A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Archive for the category “Family”

Looking for Granny

About a year ago, I stumbled across a grand old Charleston house tucked in among the massive buildings of the downtown medical complex made up of Roper Hospital and Medical University of South Carolina buildings. It seemed so out of place. It was obviously no longer a private residence, so I ventured onto its porch to read the placards posted on either side of the door.

This was the first one I read. Interesting, but no big deal.


Then I read this one, posted on the opposite side of the door.


This one got my attention. Home for nurses? My great-grandmother came to Charleston for nurses’ training. Was this where she lived the two years she was here? That one question got me started on a research project I had loved but abandoned when my first child was born. I mean, face it, how many of us have time for genealogical research while raising young children?

My hopes were dashed when I found out that she graduated from the Charleston Training School for Nurses in 1903, predating the establishment of the Kinloch Home for Nurses. I returned to the house later and worked up the nerve to enter. This might not be the place, but at least it was from that era. This is what I found inside.


Yeah, I know. I total mess. What was once a grand home is now in great disrepair. That majestic stairway looked more than a bit shaky from up close.


This is what they look like when you stand at the bottom and look up. By this time, I had roped Cathy into coming with me to explore. It took several visits before we found someone who (1) gave us permission to venture upstairs, and (2) assured us it was safe to do so. But in those visits prior to going upstairs, we wandered around the first floor, noting delightful details like this:

IMG_1375 IMG_1422_1 a

The place just felt right. It had to be the place! I just had to prove it. Curiosity stoked,the research kicked into high gear. We were able to learn that this house, once a private residence, had been converted into Riverside Infirmary during the time period that Granny would have been in Charleston. And get this – the infirmary occupied the first two floors, but the nurses in training lived on the top floor. EUREKA!

Last week, we returned to the house once again, determined to make it to the top floor. We were in luck. We encountered Melissa, whose construction company is under contract with the hospital system and who has an office (of sorts) on the second floor. She not only assured us that it was safe (as long as we watched our step), but that we were welcome to look around as much as we would like.

Yes, it was a mess. Cathy is such a good sport to humor me like she does. (Ha! Don’t be fooled. She is as caught up in the research as I am at this point!)


I walked from room to room wondering, “Was this your room, Mary?” (Somehow it seemed okay to call her that, since she was far from being a Granny at the time she lived there.)


Most of the third floor windows were shuttered, but from one that was not, I got a glimpse of the kind of view she would have enjoyed, minus the power poles and modern buildings, of course.


After seeing as much as we could see for the day, we descended the stairs as she would have done countless times. “I hope she was surefooted,” I thought, remembering the dress and shoes of the day that she would have worn – a far cry from the jeans and running shoes I wore. I held on to the rail as I made my way down. I’ll be back. There’s more to the story that took place under that roof, and I want to learn it.


Here is the Jonathan Lucas House/Kinloch Home for Nurses – home to my great-grandmother Mary Reagin (later Beaty) from 1898-1900, now and then.


Old Jennings House Riverside Infirmary


Real Life Returns

It had to end, I know.

Flexible schedule. All my chicks in the nest. Games, movies, books, laughter, and relaxation. Later mornings that made later nights possible.

That’s what the time between Christmas and beginning of school in January felt like here this year. It’s true that a good portion of the time we all felt snorty, sneezy, and puny. While our puniness rearranged our Christmas plans with extended family in unexpected ways, it also allowed us to enjoy home and one another in a way that we’re normally too busy and too active to do. It was nice – snorts, sneezes, and all.

The little ones are back in school. The big one moved back to her apartment downtown tonight and will start a new semester tomorrow. I’m back in the office and the January schedule is quickly filling up with meetings and projects.

I have some exciting training opportunities coming up this first quarter of 2013. There are a couple of deadlines for project submissions that are pushing me to dream big and work hard. I spent a good part of the afternoon marking dates and events on the big calendar at church, all the while making notes of ideas and possibilities to share with church leaders. So many possibilities . . .

