As I was packing a few days ago at our other house, I found a note pad, and took a few minutes to journal some of what I was feeling as I packed:

March 23, 2017

We’re moving. Again. And this time, for the first time in my life, I am moving without my mother – without her help, opinion, presence. She will never set human foot into our new home. I don’t think she would have liked it much, anyway. It’s old and too small for her tastes. Mom craved elegance and light. She would have loved the huge live oak trees in the yard, but not the shadows they perpetually cast over the house – inside and out. But she would have put on a bright smile, told me the house was great, and organized my pantry for me.

This move is particularly difficult for me, also, because we are leaving behind the last house my mother ever lived in. The last place she left her physical imprint. I know I will hang the family photos differently, and there are many of her old original watercolor paintings I will not hang at all.

We’ve donated dozens of her books on Catholicism to our parish library. We just don’t have room for them all. I’ve packed up most of the pictures and nic-nacs she had in her bedroom. Alex has agreed to take her bedroom furniture. Kendall and Alicia already have a lot of her kitchen stuff. Abby has claimed the lion’s share of her clothes. The rest are going to Goodwill or consignment.

Mom’s old coffee pot. . . so many memories. .

But today . . . this afternoon . . . I am alone here, packing up her old kitchen stuff that didn’t sell in last weekend’s  yard sale so that Gaylon can take it all to Goodwill. And the wind is blowing outside like crazy. I hate the wind! Growing up in Southeastern New Mexico, on the edge of the Great Plains (the Llano Estacado) gave me a deep loathing for wind. It blows there so often, and so hard! And today it reminds me that this was the time of year that Mom would take me to Lubbock during Spring Break. Granny would go, too. We’d go to the Great Plains Mall and buy clothes for Spring and Summer. We always ate at a restaurant called Brittany’s – with little red telephones at each table where you could call in your order. (I understand they’ve closed down now.) I loved those little red phones! When we were done at the mall we would always stop at a huge toy store called “Kiddie City” and I would get to choose a special toy. (I was horribly disappointed when I learned to read and discovered that this magical place was not actually called “Kitty” City! LOL)

Those trips were always so much fun, but the wind always blew like crazy. I remember it would often blow so hard that the sky would turn brown and we would have trouble seeing the road. It wasn’t unusual for mom to have to turn on her headlights!

So the wind blowing today makes my task particularly nostalgic, as I hold in my hands old mixing bowls, Tupperware, coffee cups and pots, even carving knives, that bring memories of my childhood flooding back to me. Flashes of my mother baking her famous apple pie or chocolate chip cookies. Memories of her in our kitchen just doing everyday “Mom stuff”. It’s hard for me to stay focused on my work – I should be done by now, but my mother’s ghost won’t let me finish. Not yet. I have to pause, to bask in the warm memories of my mother’s love as I was growing up. Even when these tangible mementos of those sweet childhood moments are long gone, her love will remain.

Yes, of everything my mother left behind for me, the greatest of her gifts was love.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13


I got to talk to an old friend today that we’d lost touch with over the years. It was really nice, and he sent me some links to him singing on YouTube. Excellent, as always, and he said I could share, so, enjoy. . .

We thought we would
Be young forever;
Thirty days to eternity
And we could wear a fist.
We would give it all away
Just to keep it.

There were no limits
To the dreams we shared
Over tables flowing with coffee.
While we learned about love
As the smoke of our cigarettes
Swirled around our laughter.

I can still see the river
Smoky green and fast
Through the knotted oaks.
I can smell the smoke
Of campfire guitars
And breakfast burritos.

I can still remember
Burning summers
In a small gray room.
I can still feel
The closeness of midnight talks
And Led Zeppelin mornings.

We never thought it could end,
That any of us would ever grow old,
And we would all still be together
For the next campout.
Yes, it would last forever
And none of us would ever die.

~Camp Ben McCullough: Austin Campout~Almost Heaven~

Written in Memory of Steve McAllister, Norman Allen, Kim Settle and so many others. . . with special gratitude to Stewart & Sara Sroufe.



As a child, what I remember most was that my Great-Aunt Madeline was blind. She could see a bit, but legally, she was blind. I think she could see better when she was younger, but by the time I knew her, her eyesight was extremely poor. She had red hair, and wore funny blue-tinted glasses, and she was always immaculately dressed. She was my grandfather’s sister.

She tried to teach me to knit, but I was not a very good student at the time. So, instead, she would knit beautiful things and send them to me. I was always particularly intrigued by her shoes. Even though she had to have help walking, because of her blindness, she wore the prettiest shoes, and always with heels. I also remember that she was a really great cook. She briefly lived next door to my grandparents when I was a kid, and I remember going over there for dinner a few times. It was always excellent.

My father loved Madeline, and loved to tell stories about her. His favorite story was about when she had surgery to improve her eyesight. He asked her what was the most surprising thing about being able to see. Her response kept him in stitches for years. She replied “My reflection.” He would also marvel at how she would only smoke a cigarette when she came to visit. She would ask him for one of his, and then that was it. She would not smoke another one until the next time she came to visit, and that could be a year or two.

Madeline, however, was actually my mother’s aunt. My mother remembers staying with her in Chicago when her younger sister was born, and remembers Madeline coming to visit them when she was a kid. She said they would have to go to the train station to pick her up, and that it was always very exciting. I think Mom gets a lot of her independence and spunk from Madeline.

