June 16th (to Livy)

Six weeks ago we ended up in the hospital in the middle of the night because I couldn’t feel you move – nothing I tried would stir you and I was terrified. We’d passed the pregnancy finish line. You were three days late and counting, but I still couldn’t believe you were really going to be okay.

History made me anxious.

We had no idea I was already in labor.

I woke up around 2:30 a.m. on the morning of June 16 to use the bathroom, because that had become my routine in late pregnancy. I couldn’t fall back asleep right away, so I started scrolling on my phone.

Eventually, I decided to move to the bed in the guest room, but I was only there a few minutes before I realized I hadn’t felt you move lately and became scared. I sat up and rubbed my belly, hoping to wake you.


I went to the kitchen, grabbed a cold water bottle and took several big sips. I was determined to try all the tricks I’d read in the books. I hadn’t had to use any of those through pregnancy. You made it easy on us – no big scares and you moved a lot.

I scarfed down a strawberry granola bar.

Still nothing.

I went back to the guest room and laid on my left side, hoping in a few minutes you’d react.

Again, nothing.

As I sat in bed doing mental gymnastics over whether I should be panicked, I realized I’d never forgive myself if something was wrong and I’d done nothing or if I didn’t at least tell your dad.

He says I busted into our bedroom loudly. I don’t remember it that way, but I’m betting he’s right. I dropped the pillows I’d carried to the guest room back on my side of our bed, sat down and quietly called his name.

“I haven’t felt her move in a while and I’m scared,” I told him, quickly running down the list of things I’d tried that hadn’t worked. My last idea was to take a hot shower “because she always moves for hot showers.”

It wasn’t thirty more seconds before I was under the hot water. I took what would, by anyone’s standards, not be a long enough shower to even apply shampoo, but I didn’t feel you move.

I got out and told him we had to go. In a frenzy, we grabbed our packed bags, threw on something not resembling pajamas and whatever shoes we could find, told Carter we’d be back soon and drove the mile or two to the hospital.

I was walking into the hospital when I felt you give one small kick.

Instant relief.

But I wasn’t leaving until we had a chance to listen to your heartbeat.

I never wanted to pick your birth date. It’s a silly thing, but it mattered to me. You were just stubborn enough to almost make me do it. I was scheduled for induction on the night of June 17th.

At 4 a.m. on June 16th, the nurse who greeted us was barely done strapping a monitor on my belly when we heard your heart beating. You were as healthy as you’d ever been. I cried. Listen, that detail will come as no surprise to you when you get to know me.

Moments later, the nurse asked me if I’d felt a contraction. It was mapped on the screen, but I had no idea it’d happened. From there it was a whirlwind – she checked a few things and realized I was already starting the labor process.

You were picking your own birth date like I’d hoped.

The nurse left the room for a quick conversation with the OB on call and returned to get us moved to the room where you’d be born.

There’s a lot about labor and delivery that nobody really needs or cares to know – frankly, a lot of the day was spent waiting around. I was in labor, but I wasn’t as far along as many women are when they get to the hospital.

A lot of the day really is a blur. I remember little things like it was unusually cold. In fact, Greenville set a record low high of 67 degrees that day. I remember our sweet nurse who left her hearing aids at home and couldn’t quite hear anything we said to her so she kept reminding us to speak up.

I remember the feeling of the contractions and the moment I realized I was ready for the epidural. Then there was the trouble of getting the epidural dose right. Apparently, they dose by height and they weren’t quite sure what to do with your tall mama. Half of my body was numb while the other half felt every bit of each new contraction for about an hour until they figured it out. The adjustments would later mean I didn’t regain feeling in that leg for an inordinately long time, but hey, I had nowhere to be.

Mostly, it was a lot of waiting. Your dad and I watched episodes of Parks & Rec, talked about how our life was going to change and played cards.

We were in the middle of a game of 45s when our nurse rushed in to check on your rapidly dropping heartbeat for the second time. We weren’t alarmed. It’d happened before and you stabilized as soon as I rolled over. But this time she was followed by so many other nurses your dad made a joke about not realizing that many people even worked at the hospital.

The doctor wasn’t far behind. They told me you were ready and asked if I was.