Yes, it had to end.But the ending is opening the door for some exciting new beginnings.

ending beginning

Until Next Year!


My kids love using this chalkboard to count down to Christmas. I see that they have already started over. It was a wonderful Christmas Day for my little family – a quiet day at home full of new toys, games, movies, and gadgets. Oh, and a long winter nap, too. We have plenty of good memories to carry us through to December 25, 2013. Only 365 days to go!

I Live You!

I love you.


Those are three of the most precious words a person can ever hear. Or, in this day and age, three of the most precious words you can ever read. My oldest daughter lives away from home right now. A junior in college, it’s the right time for her to test her independence and self-sufficiency. I miss her, but we still talk a lot. Well, we don’t really “talk” all that much. She’s never been one to enjoy telephone conversations. But that girl can and will text! It makes my heart happy every night when I read, “love you moms! night!” (That’s right – no capital letters. It’s her signature style.)

I tell her that I love her all the time. Or, since so much of our conversation these days is in writing, text her. There’s just one little problem. When you text on a touch screen phone, particularly when you are in a hurry or are very sleepy, it is easy to make mistakes. More often than not, when I tell my daughter that I love her, it comes out that I live her. I’m usually pretty good about proofreading even my texts, so I catch and correct it most of the time.

I was starting to get annoyed at how often I was having to correct I live you. After all, she isn’t the only one I express love to in text messages. I tell my brother that I love him. I tell my nieces I love them. (I would tell my nephews too if only they would text their auntie! And my parents emphatically refuse to text, so they get it the old-fashioned way – by voice.) I tell my friends that I love them. It comes easily for me. Still, that’s a lot of times to have to change live to love, you know?

Then I realized that I live you is pretty doggone accurate. When you love someone, you do live for them. You do want to give them the best of yourself – your time, your attention, your support. If one of my kids needs something – even if it’s 1:30 a.m. and the phone call from college scares the bejeezus out of me because she just slammed her thumb in a car door and wonders if it is broken (thank God that’s all it was!) – I WILL be there to answer the phone and to try to help. (And no, it wasn’t broken. Thank God again.) If someone I love is hurting, I feel that hurt in my own heart. If someone I love is celebrating, I feel that joy in my own soul. The people I love are so much a part of my life that yes, I do live them.

So maybe I should give up the incessant text corrections. If you get a text from me and it says I live you, I really do. Oh – and I love you, too!

June 20th

It’s a big, big day for me and my whole family. It is a day of births and new beginnings. My cousin, Susan, was born today, as was her son, Jack. Another cousin, David (known through his teen years as Turtle) was also born today. It’s a great day for cousins.

It’s an even greater day now, though, because my brand new great-nephew decided that today was the perfect day to claim his birth. Elijah David was born at 9:47 am, weighing 8 lbs, 8 oz. He’s a big boy! Mia has been in Florida for almost two weeks now, helping take care of Elijah’s big sister, Addison. My little girl got to hold her new cousin very soon after he was born.

mama mia
Doesn’t she look like a little mother?

June 20th holds other significance for me as well. It is the anniversary of two major events in my life: one that didn’t turn out so well and one that did. I was married on this day, twenty-five years ago. It turned out not to be one of my wisest life decisions, yet I would do it again only because it was that union that produced my oldest daughter who has always been the light of my life. Because of her, I do remember this day. She makes it all worth it.

me and my girl

My sunshine! Totally worth it!

