout my speech. However, due to the glare of the lights on the podium and my old eyes, I realized I could not read my notes; not without my glasses... which were in my the social hall. That's when my previous self prediction proved right on. I could not wing it and I was unable to say what I wanted to say without my life preserver of written notes. I said what I could and left the podium before my heart broke and leaked tears.

So, dad....this is for you:

My father was both a master shipbuilder and captain of my ship in life. He was a brilliant man who could and DID do the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen. He helped me build my ship with planks of humility, iron rods of belief, ropes of kindness and sails filled with the winds of laughter. He taught me how to sail through the waters of life, see a storm on the horizon and know when to turn for home and when to batten down and wait it out.

I learned so much from him about the seas of life. I learned that you have to love what you do or you will never live up to your potential. He always said, "Do your best and be the best at what you do". I learned that nothing is more important than family because there is not one concert, marching band performance, music competition, school play, you name it, that he was not front and center: not one. I learned that children are disciplined, not punished and praised for doing the right thing just as often if not more than reprimanded. I cannot remember in my entire life ever hearing my father curse or even raise his voice: ever.

My father was my dock that I could return to any time I felt unsure of taking on the seas of life or needed advice on how to navigate my ship that he had helped me build. As I got older, I visited the dock less often but was secure in the fact that it was still there. I would always be safe as long as he was there.

Now he's gone and the hole that is left by that fact is almost unbearable. But he was such a good father to me that I am able to stand here today and know that I have been taught by the best and my ship is the strongest one out there. I know that I have been well prepared to take on the roughest seas because I got the best captain. I will always miss him, but I will sail on. And one day, I know that he will be that lighthouse sitting on that last horizon to guide me home.

In Memory of Kenneth Garland Smith May 3, 1937 - November 2, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Daddy's Girl

My father is dying. Renal cancer, they say. How long? Month to month is the best they can give us. Two to three months is the most we can hope for.

I sat with him on his front porch in Palmyra last week. It was a beautiful day; sunny, but cool. I was trying to decide how to say goodbye to someone who showed me what a man should be. I wanted to tell him thank you for never missing one event. Whether I was a flower with no lines in a third grade play. Or marching the wrong way in a debut performance on a high school football field. I wanted to thank him for that talk about boys and their lies when I hit puberty. I was going to tell him that even then when I realized he was once the kind of boy he was warning me about and his star lost a bit of shine, he was still the brightest one in the sky. I wanted to remind him of the day we spent in New York city and ice skating at Rockerfeller. "Ta-da" is the old family joke and we still chuckle at that. That's still just for us.

I wanted to look into those kind blue eyes with the star bursts at the corners and let him know that because he believed in me even as I wandered aimlessly through those early adult years, I believed in myself. I wanted to tell him that I have always been and will be until the day I die; a Daddy's girl. He was the first man I ever loved and the one I will always measure others against. I needed him to show me how to say goodbye.

But he slept with the cup he refused to let me hold slowly tilting toward the ground. The pain medication he takes allows him little time out of the fog. But his face was pain free and that's all that mattered to me. So we sat out there together as the wind chime played in the breeze. I closed my eyes and listened to the wind moves it way through the trees and tried to let it bring peace to my aching heart. I opened my eyes to see the tops of the trees bend and sway with the wind as it moved through and I realized something.

Those trees are close but separated most of the time. But when a strong wind blows through, they move in synchrony or are finally allowed to embrace. When things calm down, they are back to standing strong and tall; close but separate. I couldn't help but smile at the message being played out in the dance of the trees. I looked over at my dad, his face slack with fatigue and muscle loss. I wanted to say so much, but that opportunity has gone. I can speak, but he can no longer maintain an alert state in which to carry on a conversation.

The wind isn't done with us yet. As long as I live, I will be Kenneth Smith's eldest daughter. Thank God for that. Thank God for him. I thank God that I was blessed with a father that I will miss for the rest of my life. I thank God that we had the type of relationship that will always allow me to be a Daddy's Girl.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Do You Wanna Dance?