Livy, you only made me push for nine minutes. I’d made a six hour labor playlist and we didn’t get through two whole songs before we saw your sweet face.

By the way, you arrived in this world to the sound of Alicia Keys singing ‘A Woman’s Worth’. I made sure your dad listened to which song was playing so we’d be able to tell you that.

You came out with eyes wide open and you snuggled up to me instantly. I’ve never seen your dad cry so hard and I’ve never felt stronger.

It’s been six weeks and one day since that moment. You’re snoozing on my lap right now and I know I should’ve written this sooner, when I didn’t have six weeks of less than optimal sleep under my belt. I should’ve jotted down more details or carved out an afternoon to write before it became blurry, but I’ve been soaking up the moments with you; watching you grow and learn our faces; listening to you practice your little giggles and learning what calms you when you cry.

Livia, I want you to know, if you ever read some version of this, that June 16th, 2020 was truly the best day of my entire life so far. Every fear I’d had about giving birth during a pandemic washed away that day and what it left us was the chance to get to know each other in your first day of life, uninterrupted, as a family of three. It was an unconventional, but beautiful way to welcome you. Every big and little thing we went through in the years of trying to bring you into this world was worth it in the moment we saw your face for the first time at 2:01 p.m. on June 16th.

What I don’t have

Perhaps I’ve written these words before – a long time ago, someone at my first job told me I don’t have the stomach for news.

It was in response to jokes she was making about a public figure who’d hanged himself. I didn’t find the jokes funny.

I was told I would either harden my heart and brain in this job or I’d get out.

A lot of people cope with hardening. I completely understand that. It’s easier for most of us to separate ourselves from the darkness – to make it not feel real.

That’s not me. When that comment was made several years ago, I didn’t take it lightly. I was upset for a bit, but mostly at the prospect that I wasn’t cut out for the one thing I’d studied to do. It was a straight shot to my ego to think I might be made for something else and I’d just wasted four years of my life making this something happen.

I’ve thought about it again and again over the years, as I left the newsroom on the day the Sandy Hook shooting occurred so I could take a few moments to myself in a bathroom. I thought about it on the day a man walked into a church in Charleston, a city I love so dearly, and killed 9 people during a bible study. I thought about it the day I walked the streets of Greenville’s Nicholtown neighborhood asking people what they knew about teenager accused of gunning down a Greenville police officer before turning the gun on himself.

And I thought about it again this morning as I stood with neighbors of a home on Greenville’s westside and watched forensics teams pull a body out on a gurney and load it into a medical examiner’s van.

I don’t often report on breaking news. It’s not my “beat”. I am typically only drawn in if someone is on vacation, busy or the story is big enough that we need several people working on it.

Every experience I’ve had with violent death has been on the job. It’s foreign to my personal life and yet it’s something I take personally.

I realized something on a dead end street, in Greenville County, lined with old mill houses and a small mobile home park – I don’t have the stomach for news. I don’t even want the stomach for news, if it means I ever leave a scene like that and don’t think about what was lost.

I don’t care who you’re voting for

I’ve watched news stories that are not even remotely about politics turn into political fistfights on television station and newspaper Facebook pages. I’ve seen comments on a blog post about coupons become a laundry list of what’s wrong with Hillary Clinton.

I’ve felt my blood boiling as I saw my own words twisted into a politically charged skirmish and I’ve bitten my tongue.

I’ve leaned back, taken a few deep breaths and reminded myself that people see what they want to see.

This is the world we live in. Things entirely unrelated to politics still become jabs at Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The great majority of us are assuming everyone’s heads are in the political game. We’re three weeks ahead of the most heated presidential election of our lives – how could we be thinking or talking about anything else?

But we can and we are.

I’m thinking about the people I love. I’m thinking about how I’ll spend my next weekend and when I might see my friends who live far away again. I’m thinking about what I’ll cook for dinner and where I’ll get my next story idea. I’m thinking about what I can do on a small scale to help make Greenville a better community. I’m wishing I was at the beach and dreaming of a nice, long hike through fall colors.

To think that I’d reserve valuable space in mind for petty politics where I could fit poems or books or song lyrics to terrible early-2000s pop songs is ridiculous.