Today is also the thirteenth anniversary of my ordination. Talk about a life-changing event! Being in ministry is a life choice and a lifestyle that I resisted for many years. I knew that door had been opened to me when I was just 19 years old. I refused to walk through it until I was 34. Ministry is such a joyful/tragic, encouraging/disheartening, reassuring/frightening, challenging/frustrating, life-giving/life-sucking vocation. I have been allowed into corners of people’s lives when otherwise, without that ordination, I would have been an unwelcome intruder. I have been privy to stories, secrets, heartaches, and challenges that go beyond anything I ever could have imagined. I have shared the most sacred times – childbirth, marriage, baptism, death, and burial with people who have entrusted me with that sacredness. Many, many times I’ve asked myself what gives me the right to stand with people in such places, or to stand in a pulpit to proclaim anything – much less the Word of God. (I wrote about this kind of questioning early in my ministry.) Still, it has been my life – my calling – for thirteen years now. (Fifteen, if you count my two year full-time internship prior to ordination.) There are days I would readily throw in the towel, usually followed by days when I couldn’t dream of doing anything else. Such is life in ministry!


My Prayer Lunch Group surprised me with a cake today! So sweet! The lady who baked it was mortified when she discovered a misspelling. Believe me – that fudge icing more than made up for it!

Tell Me a Story

I love stories.


Some of my favorite memories are of my grandparents telling me stories, something that all four of them did a lot. I remember riding in the back of my grandfather’s camper-top pick-up truck. He was up front, driving us to Stumphouse Tunnel. Nana was in the back with me, my brother, and my sister, telling us stories. Those were the days when riding down interstate in the back of a pick-up wasn’t illegal. I’m so glad it wasn’t. I have great memories of that day.

As a young adult, I spent precious evenings on the front porch with Mom and Granddaddy. My new husband and I bought a cheap single-wide trailer and moved it to the farm, next to their house. He worked a lot of evenings and nights. Rather than to spend all that time alone, after supper I’d walk next door and sit on the glider. Mom sat in one rocker to one side, Granddaddy in the other on the other side. They told story after story.

I loved it when Granddaddy was in a storytelling mood. His voice was deep and gravelly. He was mischievous through and through, and therefore loved to tell stories that made him laugh. He talked about the tricks he played on his youngest sister, Malinda. Her middle name was Bratton, which of course was shortened to “Brat.” Bless her. It wasn’t easy being the baby in that sibling group!

He told stories about his old maid aunts – Aunt Annie and Aunt Pearl – both schoolteachers. They were strict and he earned his share of punishment in their classes. He told about having to sit on the hard floor, legs extended straight in front of him, back straight. If he slumped, he got a swat with a ruler. I do believe they gave him paper to sit on for the duration. Of course they didn’t want him getting his clothes dirty. One of his favorite schoolhouse stories, one that made him laugh every time he told it, was about a classmate named Dick. Dick was standing near the wood stove, trying to warm up when a hot coal popped out on him. The teacher said to him (was it Aunt Annie or Aunt Pearl – I can’t remember), “Did it burn you, Dick?” With a country drawl he replied, “No’m. It burnt my leg.” I declare, I think I can hear him laughing even now.

There were stories of unnamed ancestors whose actions outlived the memory of their names. There was one about a woman who encircled a stash of ammunition with gunpowder, made a trail of it long enough to put her a safe distance away, then lit the gunpowder and blew up the ammunition before it was seized by enemy troops. He couldn’t remember what her name was or even which war it was. I discovered, partly through research and partly by luck, that her name was Martha Bratton and it was during the Revolutionary War. She was my great (times 5) grandmother. Little sister Malinda had gotten her middle name from the Bratton line. No wonder she was such a survivor!

It scares me a little bit that our society seems to be getting away from storytelling as a family activity. I think of all I would have missed if I hadn’t heard these stories. Stories aren’t just for entertainment, although they are certainly entertaining. They help us discover our roots. They reveal where large parts of our personality and worldview come from. People we loved who we lost long ago live on through the stories we tell. If we quit telling stories, will the memories eventually fade into nothingness? We can’t let that happen!

That’s a part of why I write. This blog has served in part as a baby book for Gus and Mia. Goodness knows I haven’t had time to compile “real” baby books for them while juggling three kids and a church. There are stories about them that I swore I would never forget. Yet when I go back to reread things from the early days of this blog, I find stories recorded that I hadn’t thought about in years. (Like this one, and this one, and this one.) 

