Monday, February 23, 2009

Legend: The Death of Casy's Bunny

My family has many "legends" that we retell often from our childhood. I've decided that these stories need to be passed on. This first is the death of Casy's bunny.

I was young--I would guess about 4. Dad and mom had just built on to the house and my oldest sister (she loves when I call her that), Casy, got their old master bedroom with her own bathroom. At that time, I shared a large room with my older sister, Susan. Lisa was the baby so she had her own little nursery.

Casy and I fought all the time. We couldn't stand each other. Lisa and I were the same way when she got older. And even later, with so many years between them, Casy and Lisa also had this type of relationship. Susan, however, was the peacemaker. We all loved Susan. Anyway, Casy brought home a baby bunny. I have no idea who gave it to her or why. But I DO quite clearly remember her telling me to LEAVE IT ALONE! She made it clear that I was not even to go into her room. And then she was off...because eight-year-olds are very busy people.

But...four-year-olds are very curious people, and I had to see this cute little bunny. So, I went into her room. Now, she probably had it locked, but we had a metal comb with a handle that fit perfectly into her lock and also the bathroom lock for easy access. I can still picture that comb but I don't ever remember anybody using it on their hair. Goodness...a metal fine-toothed comb would rip your hair out! So I made my way into her room and then into her closet where she had tucked the bunny into a cardboard box with some grass (for comfort) and lettuce (for food).

He was so cute...just a tiny little guy. Things are a little fuzzy from here. Afterall, I was only 4. So, I'm going to stick to the facts. Casy got home and had what she refers to as a "Fatal Attraction" moment when she realized her bunny was missing and found her toilet overflowed. I don't know WHY I was immediately a suspect, but she got mom and they came to find me. When asked if I knew where the bunny was, I told them that the rabbit couldn't swim. (I've never been a very good liar.)

The assumption has always been that I was trying to teach the bunny to swim, and when he failed, I flushed him down. However, I believe that it is entirely possible that the bunny died of natural causes and I thought that a burial at sea (or the Hugoton Sewer Pond) would be totally acceptable...maybe even honorable. Okay, maybe I'm stretching it a little. Honestly, I don't remember the fate of the bunny. But, I do remember that Casy was devastated...and furious! And also that my mother had to dig a bunny carcass out of the sewer pipe. This did nothing for our already tenuous relationship.

This little story is very often thrown in my face at family events...minus the screaming and tears. Everyone now seems to think it's hilarious that I would flush a bunny--including my own children.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Father-Daughter Bonding and the "Killer"

My dad is passionate about his automobiles. Not only does he have some classic cars but he also has had many pickups that have each had their own personalities...from the old standard Ford that 6 (yes, that is six!) of us used to pile into to go to school everyday to the silver and red Bozmobile of the late 1980's to his current King Ranch.

Each time my father (known to his friends simply as "Boz") would bring home a new pickup, he would come get me, with a gleam in his eye, to go for a ride. Now I realize that I wasn't the only daughter that was blessed with these "crop checks" with my father. Each of my sisters had similar excursions with the same and/or different vehicles as they were growing up and still living in my parents' home. It wasn't the size of the engine or the comfort of the seats that he wanted to share. It wasn't the length of the wheel-base or the color of the paint that had him excited. It was the "get-up-and-go", the popping of glasspacks (which were invariably added), and the sweet sounds of the stereo.

As we climbed in, the first thing my father did was put in a cassette, crank up the volume, and then look at me and wait for my reaction to the quality of the sound. God, I can just see that ornery smile on his face and the expectant look of pleasure when I exclaimed over it and started singing along. Then off we'd go to tour the fields, stopping now and again to time a quarter-mile run just out of curiosity!

The music that Boz selected wasn't just any old thing that he had around, though. It was something that had style, gave us common ground, and ROCKED! Typically, this meant that my field tours with my father had soundtracks created by Elvis (The King) and/or Jerry Lee Lewis (The Killer). We were raised on the stuff.

Over the years I have had several different vehicles, not always purchased for functuality or with frugality. When I got my last car, it had a hemi and an incredible sound system. It was a Boz car--definitely. I immediately fell in love with the "get-up-and-go", the sound of the hemi, and the brilliant, crisp sound of the stereo. That evening I loaded up Todd and the kids, grabbed the iPod, and headed for the interstate. It was time for my own children to experience the thrill of a new vehicle--"momma" style.

As I accelerated onto I-70, I looked at my family with a gleam in my eye and started the song. And we rocked out! The kids were INTO it. The grins on their faces and dancing in the seats were all I needed to know that they got it. When it was over, I let the silence just hang in the air for a few seconds before I told my children that they had just enjoyed listening to the "Killer" sing Boogie Woogie Country Man and their lives were better because of it. Then I told them the story of my trips in new vehicles with my own father...Grandpa.