I’ve never wanted to change anyone’s mind when it comes to politics. If I ever ask(ed) you questions about your preferred presidential candidate, it’s because you were open with me and I wanted to learn more. It’s because I know you’ve given your decision serious thought and I believe there’s value in the opinions of someone I respect.

But I don’t actually care which box you’ll check on the ballot.

I care that you’re kind. I care that you’re happy and healthy. I care that you have all of the things you need and some of the things that you want.

None of these things is changed by which name you choose on Nov. 8.

One month

Today is my parents’ 36th anniversary. They’ve postponed anniversary celebrations until after our wedding because they’re working their butts off to get the farm ready for ours. This is not a fact I take lightly. I’m certain there’ve been more times than not in my life when my parents have put much more effort into me than into themselves.

Tomorrow marks one month until Russ and I get married. Anyone who ever comes to this blog is probably getting pretty tired of hearing about wedding related things. I can’t blame you. For two years the majority of my posts have been somehow related to my relationship with Russ. It’s hard not to be that way, when you write about your own life and the biggest thing in your life is this all-encompassing love for another person.

For the better part of 11 months the majority of my posts have been related to wedding plans. Planning a wedding is all-encompassing in another, far more trivial way.

We’re a month away now which seems like an appropriate time to take a few steps back from buying bridal party gifts and choosing flowers — to take a few minutes to just soak in what’s ahead.

When we’re not planning a huge life event, Russ and I like to do certain things together. We love to camp, hike, go to concerts, run on trails and run through neighborhood streets. We love to drink wine and sit in the backyard. We love to visit with family and hang out by the pool with friends. We love to “chill”.

Our life this past year has been anything but “chill”. It’s been a fast-paced blur of colors and fittings, barn buildings and mass alcohol purchases (for the wedding, thank you!). It’s been a whole lot of weekends taken up by other people and things — all of which are wonderful, but most of which don’t allow us to spend too much quality time just hanging out together.

I’m ready to get back to what we do best. We’re a month away from getting married and I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about it. Should I be nervous? Should I be a little scared because forever is such a huge concept? Should I be more excited about a huge event where we will be the center of attention? I don’t know.

I’ll be thrilled to celebrate with so many people I love on April 23rd. The only bit of wedding planning I’ve been absolutely certain about is this — I want to be married to Russ and I want to celebrate that with as many people I love as possible.

And then I want to get back to what we do best. We’ll have a couple of days to explore Savannah right after the wedding and in June we’ll take a week long honeymoon. The wedding and all related celebrations will come and go. I’ll try my best to be in those moments and soak in the joy of having so many family and friends around at once. It will be as beautiful as I want it to be and I’ll be able to let go of little things that don’t go perfectly as planned — because I know that once April 23rd passes, our forever will be filled with cook-outs, campfires, concerts, hammocks, hikes, Sunday nights drinking wine in the backyard that will someday become quiet moments we, as exhausted parents, savor after the kids are in bed and summer days lazing by the pool that will turn into summer nights volunteering to time races at our kids’ swim meets.

Forever is understated. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t always easy. It doesn’t involve a lot of fanfare. Forever doesn’t scare me. It’s exactly what I want.IMG_4176



Just a technicality

So I did this little thing that, lord knows, Elizabeth Wren Sanders at many different ages probably thought would never happen. I said yes to loving someone forever. These are funny things, proposals. If done correctly then you already know you’re in it forever and saying yes is just a technicality. Regardless, what a thrill.

For weeks I’ve known Russ was going on a guy weekend in Atlanta. He and a couple of good friends do this trip down there to hit a brewery and tour some Walking Dead set sites. They’ve done it twice before. This was going to be the third time, and I made fun of him pretty relentlessly for not being creative enough to come up with a new trip.

We make fun of each other a lot. It’s what we do.

Russ wasn’t in Atlanta. None of the guys were in Atlanta. Their instagram accounts would have you believe otherwise, a detail that proved handy as I sat by the pool with some girlfriends on Saturday and casually scrolled through the ol’ IG (is that what the kids call it?)