Have you ever heard the sound of a broken heart? Have you had the misfortune to have your heart broken? Live long enough and you can answer "yes" to both. I was listening to a song today that reminded me of a heartbreak many, many years ago. I was on my way to work in the early dawn of this morning when the chords began. Instantly, I was transported back to the time when I thought I would never survive the pain.

Isn't it funny how music does that? How it can take us back, bring us up, make us fall and have us closing our eyes to ride the melody. It's one of the reasons I have had a love affair with music all my life. It has been my drinking buddy, my shoulder to lean on, my courage, my lover, my salve. I can remember during one of the darkest times of my life, seeking out the solace of a well-tuned piano in a Fine Arts building and playing until the burden was not so heavy.

When the first hauntingly beautiful notes began to play from the song that soothed my broken heart so many years ago, I smiled. Not from the memory of that time. At that time in my life, my heart was shattered and it took a long time to heal. No, it was from the memory of how I completely believed at that time that I would never get over the hurt. I would never be able to stand all the way up ever again. Yet, here I am.

The song played on and I thought with sadness of what was lost. However, I also realized that I would never have chosen certain paths if not forced to do so with that one event. By passing through the fire of that pain, I shook off the ashes, spread my wings and flew. I did get over the pain and my heart healed over time.

I'll have to keep that in mind in the fire-laden paths stretched before me now. Will I have to pass through the flames? Yes. Will it be painful? Most definitely. Will I survive the journey? You betcha! I'll do it with a musical score in my head. Because if all the world is a stage, then we are the players. And when life gives you music, you pick up the singed hem of your dress and you dance.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

In the Blink of an Eye

Anniversaries and birthdays are alike in that the longer the time the shorter it seems. When one sits back and watches the internal movie of their life or a marriage, the paradox springs, "How did I cram so much into the blink of an eye?"

My parents will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary August 29, 2009. My sisters and I wanted to throw them a party extravaganza, but they would have none of it. You see, our annual Smith Family Reunion is held every year in late July and with six grown children and 14 grandchildren spread all over the country, my mother did not think that all would return a mere month later to celebrate something as trivial as a wedding anniversary. No amount of cajoling, sweet talk, feigned anger and true disappointment would sway her. Very well, I thought, if Mama won't come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Mama.

Borrowing picture albums from my mother and two sisters, I began the painstaking task of scanning picture after picture into my computer. Then I began to build a powerpoint presentation, complete with animation and music, creating the very real fairytale of my parents fateful meeting, playful courting, loving child rearing years and finally, retirement adventures; 139 slides worth.

Through all of the work, there were many times as pictures spun onto a slide in horizontal 8 x 11, that my breath was held suspended by a memory. I cried at the captured laugh on my favorite grandmother's young face as she held my toddler father up on a picnic blanket. I stared at a picture of my father "wrestling" with my sister and I. We were probably three and two; her with her blue Keds, me with my red ones. I wondered at the look of promise on my face as my mother pinned a corsage on my dress for prom. Being the creator of the stroll down memory lane, I had the advantage of being able to stop and smell the proverbial roses of memory at my leisure.

Finally, it was done. The songs were chosen and the slides timed to transition smoothly from one period into another. At the reunion, I announced that my sisters and I had put together a "little entertainment" to honor our parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. I further confessed that, yes, we were taking advantage of a captured audience, but "the dinner and movie are free, after all, so just sit back and enjoy it."