Go ahead...listen to it. I added a link to a YouTube clip that plays the song--the same exact version that has always made my blood start pumping. A song that I will always associate with my father. If you're human, it should give you the chills.

Thanks, Dad, for taking the time to share your joy and love with us and to pass along your passion...for music, for speed (God help us!), for the land, and for family. I love you.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Funny Things My Kids Say--Part 4

I had a great morning today.

After waking early, I read the paper in bed and worked on today's crossword then lazily drifted back to sleep. Later I woke up to the smell of fresh coffee, biscuits, sausage/gravy, and eggs. Yum! We migrated into the living room after breakfast and I drank a second cup of coffee while we all made fun of the Brady Bunch episode that Todd had stopped on while flipping through channels.

The Brady Bunch episode was the one where the boys found a wallet full of money. After telling their parents, they learned that the "right" thing to do would be to turn it into the police and try to return it to the rightful owner. They hoped nobody would claim it because they found that, after a period of time, the cash would become legally theirs! Mr. Brady, however, was a resourceful man and decided to run an ad in the paper. Lo and behold, the owner was able to describe the wallet and its contents then pick it up.

The acting is so awful. We laughed that we didn't realize how cheesy it was when we were kids. Our children all watched and even chuckled--at the hair, clothes, bad dialogue, etc. When it was over, I said that each episode had a moral lesson. Todd chimed in that, yes, the Brady Bunch had certainly helped raise him. I turned to my oldest daughter and asked, "What moral lesson did you learn, Tana?" in a cheeky tone with a grin on my face. In a very dry voice, my sweet child said, "When you find a wallet, don't tell your parents."

Aahhhhh...another glorious morning in the Tyler household...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Jack and the Scrue

February 3, 1997 was one of the days that you never forget. The imprint of it is forever in my mind, like the day the Challenger exploded or the Twin Towers fell. On this date, I had to tell my husband that his best friend since high school had died in car accident--leaving his beautiful young bride, their 2-year old son, and their 10-day old baby.

Todd didn't function right for most of a year. The pain of it was excruciating and he wasn't able to talk about Andy, probably better known as Jack.

Of course, I had heard all of the stories about the Satanta Crue--which came to be known as simply "the Scrue". (Yes, two dots are always placed over the "u" for all of you Motley fans.) The boys would get together and repeat the same ones over and over and over. Most of them involved Jack's truck. She wasn't just any old pickup, her name was Roxy. The poor girl was put through Hell, but she always got the boys back home. It didn't seem to matter that the stories never changed and they were repeated each time we all got together, they were their stories...the adventures of Jack, Roadie, Macster, Jeremy, and Hank with many other characters sprinkled throughout.

I wrote this poem back in 1997 to express for my husband the things he could not express for himself. Maybe I didn't capture it completely...but I tried...and, God knows, I cried. It's hard to believe that he's been gone for 12 years this week. We miss you, Jack.

I remember the days of high school football games, homecomings, and track;
We were the "Scrue" of Satanta and we called him "Jack".
Jeremy, Jack, Hank, Macster, and Roadie (that's me)
Could do anything and be anything we ever wanted to be.

There were wild rides in the Caddy and some were sure to say
Those boys knew how to party when it was Satanta Day!
We had double dates, blind dates, and even went to prom together;
I always assumed he'd be around to be my friend forever.

Then we went to college--Jack went to K-State.
We'd all go up to see him and stay up way too late.
To basketball games, football games, concerts, and more;
Time spent with Jack was never a bore.

Back in 1990, Roxy (the blue Chevy pickup) was bought;
She was a good truck but she was abused a lot.
We made road trips to Denny's in the middle of the night;
And sometimes barely made it home by the break of light.

Then in 1992 Andy married his sweetheart;
Her name was Tamra and we knew they'd never part.
I was in that wedding and I will always remember that day;
We decorated Roxy and then sent them on their way.

In 1994 it was my turn to say, "I do."
Jeremy, Jack, and Mac stood with me, but when it was through
They found my Monte Carlo (I thought they never would)
And Jack certainly got even by putting pancake syrup on my hood.

Heidi Grace was also born that year but God took her above;
Although we dearly miss Andy, his daughter is there with him to love.
On Christmas Day they were blessed again with a beautiful baby boy;
Cooper Jace is his name and he was his daddy's joy.