That’s right. Russ planned a guys weekend and I very quickly planned a girls weekend to counter it. I spent most of my day laying poolside, chatting with friends, and letting the sun zap all my energy while turning my skin a little darker. My guy was out of town and I’d be alone the rest of the night, though I assumed I’d be headed to dinner with at least a couple of the girls.

-My mom called and attempted to make dinner plans with me. I knew I’d be tired from the pool day and still hoped for dinner plans with the girls. I declined.-

Let me take a moment right now to just tell you that when Russell A. LaFleur makes a plan, he really makes a plan. I can’t even tell you how many people knew about the proposal before I did, but it was the majority of the people within a 60 mile radius who might potentially ask me to hang out on this particular Saturday night.

I continued to hang out with my friends, still assuming someone would probably stick around for dinner.

-My mom called again. This time to make a plan for me to come over to see about a baby goat that would be moving to the farm. I was still tired, and really not interested in taking the 40 minute drive to Liberty. I declined again.-

My friends left. I couldn’t convince anyone to stick around for dinner and by this point I was tired enough to not try very hard to do so.

-My mom called for a third time. Seriously, why won’t she give this thing up, right? I’m tired. She tells me they need to talk to me and it’s important. Everything is okay, but they need to have this conversation while Russ is out of town.-

If you know me at all you know that I heard everything in this conversation except “Everything is okay”. I threw on some decent clothes, didn’t shower, didn’t wash my hair or the sunscreen off my face, and hurried to my car.

They didn’t think I’d come over so quickly. Sunset wasn’t until 8ish.

As soon as I walked in the door my dad stopped me. He told me to get in the car we were going to see about a baby goat. At this point I was frustrated and confused because we were supposed to be having some serious talk and now there I was talking about a baby goat again.

You know where this is going. Distraction after distraction as they stalled until it got close to sunset. Around the time the sky normally glows orange my mom made up an excuse for us to ride on the tractor to the bottom of the hill where we have our legendary (among family and close friends) campfires.

I’m questioning my intelligence now as I share this story with you and wonder how I didn’t pick up on any of the quirks of my day, but I’d also like to take this moment to swear to you that it’s totally normal for my parents to be mid-conversation then randomly suggest we “take the tractor down by the creek to make sure the fire is out before the wind picks up.”

My parents’ property is a giant hill. The house sits on top, and my favorite corner of the land is on the back left at the bottom of the hill. A creek wraps around much of the back property line. The path we take over the hill carries the tractor through a fence on the far right side of the back pasture. From there you can see the trees by the campfire from about eye level on up to the sky, but you can’t see the ground. I stopped my mom near the bottom of the hill and told her I thought the fire had already spread. I could see tiny flames scattered through the branches. She played along and told my dad to hurry up (hurry up on a tractor — nice one, mom).

As we rounded the corner I saw a figure in my favorite blue and red checkerboard shirt sitting nervously by a fire. I burst into tears, because that’s my move, and because I finally knew what was happening.

My sweet parents dropped me off, waved goodbye, then made the slowest exit of all time on a decade old Case tractor that probably moves about 3 miles an hour.

The flames in the trees were candles.

There was no Atlanta.

There was just a boy who’d spent his entire day with my parents hanging candles in mason jars, string lights, and old notes we’ve written each other all across my favorite clearing by the creek.

We read the notes that were hanging. They were some of our favorites. He told me he’d spent the week preparing while I thought he was at the gym. He told me that he picked up topaz colored glitter to cover the insides of the mason jars. He told me he chose notes because he knows how important words and writing are to me.

I cried like a baby as he handed me one last note with my name on the outside and “Will you marry me?” on the inside. Then he got down on one knee, held up my Mamaw’s ring, and said all the things I could possibly want him to say about sharing this life. I’m not going to tell you he cried (but he totally did).

I said yes (spoiler alert).

The craziest thing about it is I’ve been saying yes. For months we’ve been saying yes. We’ve laughed and cried (again, mostly me). We’ve hiked in some old favorite spots and found some new ones. We’ve run together. We’ve thrown the football around almost every week just like we did on our first date. We’ve spent time with each other’s families, and shared big holidays. We’ve grown together into this thing that already felt like forever. The proposal was beautiful. It was perfect. It included all of the things I love most in this world, but it was ultimately just a technicality.