I was talking with my niece the other night. It just so happens that we both are missing her mother (my sister) a whole lot these days. I confessed that I didn’t often mention Joy to her because I didn’t want to stir up pain. Over the course of our conversation, I realized that my failure to talk about Joy with her, to retell stories and experiences, was actually doing more harm than good – for both of us. I think maybe it helped her to realize that she isn’t alone in missing her Mama. She isn’t forgotten. She lives on, in our memories and in our stories.

Let’s keep the stories alive. Let’s tell them (yes, over and over). Let’s write them. Let’s remember them.

once upon a time

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Last night was a gorgeous night for a baseball game at The Joe.

the Joe 

We all had a great time. The game was fun, and whenever the innings got a little dull, we made our own fun.

miss mia

Not only is she great in front of the camera, she’s pretty doggone good behind it, too!


Anything makes a good subject. How do you like Anna’s new Jesus sandals?

jesus shoes

People wonder all the time why I have tons of pictures of the girls and so few of Gus. This is why.

shy gus

By the way, the Riverdogs led 4-1 for most of the game. They fell apart in the 9th inning and ended up losing 6-4 in the 10th. This did not make us happy.

mad face

Never fear, it was nothing that a few of these couldn’t fix.


Yep, we know how to live it up! Come join us next time.

Three Years

It’s been three years since my sister’s death. I wish I could pick up the phone to call her. I wish I could watch her enjoying her two-year-old granddaughter and acting giddy with excitement over her grandson who is expected to join us in July. I wish. . .

Monday’s Child: The Family Run

I’ve been going to the gym and/or doing morning run/walks for awhile now. This summer, however, my oldest daughter decided that it was time for her to get physical too. While I’m perfectly content – happy even – to exercise alone, Anna isn’t happy doing much of anything alone. “Come on, Mom. Run with me.”

We don’t make great running partners. I like to run in the morning. She likes to run at night. She’s 26 years younger than me, skinny as a rail, and has such long legs that even when I match her step-for-step in pace, she still gains a considerable lead. Not to mention that if two of us go out running, the other two have to come along as well. It may not be the most productive exercise time for me, but it is interesting.

Long-legged Anna generally leads the way. Gus, usually in his Nerf ammo vest and camouflage hat, runs back and forth stalking bad guys. Sometimes he runs point in front of Anna. Other times he lags behind the rest of us. Mia is a good runner – for sprints. She can fly like the wind and catch up with her older sister. Then she poops out and walks to catch her breath, often falling  way behind. Then there’s me, trying to keep my legs moving, gulping for oxygen hidden somewhere in the thick, humid air, and doing my best to keep all three kids in sight. Sometimes I’m right with Anna. Sometimes I’m at the back of the pack where I can see all three. Sometimes I’m doubling back to join Mia, who has fallen too far behind.

It’s quite different from my solo exercise experiences, when I can get lost in my own thoughts, go at my own pace, and set my own route. It’s fun, though, to watch my kids each doing his/her own thing, in his/her own style.

Anna is strong-willed and determined. She pushes hard, past the point where I would want to stop for a breather. She holds herself erect. It’s only by watching her closely that I can tell when she’s wearing down. Her stride shortens and there’s a tell-tale kick to the outside. But when she’s on the home stretch, look out! That girl can move!

Gus hardly recognizes that he is exercising. His imagination is so lively that it’s nothing to him to keep going as long as he sees the “enemy” around every corner and behind every bush. He can drop to the ground, do a quick roll, pick off a few imaginary insurgents, and be back on his feet with little effort. If, however, I was trying to get him to run straight sprints or do calisthenics, he would wear down and quit in short order. Let him get lost in his own world and he can go forever.

Mia is amazingly fast. Her short little legs are a blur as she takes off in a sprint. I hope to see her on the soccer field or on the track leaving competitors in the dust one day. Her endurance will build, but I’m careful with her because of her asthma. Our first night out she seemed tentative. I was afraid she was having asthma trouble, but when I checked her, I heard no wheezing. We had a long talk about the difference between being out of breath and having an asthma attack. She seemed surprised to realize that all of us have trouble breathing when we exercise hard. That made her feel better and she’s since lost that tentativeness.