That March we received Tana Carol--a beautiful baby girl;
Andy, Tamra, and Cooper came to see just who had changed my world.
We were glad they came to see our new home back in September;
And we stopped by to see if they'd had that new baby yet in December.

The last time I talked to Andy, he had called to say--
Jacqueline Nicole had finally come...she was two days old that day.
I never got to see him hold that precious girl in his arms;
But I know he's holding Heidi and learning all her charms.

My wife told me the bad news early on Monday night;
And for a while it's going to seem like nothing in the world is right.
It was a cold day in February when we laid his body to rest;
I will always love him because, as my friend, he was the best.

Cooper is a Freshman this year. He is the spitting image of his father. According to mom, his best friend could be a reincarnation of Todd with blond hair. She loves watching the boys feels like she watching Andy and Todd. Jacqueline (better known as Jacque--pronounced "Jack") is a beauty at 12. She was blessed with just the perfect combination of traits from both her parents.

That year the Scrue decided that another year would not go by without them getting together to tell the old stories and enjoy each other's company. Each Memorial Day weekend we all meet at one of our homes for the annual Scruefest. The Scrue has grown to include wives and children. It's so great that all of the children know each other from these annual celebrations. The goal of the weekend is simple--to golf, tell stories, listen to some of the old tunes, eat a deep-fried turkey, and throw back a few beverages...but not before raising a glass to Andy and making sure that Jack is never forgotten.

Funny Things My Kids Say--Part 3

I remember when I was a kid that my mother would buy chickens and try to explain how to cut them up so that you would end up with all of the pieces looking right. Her mother had taught her when she was young. She cut it so that there were four breast pieces, two of which would probably be considered the tenderloin pieces now. And, she always had a seperate wishbone piece. So, really, we ended up with 5 pieces of good white meat. Sometimes she would buy packs of chicken pieces to add to it, but usually she bought whole chickens.

Nowadays we are spoiled. I have never bought a whole chicken. In fact, I rarely buy chicken pieces. Instead, I just buy the boneless chicken breast filets. And we eat chicken often so we just pick it up when it's on sale and stuff it in the freezer for future use.

When Tana was pretty little, I would say 4, she came into the kitchen as I was putting the chicken in the crockpot. Since I was cooking it all day to shred for enchiladas for supper, I decided to save a few bucks and buy the chicken breasts that were on sale that week at the store rather than buying the filets.

As I was taking it from the package, rinsing it, pulling off any extra fat, and throwing it in the crockpot, Tana watched intently. She asked, "What are you doing?" I told her that I was going to cook the meat for supper. She continued to watch and finally, with a look of horror and disgust on her face, she asked, "Is that dead chicken?" I looked at her and said, "Yes." In her little four-year-old voice she then matter-of-factly stated, "Well, I don't eat dead chicken." And with that, she turned up her nose and was gone.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Heath: From Pampers to Plank Owner

I've always told Heath that God must have big plans for him to do great things.

As my oldest child entered this world, I realized that something was wrong. It had been a long labor and we were all tired--including the doctor and my great nurse (who was also the mother of a classmate of mine). But as he started to cry and I looked at the faces of my caregivers, it was obvious that there was a problem. I will never forget my words, "Is he all there?" The doctor gently explained to me that he was fine but that he had a cleft lip and palate. At my young age I had never even heard of a cleft. When they handed my son to me, I was terrified. What did this mean? Was he mentally okay?

His foot was also bent way back. Heath was a big baby and I had been feeling that foot at the bottom of my right rib cage for months! Those feet were huge!

So, our journey together started.

With the cleft Heath couldn't get good suction. It would take me 2 hours to get 2 ounces of formula in him. He was so hungry. I remember rocking in my hand-me-down rocking chair all night trying to fill him up and wishing I could go to bed. During those first few months I watched more than my share of middle-of-the-night Gilligan's Island and MASH episodes. At some point we realized that if we pinched his cheeks, it closed the gap, and he could get more down. I have some great video footage of my younger sister (an 8th grader at the time) using this technique to feed her nephew. It's precious!

At three months, Heath had his first surgery. I can't tell you what it's like to send your baby into surgery. I remember walking back as far as they would let me then crying my way back to the waiting room--praying that all would go as planned.

The first time I fed him after the surgery I looked at my mother and told her that something was not right. He was able to drink so much easier! We realized as we sat in the hospital room that, for the first time, we weren't listening to the loud slurping sounds that always accompanied a feeding. If felt good to laugh with relief.

Over the years, Heath had many surgeries. He got braces very young and went through ear tubes, speech therapy, retainers, glasses (with a stigmatism), and braces on his feet due to the one being bent so far back.

Speaking of feet...