That tree in the back has my parents initials carved into it. Russ and I are hoping to add ours.
That tree in the back has my parents initials carved into it. Russ and I are hoping to add ours.

Shoutout to me for not showering or fixing my hair prior to all of this
Shoutout to me for not showering or fixing my hair prior to all of this

This is me grinning like a crazy person/showing off the ring. Mamaw and Papaw got married in 1949. So it's at least 66 years old. Mamaw and Papaw happen to be two of the most important people in my life. I am honored to wear this ring.
This is me grinning like a crazy person/showing off the ring. Mamaw and Papaw got married in 1949. So it’s at least 66 years old. Mamaw and Papaw happen to be two of the most important people in my life. I am honored to wear this ring.

I’m no expert on love

I remember the phone ringing pretty early in the morning on Valentine’s day 1995. It was the only phone line in the house. I wasn’t expecting a call, seven year olds rarely do… particularly when they’re the youngest person in a household of five. The phone hung on the wall in the kitchen and had one of those long loopy cords that meant it could stretch a long way. I didn’t care to stretch it out into the hallway. First graders don’t need privacy for their personal calls.

I heard his voice on the other end of the line. A sheepish little boy telling me he had a special Valentine’s gift for me and asking if it’d be okay to bring it to school. Obviously I said yes, which is how I ended up, a few hours later, standing with my jaw dropped in the middle of Mrs. Russ’s classroom as Paul stood on a table with his arms outstretched yelling “I LOVE ELIZABETH!”. He’d made me cookies and bought me stickers, which would’ve sufficed, but the real “gift” appeared to be a public declaration of his love.

That particular Valentine’s Day was followed by two decades of what we’ll generously call less eventful Valentine’s Days.

I make no effort to hide the fact that I haven’t had many boyfriends. I’m not embarrassed by it. I don’t feel like less of a woman for it. I can easily pinpoint stages of goofiness, awkwardness, total naivety as the reasons behind several of my single Valentine’s days. If I was 19 I could think there was something terribly wrong with me. Thank god for wisdom that comes with age, right? I’m not 19, and I AM entirely comfortable with my history.

It’s easy to say all of that now. I’ve found the person I plan to love forever, so it’s easy to look back and laugh at any time I ever spent worrying that I’d never find that real love I always heard about.

Believe me, if I were reading this post on this same day last year, I’d be on the verge of vomiting. That’s incredibly dramatic, and not true.. but I’d be rolling my eyes pretty hard.

So if that’s where you are as you read this, if you’re single and don’t want to be, if you’re in some way hurt by the idea of celebrating all of the happy relationships around you, then I want you to know what I’ve learned.

Forget the cards. Forget the flowers. Forget the candy — I mean, don’t entirely forget it, because those delicious chocolates and conversation hearts go on mega-sale Sunday and you don’t want to miss that.– Forget the pink and red hearts all over everything. Forget all the facebook posts you’ll see from one lover tagging another. None of that is love in it’s entirety. Love is a man who makes it known that he supports your dreams. It’s a man who really doesn’t get why you’re crying but wants to fix it anyway. It’s a man who doesn’t want anyone to hurt you. Love is a man who makes you feel strong and powerful. Love is a man who opens doors or carries heavy things for you sometimes… OR it’s a man who does neither of those things because he respects that you feel they counteract how far we’ve come as women and you can open the damned door yourself. Love is a man who cares about the issues that matter to you, because they matter to you. Love is a man who makes a Tuesday morning feel like a Saturday afternoon. Love doesn’t manifest itself one day a year for the whole world to see. That can be a piece of it, but it can’t be the whole thing.

And YOU… You can’t sit at home clicking through the highlight reels of other people’s attached holidays and think that you deserve anything less than all those gritty, real bits of love.

And if you’re really rolling your eyes at me now, if you’re single and you don’t want to be and you’re entirely convinced that I’m blinded to reality now that I’ve found love — just know this — unattached means nothing outside of right now. You could be staring at forever as early as next month. Trust me.

my favorite veteran

My favorite veteran was once just a guy who taught me how to climb trees, jump across creeks, and shoot a lay-up.