Aunt Madeline hated Texas, and spent most of her life trying to get out of it. She had some success at that. She lived in Chicago for several years, attending modeling school while she was there. At some point she moved out to California, where she met and married Ed Coleman. She was 55 when she married for the first and only time. They were married for 19 years before he passed away, and she outlived him by another twenty years.

Madeline & Ed Coleman

Madeline & Ed Coleman

Madeline was a brilliant woman, and had she been born in another age, she would have been an ideal candidate for CEO of a company. Her memory was incredible, and her attention to detail was unparalleled. Even after having not been to Chicago for 30 years, she could describe the streets, buildings and landmarks as if she’d been there yesterday.

The last time I saw her was just over four years ago. She was in a nursing home down in Marble Falls, Texas. My cousin, Spencer, and I (along with my kids) went to visit her and take her to lunch. At ninety, she still looked amazing, and held herself regally, with as much dignity and poise as any queen could ever hope to achieve. We took her to lunch, then

Madeline - 80th Birthday

Madeline - 80th Birthday

brought her back to her room. We visited for a while, but couldn’t stay, as we were traveling. I didn’t realize that it would be the last time I ever saw her.

When my house burned down in the Summer of 2005, she called me at my mother’s house to express her concern. She wanted to help me, and told me I would need dishes, so she sent her beautiful Noritake dishes to me. She said she didn’t need them anymore, living in the nursing home, and so I could have them. I thanked her, hung up the phone, and wept. What an amazing, generous gift! She had been suffering for several years from dementia, yet she very clearly knew what had happened to me, who I was, and had figured out a way to help. I was humbled and honored beyond expression. So today, we used those dishes (instead of the plastic ones we usually use) in honor of Aunt Madeline.

Madeline passed away Saturday night, in her sleep. I loved my Aunt Madeline very much, and I feel an emptiness because she’s gone. She was my link to the past, to a world I never knew but would have loved to have been a part of. She remembered everything with such brilliant detail, and was always glad to tell me about what it was like when she was young. I miss her, and I will miss her memories. Her passing marks the end of an era in our family.

Today, we will come home from Mass and begin preparing for our Christmas Eve Celebration, Wigilia (vi-GEE-lee-ah’). This is the traditional Polish Christmas Eve Vigil Dinner, beginning with the first star of the evening, Gwiazdka (g-VIAHZ-kah), followed by the lighting of the Christmas Tree, Choinka (hoy-EEN-kah), the sharing of the Christmas Wafer, Oplatek (oh-PWAH-tek), the not-totally-Polish-feast, the singing of Carols, Koledy, and finally, Midnight Mass, Pasterka (poss-STAIR-kah)!

My immediate family has not always celebrated Christmas like this.  We’ve always celebrated Christmas, but in varioius ways throughout the years. I discovered Wigilia in the process of researching our family history, and we all agreed that it was a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of Christ, and at the same time add some seriously lacking culture to our melting-pot family.

So, for me, Wigilia is a way of connecting.  A way of connecting, not only to my religion and my God, but to my family and my heritage.  Growing up, my family was (and actually still is) very scattered.  We didn’t go to visit family members often, and they only rarely came to see us. Weddings and funerals were the exceptions, and even then, most of the family couldn’t make it! I have very few memories of playing with my cousins.  In fact, I only have three first-cousins.  (As opposed to my husband, who has like, a million cousins, or some outrageous number like that!) And one of the few holiday-cousin memories I do have is of Spencer breaking the index finger of my left hand while we were trying to play German Dodgball! (Hey, is that cultural??)

My brother and my sister are both quite a bit older than I am, so I don’t have any real memories of growing up with them, either.  I do remember my brother used to walk around the house on his hands, and that was absolutely fascinating to me when I was three years old!  And I remember my sister babysitting me once.  She talked on the phone the whole time and kept putting the earpiece up to the stereo speaker so her friend could hear the song “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”.  Funny, the things you remember!

I do remember going to Midnight Mass, and that was always a highlight.  It is such a beautiful service.  Even if someone is not Catholic, I am sure they would appreciate and enjoy the holiness and beauty of Midnight Mass!

So, I guess genealogy was, in many ways for me, a means to having a ‘past’, a family. It was a way to connect with the family I never knew, a way to ‘belong’, to somebody, somewhere.  I always knew that my grandmother was Polish.  I knew her mother had come from Poland to Chicago when she was only 17, and that the boat had caught on fire!

I met my great-grandmother at least four times that I can remember, and she was always a great source of fascination for me. She had piercing, coal-black eyes and a very thick Polish accent.  In fact, my father always needed a translator to converse with her, and she needed someone to tell her what he was saying because his Southern Drawl was too difficult for her to understand!  Dutifully, since it was her grandmother, after all, my mother would interpret for the two of them.  I understood my father’s dilemma, because she always referred to me as “Walleree”.  Daddy thought that was absolutely hysterical, but his sense of humor always was a bit ‘off’!

Food and cooking are the most vivid memories I have of my Polish Grandmother, who firmly believed that if it was breathing, she should feed it, and that no one at her table could ever get enough to eat. Such is the true legacy I received from Poland. So, in an attempt to celebrate the birth of our Savior in a more meaningful way, in an attempt to provide a cultural heritage for my children, I will cook!  I will cook for two days (and really should have started cooking yesterday!) and I will fill our home with the wonderful smells of Christmas Love!

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