When Heath was in the 1st grade (at the tender age of 6) we went to get a pair of school shoes. After measuring Heath's feet, the salesman informed me that boys shoes only went up to size 5. Heath needed a 6. We would need to go to the men's section. What?!?! Starting that year, Heath's shoe size matched his age. At 10 he wore a men's 10. At 13...a 13. At 15...15. Thank goodness that this is where it stopped! It was pretty funny that Todd got Heath's hand-me-down shoes when he outgrew the 12's at 13. Uncle Marc got some when Heath was only 11! I always told Heath, "You know what they say: The bigger the feet.......the bigger the shoes!" He didn't get this little joke until he was MUCH older!

We read every night. I loved reading to Heath and singing to him. He was such a beautiful and special little guy with enough personality for 5 boys. He must've been about 3 when, on a very windy day, I went outside our apartment to check on him and newspaper pages were swirling everywhere in the wind. It didn't take long to spot Heath with arms thrown up in the air watching his masterpiece--all of my neighbors' papers dismembered and flung in the wind by my child for amusement!

Macster will never let him forget the time he hitched a ride home with us. After stopping for Mexican food in Dodge City, we headed down the road with Heath still finishing his meal. At some point I asked Heath if he was finished and, when he assured me that he was, I threw the rest of the stinky burrito out the window. For the rest of that trip (about an hour!) we had to listen to Heath repeatedly wail, "I want my burrito!" Poor Macster waited a long, long time to have his first child.

School wasn't easy for my little guy. I'm really not sure why, but he just didn't have the drive to really try. I'd swear that every teacher he ever had wanted to pull his/her hair out with frustration because he/she knew Heath could do the work but, for some reason, chose not to. As a teacher myself, it drove me nuts...especially since I knew how bright he was.

We began to butt heads. It was hard for me to choose my battles with him because there were just so many. My son and I had to hit bottom and start back over in our relationship. Maybe it was because we had been through so much together. Maybe it was because we were so alike. Maybe it was God's way of showing us how much we needed and loved each other. Early in this time of reconciliation, Heath had to go through a major surgery. His top jaw had to be sawed off and reset. I think that the extended period of time when he couldn't talk played a big role in our healing. My son wrote on his little Magna Doodle that he loved me more than I had heard it from him in the previous several years. I really needed that. Strangely enough, since that surgery Heath has not had a stigmatism.

I'm thankful that Heath had one more year of high school and, even now looking back, I'm amazed at the transformation of our relationship. I don't know how many trips Heath and I made by ourselves from far western Kansas to Wichita, but I do know that during that year he asked me to turn off the radio and just talk to him. We had to laugh about this...isn't that what mommas usually asked their kids to do? I loved these long, uninterrupted conversations with my son with some 80s music thrown in for fun.

When he got his diploma, I cried. I cried hard. There was a time that I didn't think he would put in the effort to make it through. He made it very clear to me that he was finishing because I wanted him to...not because he saw the value in it. I assured him that he would not be sorry.

Heath went off to college and did pretty well that first year, considering his lack of effort throughout high school. He surprised us that spring when he informed us that he wanted to join the service and was considering the Navy. He made the decision to enlist, following in the footsteps of my dad and his Aunt Lisa. I was proud of his decision to serve our country. As a member of the Cardinal Company he took his oath in Busch Stadium prior to a St. Louis Cardinals game. We (dad, mom, brother, and sisters) got to be on the field to watch. Todd reached down with an empty medicine bottle to scoop up a bit of the stadium during that proud moment.

My parents were able to join us for Heath's graduation from boot camp outside of Chicago. He was so handsome in his dress blues! That Christmas he asked Stef to marry him. Being my child, he is a bit impatient. So, I wasn't too surprised when he called and said to get a ticket and come out because they didn't want to waste time planning a wedding, they were ready to be married. On St. Patrick's Day of 2008, I watched my son marry the woman he loves in the City Hall in Bath, Maine in the presence of his Shipmates and his mother. The joyous event was followed by Barbeque (in Maine?) and bowling (it was league night). It was perfect. It was so.....Heath!

This past year he became a "Plank Owner" of a new destroyer, the Sterett. They are now settled into their new lives together in San Diego experiencing all of those "firsts" that come in the beginning stages of a marriage.

Heath called me tonight...just to talk to his "Momma". He was bubbling over with pride talking about his job, his accomplishments, praises that he has received from his superiors, and his dedication to the U.S. Navy. I just listened...and smiled...and even laughed out loud. Heath's beginnings, his challenges, the chips on his shoulders, and his setbacks did not define my son, he is defining himself.

God has big plans for my son, Heath. I know it.