Before he ever picked up a gun. Before he trained for weeks at Parris Island in the dog days of Summer. He was a little boy with the power to grant or deny me access to his latest fort in the woods across from our house.

It was this time ten years ago when my oldest brother was serving in Iraq. It doesn’t seem like it’s been anywhere close to that long. I was a junior in high school. I remember that Veterans Day better than any other because it was the first time I really understood why.

Like every other kid in chorus class I knew why we always practiced the Marine Corps Hymn or God Bless America to perform in front of the entire school.

I knew we got shortened classes for the day because school wide events meant special scheduling.

I knew that at least one person sitting near me would feel a personal connection to the holiday.

I remember sitting in the gym, pretending to listen to some guy tell his story of war and return from war. I remember not paying attention. All I could think about was the guy who taught me you should never eat two dozen Krispy Kremes in one sitting… the guy who used to come into my bedroom in the morning with multiple outfits in his hands to ask which matched best…. the guy who sent notes threatening any of my potential prom dates from a base somewhere in the middle of Iraq.

And without hearing even a moment of the man’s actual speech, I finally knew why he was there.

(scott showing me how to kayak alone in the ocean)

The North is warmer than you’ve heard..

A few weeks ago I was standing on the back deck of someone else’s vacation home with my hands wrapped tightly around an unfamiliar mug full of some coffee flavored like hazelnut, vanilla, or a combination of the two. We were among some of the Northeast’s finest fall foliage, something I’ve only seen once before this trip. It was two days after the first night I spent in my boyfriend’s childhood home. He, his mom, and I were all on this porch together talking casually about everyday things, just getting to know each other. I looked down into my cup and shifted my weight, briefly recognizing the moment. It wasn’t de ja vu and it wasn’t a memory. It was a feeling I’ve always wondered about and never felt — Home in another person’s home, home with another person’s family.

The week before I’d been halfway between Greenville and Spartanburg on my morning commute when I realized I had the kind of butterflies I couldn’t actually identify. Were they nerves or excitement? It’s often difficult to discern the two. I turned the Jason Isbell album up just loud enough to silence my mind.
Russ and I had already talked about my nerves. We’d joked about how cold I’d be up north. Did I pack enough coats? Would I need hand warmers? We joked about me digging up old southern accent I once sort of had and now barely remember. I wondered aloud about what I could bring to say thank you for the hospitality.
I’ve never “met the parents” before. I’ve never loved someone enough to get to that point. Obviously, I was nervous. I don’t have a large enough ego to believe that not one tiny piece of my personality, or one misstep could mess the whole thing up. So I moved with caution toward the weekend, not because I was meeting anyone scary, but because something important was about to happen.
I could go into great detail about the trip and everything we did. I could describe the colors of the leaves, and the beautiful historic hotel we visited on a road trip to the northern part of New Hampshire. I could tell you all the historic sites his friends and family let me drag them to while we explored Boston… and I will, one of these days… but not tonight. That’s not why I’m here at this keyboard right now.
When my family gets together we sit around a fire in the back pasture, tell stories, and laugh. We drink, we tell more stories… usually moving backwards chronologically, and laughing even harder. We detail our lives, what we’ve missed in the past few months and what we’ve shared over the years. Our bond is built around fires and tables covered in freshly steamed oysters with tiny bowls of cocktail sauce and melted butter. It’s an unspoken but certain tradition with all of the people I know and love best.
My first night at Russ’s childhood home was spent with his people — warm, nice, loving people —  sharing stories over drinks around a fire… and I think that sort of speaks for itself.


I sent my mom a text tonight that read “Do you think Joe is dead?” It looks morbid, but here’s the thing, Joe probably is dead. He was already old when I knew him as a very little girl. He must’ve been in his seventies when I was spending my afternoons with him. It’s hard for me to say how often I went over to Joe’s. I’d guess it was just about everyday. My first backyard backed up to his. I’d call him up, see if he was home, then walk out the door and head up the hill to his house. He always stood out on his back deck and watched me as I crossed our yards.