The LCD TV sitting atop an inverted computer paper box slowly lit up up to reveal a slide with a red curtain and then the words, "A Modern Day Fairytale.....started over 50 years ago". Canon in D played by a flawless quartet oozed from speakers as pictures of my grandparents, designated king's parents and queen's parents faded into view. My parents as children grew up to Barry Manilow's "I Am Your Child" . These years flowed easily into the dating years and newlywed days accompanied by my parent's chosen song from years ago, "True Love" by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. As the slides ticked by of me on the potty chair through my sister standing in a graduation gown, Tracy Adkins sang "Then They Do". The moment lightened up a bit as my dad's promise during his marriage proposal of "Stick with me, baby, and I'll take you places" was proven true with a myriad of slides showing trips around the world while Frank Sinatra crooned, "Come Fly With Me".

Through all of that, I anxiously watched my parent's faces as they were transported quickly through those busy years where they were so tied up in doing the best they could they didn't realize they had set the bar for all of us. I glanced around quickly to scan the faces of my father's brothers and sister and all of those that had shared in those years being portrayed. I watched as my aunt's hand flew to her mouth at the picture of her standing among her four brothers and holding her fifth brother in her arms. I chased the wink by my Uncle Billy directed at my father over the picture of him as a teen saluting my dad in his VMI uniform. My mom blushed, denied and then preened as one of my cousins commented on how tiny her waist was as she stood holding a python across her shoulders as a gimmick shot in Florida.

Then magic happened in that garage in the wet heat of a late July afternoon. The music became hauntingly quiet and Josh Groban's smooth voice started to sing "When You Say You Love Me" as grandchildren were introduced on the slides. There were my two boys, infants and then bashful toddlers staring out at me and it was yesterday again. My dad's face, now frozen with the mask of Parkinson's disease, was animated again; mimicking the wide-mouthed squeal of my year old neice. My mother's ebony hair slowly took on the salt and pepper of middle age and then the silver of a grandmother's wisdom.

Picture after picture played across the screen and my parents aged before our eyes. But that was not the surprise for me. My children grew up in a matter of minutes and then I was staring at teenagers finishing high school. I breathed out the word "Oh" just loud enough to get my mother's attention and she turned slightly in her seat to smile at me and she understood. She was me all those years ago and now I was her and it was happening all too fast. With tears in her eyes, she nodded and turned back to watch as the years flew by on screen.

The screen show ended with a picture of my parents taken back in the 1970s. The photographer, probably me, caught my parents just as they were about to kiss. Their lips are about an inch apart and their eyes are almost closed. It is the most romantic picture. Across the top of the screen were the words, "Happy 50th Anniversary". Under the picture rolled the words, "From Princess Karen, Princess Valerie and Princess Carol". Everyone dried their eyes and then clapped. My mom bussed my cheek and then turned to accept the many hugs and congratulations from those in attendance. I knelt before my father who smiled in his way and said, "That was wonderful, angel." Then he joked, "I'm not sure it was always a fairytale". I hugged him, marrying our wet cheeks and said, "It is for me dad. It always has been." My husband took our picture as I knelt there by the king's chair, smiling through tears and holding him tight. Another picture to try and hold a moment in time captive. That was my weekend; a moment in time, gone in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

No Regrets

I was reading an always enlightening blog from a favorite blogger of mine, sendchocolate ref and it brought up a lot of memories for me. It reminded me of a conversation about life I had with a real "up close and personal" friend of mine just the other day. Our conversation revolved around balancing living your life to the fullest while minimizing, or more importantly, in anticipation of regrets.

When I was of age to be married (we'll just say over ten years ago, way over), many of my friends were getting married or at the least engaged to be married within the next two years. This would put them married just on the other side of twenty. It might cause a grunt of disbelief now, but back then one didn't reach the age of thirty and remain single without a reason.

Now, perhaps those friends of mine that did purposefully marry before the age of twenty had lived what they considered a full life (I know one of them did, anyway), but I had led a relatively sheltered life up to that point and I was wise (or stubborn) enough to know that I had not.