And me, I’m kicking along trying to keep up with all the kids, looking out for their safety, hoping that I won’t miss a single second of their joy or a single indication of their need – all while trying to stay in touch with myself and my body. That’s what I call a real workout!

Monday’s Child: Our Home Is Not Broken

In early 2003 I interviewed a half dozen adoption agencies in my search for the one that I would use to grow my family. I remember one interview in particular at a Christian agency. After getting information about their international programs, I asked what the domestic adoption picture would look like for me, a single mom. I remember the woman drawing herself up straighter in her chair and saying, “Well, we like to place our children in homes with both a mother and a father. If we were unable to find a suitable two parent family, which never happens, only then would we consider placing a child in a broken home.”

If you know me well at all, then you know that I hate confrontation so much that I will endure a lot of guff to avoid it. On this occasion, however, it was too much guff for me to swallow. “Ma’am, I realize that my home is a single parent home, but it is not a broken home. My home was broken when I lived under the same roof with a husband who verbally and emotionally abused me and who contributed almost nothing to the care of our daughter. That was a broken home. And my experience tells me that there are just as many two parent homes that are broken as there are single parent homes that are broken – maybe even more.” Then I drew myself up straighter and marched myself right out their door.

Yes, I know that the ideal family consists of a father and a mother, both loving and involved in their children’s lives. I want that for myself and my kids more than I can express. But do not assume that because my family isn’t ideal, it’s broken!

A few months ago I had a conversation with a mom about the sports her children play. She indicated that they enjoyed the baseball crowd of parents better than the soccer crowd of parents. “When we’re in the baseball stands, we’re with families that are more like ours – you know, two parent families. For some reason, the soccer stands seem to be full of single moms. You know what I mean.”

Well yes, I do know what she meant. I happen to have been one of those single soccer moms in the stands for two seasons out of every year, for twelve years. I was there every single game, even if it meant standing on the sidelines in a dress and heels because I would have to leave in the 3rd quarter to go perform a wedding or a funeral. I took my share of turns bringing snacks and drinks. I carpooled other kids to and from practices and games. I was team parent several seasons. I even coached one year. In my daughter’s entire soccer career, I missed only one game. She was in 10th grade. It was the first year I participated in the MS Challenge Walk and I had to leave early in the afternoon to make the long trip down for the event. I got a cell phone play-by-play from another soccer mom during the game, and then another one from my daughter after the game.

Do not tell me that because I am a single mom, I am somehow an inferior parent, giving my kids a less-than-ideal home. (Can you tell I feel strongly about this?).

It is true that being a single parent is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It is exhausting. It is stressful. It is overwhelming. I cannot afford all the extracurricular stuff I’d like to provide for them. Our evenings after school/work during the academic year are way too short. I can’t put on the big birthday parties. But I love my children. I take care of my children. I do everything in my power to give them a safe, stable, loving home. Even if it does half kill me some days, I think I do a pretty good job.

Father’s Day was hard for me this year. Anna spent the day in Columbia with her father and grandmother. I am so grateful that she is of the age that I am out of that loop and that she can handle her own meeting plans with him. I spent the day with Gus and Mia, trying to give them a good Father’s Day. They call these days that the three of us play together “Mom and me” days. We ate Mexican. We went to see a movie (Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer). We walked in the mall and bought new things for them to read at the bookstore. We called my dad, whom they call Daddy, and wished him a happy Father’s Day. It was a good day. For them, our life is completely normal. For me, a lucky girl who has a great dad, I know they are missing something I can’t provide by myself. One day I hope that will change, but for now I am The Parent, providing for them the best I can.

Call us a conspicuous family. Call us a unique family. Call us a single-parent family. Just do not call us a broken family. Our home is not broken.

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