Joe was a friend like no other friends I had, and he was just mine. Sure, Joe liked my brothers and the other neighborhood kids, but Joe was really mine. He didn’t ride bikes with me or play basketball. He didn’t own any barbies, though he didn’t mind if I carried mine over to his house to play with us. He couldn’t run around outside with me, but he spent invaluable time with me.

Nobody I’ve ever known has pronounced my name as well as Joe did. Elizabeth rolled off his tongue with sort of a bouncy “s” sound in the middle. Joe was cuban. I was too young to understand what it meant to be a cuban who’d left home to live in the United States. I just knew he talked funny. I often asked him blunt questions about his accent, and pointed out when he said words oddly. That’s what kids do. Joe didn’t mind. He took it as an opportunity to teach me spanish.

Joe would spend entire afternoons sitting at his kitchen table practicing spanish words with me while I colored. He had an enormous collection of coloring books that stayed in a big brown basket in his living room. Joe’s children were grown and didn’t have any kids of their own yet. It’s obvious to me now that the basket of coloring books and crayons was stocked for just me. No other kids in the neighborhood knew Joe like I did. Nobody else would sit at his table coloring the little mermaid’s tail with a green crayon while Joe pointed to the color and practiced the word “verde”. When I was learning how to tell time, he taught me how to do it in spanish. He never got tired of helping me practice. For one birthday Joe bought me a spanish dictionary. He used to quiz me on words. I still have the dictionary, inscribed with a note from Joe. It’s got to be twenty years old now.

Joe’s wife made snacks that I thought were weird, but good. They never had saltine crackers and cheddar cheese like my family, they had weird wafer-like things and fancy cheese I couldn’t pronounce. I don’t know why any of these details are still so clear to me. It’s funny what sticks with you. There was a time when Joe’s doctor told him he had to start drinking vinegar to help with his heart or blood pressure or something like that, I don’t know, I was only five or six. His wife used to mix Apple Juice, Grape Juice, and vinegar for a drink he hated. For some reason, I loved it. I loved it so much that I’d ask for it as soon as I arrived in the afternoons. Sometimes they wouldn’t have any ready so I’d help her mix it up. Joe always drank his special juice with me at that same table in his kitchen. I’d enjoy a giant glass of a drink that definitely wasn’t meant for a child’s palate, while coloring in whatever new coloring book he’d picked up for me.

Joe and I were strange friends, from the outside, but there was nothing I wouldn’t do with him. If he had to work on repairing something in his little basement workshop, I’d sit up on a stool next to him and ask him endless questions while he did it. I remember one day his sweet wife was on his case about needing to clean out the attic, so I spent the afternoon talking his ears off while he passed me things from the top of the ladder. He told me stories about the stuff he found. I asked question after question. When I learned how to tie my shoes Joe let me practice on his shoes. When I first learned how to ride my bike, after months of frustrating practice, Joe would watch me ride up and down the side walk. He’d cheer for me from the deck.

I don’t know how Joe and I met. I was too young when it happened. We were only neighbors until I was eight. We moved to a new home in the same town. Joe would visit me on my birthdays or other special occasions. I’d call him sometimes, but eventually I got older and my family moved. His did too.
Tonight I thought about Joe, and to be honest I felt a twinge of grief. My mom responded to my text with “Honey, I don’t know, but I’d guess yes”. So now I’m here doing the only thing I can really think to do which is just to write down some memories of a man who was as good of a grandfather as any other I’ve had. I’m a little sad over the loss. Joe was a man who was part of my everyday life for several years. He was a man who always had time to answer my phone calls and sit down at the kitchen table with me. Joe didn’t mind my endless questions and he never lost patience with me. Whether I was learning a new skill or just talking about my day, Joe always made me feel like what I was saying was the most important thing he could hear right then. There’s nothing better you can give a kid, and I just hope wherever Joe is now he knows that he left that kind of a legacy.


we always say ‘i love you’ now

I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know the Bruce Springsteen song ‘I’m on Fire’ existed until John Mayer covered it for his 2009 album. I was a senior in college and still in that swoon over John Mayer phase. Bruce Springsteen was just ‘born in the USA’ and nothing more. When my brother brought this song up on the phone I told him I knew it because of John Mayer. He said “no, you’re thinking of the Jimi Hendrix song.” ‘Bold as Love’ is another cover I didn’t realize was a cover until I loved John Mayer’s version first in the mid 2000s. The timing of my existence is mildly unfortunate, at least in the case of good music, but I digress.