You see, I believed that once I became married and started a family that my life would change immeasurably (understatement) and I would not be able to pursue things that a single and unentangled woman might (husbands tend to frown on carousing). Therefore, I made it my mission to "live the Charlene song". Have you heard this song? It was one of those one hit wonders of the 1970s made popular in the early 80s . Do you know it? Okay, forget the hokey speaking part near the end, but really listen to the lyrics. I took that to heart. I told myself, "One day I'm going to be holding a screaming infant at 2 o'clock in the morning after a pissy day. I want to know at that moment that I have missed nothing. I want to kiss that tiny screaming infant and know I am right where I'm supposed to be."

So, I did it. I came as close to "living the Charlene song" as I cared to and loved every single minute of it. I have some great memories - some I'll gladly share and some that are just for me. Regrets? Sure, some. See, you can't really live life and NOT have a few. But I did hold that screaming infant at 2AM after a pissy day (more than once) and I did kiss that little wrinkled brow and hold him closer because I was ready for it. I was where I was supposed to be at that moment and I had missed nothing.

So, live your life, build your memories and do so trying your best to do it without regrets, realizing that you will fail in the regrets portion. Because the truth of the matter is, YOU are largely responsible for stoking the fire that will forge the person you were meant to be at this moment...and then this moment...and then..

Live well, love all, be true to who you were meant to be and not one ounce less.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Foggy Bottom Blues

I think as Americans, we spend too much time rushing. Rushing to work to count the hours before we can rush back home. Rushing to the next big 25% off sale where everything has been marked up by 50% for one day. Rushing to finish dinner so that we can watch the Netflix movie and return it tomorrow so the next one in our queue will be on the way. Rushing to be the first for whatever it is; as long as we can be the first.

But I have found one premise to be true. When we stand in the middle of chaos, close our eyes and take a deep breath...our brains quiet themselves and when we open our eyes again, we see all there is to see and more. When we remove ourselves from the melee as a participant and become an observer instead, we are able to appreciate the world around us.

I am visiting Washington, DC today and like any big American city, it can be quite the epitome of rush, rush, rush. After trying to find my way around the town to see this sight and that, I stopped to buy a chicken salad sub and Arizona tea at Potbelly's Sandwichs. As I sat outside under an umbrella in the dying light of the day, a street musician started to play the saxophone. I closed my eyes while a soft breeze caressed the bangs off my forehead and smiled.

I enjoyed one of the best chicken salad subs I've had in a long time listening to the lonely, seductive sounds of a saxophone while my hair danced with the breeze. Although the traffic continued to be heavy and the number of people walking past me talking on cell phones did not decrease, my world slowed down. And although, I had only a rough idea how to make it back to my hotel, I walked leisurely home with the tune of "Georgia On my Mind" echoing in my head.

Friday, January 30, 2009

One Word

I recently came across an interesting project on WeBook where the creator ask the writer to describe themselves in one word, but then we kind of cheat a little and explain ourselves. Did you ever write something personal about yourself, say in a journal and then have an "aha" moment? That's what this exercise did for me. I know I am breaking a pattern by blogging again so soon, but what the hell. Here is my submission:

One word to describe myself: Evolving

My Story:

For some reason, when I was a kid, I thought that 26 was my magical age. I don't know why. It was not printed on a fortune cookie or anything. I just felt that 26 would be it. I would be complete and happy and well.... there.

I was wrong. I can quickly sum it up like this:

In my twenties, I was free and wild. I had it all going on, you know what I'm saying. I was ready for the world, but was the world ready for me? This is it, I thought, I don't ever want to get any older. I'm grown and loving it.

My thirties were fabulous! Not only did I still have everything going on, but now I knew what to do with it. This is it, I thought, I'm in my prime. I'm going to squeeze every last drop out of my thirties, because at 40 it's over.

My forties have been awesome! I still got it going on. I not only know what to do with it, but when to actually put it to good use. I also realize that this is NOT it. I am always evolving. Every accomplishment, every failure, every sob cried in the dark, every laugh captured by the wind forges who I will be. I cannot wait until my fifties and beyond.

So, who am I? I am evolving and loving it!

Found at
Project: Power of one