My brother is not a Springsteen superfan, by any means. Of all the years I spent riding passenger side in whatever vehicle he hadn’t wrecked yet (sorry, bro), I never remember any Springsteen. He was my old school rap and Miles Davis loving brother. He is also the reason I had boyz II men cassette tapes before I was old enough to care if they were boys or men. But Springsteen had a song that struck a cord during what must’ve been the most pivotal period of his life so far.

It’s two minutes and 37 seconds long. 2:37. That’s about as short as a song on pop radio can get. People run half a mile in that time. Running is exactly what it makes my brother want to do. When he brought up the song he told me he’d been listening to it on repeat for at least an hour. The why was heartbreaking. The song held no meaning before one particular night after Iraq when he was home safe and realizing the finality of friends that never would be.

…Watch as I skip over tons of details here, because it’s simply not my story to tell…

It was a night when the reality hit so hard that all he could do was run from it. He got up from his seat, went out the door, grabbed his iPod from his truck and hit play.

The early 80s beat picks up…”Hey little girl is your daddy home…” He’s running as hard as he can. He’s thinking of kids he knew over there. Kids, because that’s what they were. He was 23.. Some were just 19. Some, as he put it over the phone the other night, hadn’t even had sex yet. Maybe you argue they knew what they were getting into, but there’s really no way anyone does. The guys who never come home live not even half lifetimes. The guys who do, end up racing down the dark street in the middle of the night months and years later because they don’t know how or why it wasn’t them. My brother told me his whole story and I had no words. After several seconds I said, “In a very small and insignificant way I know what you mean.” That’s when he cut me off, telling me I was wrong. No memory that evokes emotion is insignificant.

There’s a George Strait song that puts me in the passenger seat of my dad’s old Buick. I’m 10 years old and he’s driving me through the West Virginia mountains that old cowboy is describing. I cannot hear it without thinking of that trip. I fell
in love with two things on that vacation; the beauty of West Virginia’s New River Gorge, and Country music. I couldn’t have fallen more in love with my dad if I’d tried. My junior year of high school I was coming home from track practice in that same old Buick, this time I was driving. I heard The first few notes and picked up my phone. I called my dad and left him a message because he was out of town and at 16 you sometimes still need your dad to know you miss him when he travels for work. I told him I was calling because our song was on and I loved him. The phone call ended. The song ended. My dad kept the voicemail well into my college years.

The summer we moved to South Carolina my mom rented a convertible for a week while her car was being fixed. It was an 8th grader’s dream. I had a newly purchased copy of the ‘Moulin Rouge’ soundtrack (terrible movie, btw), the wind in my baby thin hair, and no clue how awkward my teenage years would soon become. All I knew was that my mom and my best friend were willing to belt out Ewan McGregor’s version of ‘your song’ with me no matter where we were in town. I can barely handle Elton’s version anymore without wanting to really give it to the “are they green or blue” line.

Music is memory. Songs put us where we want to be. My music tastes have changed dramatically since I loved John Mayer, or since I thought Dave Matthews was super talented (kinda steered me wrong on that one, bros). I’ve grown up to find what I like, instead of what I “like” because someone I love does. But some songs still take me back. ‘Hand in my Pocket’ has me on the living room floor of my first house listening to my cousin Erika play piano. ‘Sailor Suit’ puts me at my computer with my middle brother leaning over my shoulder telling me which songs are cool enough to download. ‘Rich Girl is me, and Ginny, singing at the top of our lungs in Charleston humidity after a long, perfect day on the beach.

Music makes us feel alive.

Music often makes me want to run. When I got off the phone with my brother that night he told me he was going to run. He was going to put Bruce on repeat and just go until he couldn’t feel. I told him to be safe and I love him. We always say ‘I love you’ now, but we didn’t always say it before he went to war.

I hung up the phone, spent 99 cents on iTunes and put Bruce on repeat in my own bedroom because, in some way, his story is now mine too.