ancestor

friend
Jack Small

Sunday night I was in Brigham City for my friend Jane’s father’s viewing. I wondered if I would see my Uncle Dee (his friends, apparently, call him Ron) there. I’d been on the road all day and hadn’t tried to reach out. And we arrived at the end of the viewing and so it was very likely he’d been earlier. He arrived with his second wife, who I don’t know very well, and we caught up on family for a few minutes before we moved up in the line and he headed to the back of the line.

A few minutes later someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“Are you Dale Rex’s daughter?”

“Yes I am!”

“I’m Jack Small. I used to work with your dad.”

It took me a minute. I was trying to put into context when that might have been.

“At the BYU Dairy. When we were both at BYU. I knew Bob,* too.”

He didn’t really have much more to say than that, in fact I should liked to have asked him some questions, but I thanked him profusely.

“They’ve been gone so long, it’s so good to meet someone who remembers them.”

It was clear he remembered them fondly.

This is the thing about losing someone you love. The world keeps spinning. Life moves on. Everyone else moves forward just the same today and tomorrow as yesterday.

Eventually time moves forward for you again too. The planet still spins. But the tilt of the planet will forever remain just a little bit off to you. And sometimes you wonder how everyone else goes on as if nothing happened.

So when, nearly 35 years later, someone stops for a moment and seeks you out to acknowledge the altered universe–that this person you cared about existed and was known and loved and is still missed–well words are insufficient to explain how that settles in your heart.

[Day 102 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

*Bob is my uncle who was shot down in Viet Nam when I was a toddler. He left behind a pregnant wife and a a toddler even younger than I was. She doesn’t remember him. Her younger sister never knew him.

p is for packing and preparing for trips

falls

Thursday morning I called in late and ran up to the Salt Lake Airport for something I felt compelled to do, but will write about later. While I was there my oldest son called. He wanted to go to Idaho. That afternoon. I had thought about going earlier in the week – I needed to see my brothers. And I wanted to see the baby pigs. And the older cows before they went to market this summer. And also Shoshone Falls in full spring runoff. But I talked myself out of it when my brother Jon texted that he would be in California.

Except his trip got rearranged.

And then I talked myself out of it again because I had planned to do my taxes this weekend.

But when Luke called. And then texted. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I was itching to go.

I talked Luke into waiting until morning so we could see the falls in daylight. And took the rest of the day off, did most of my taxes that afternoon, and put my house in order.

And then I packed.

If I have clean clothes I can pack in about 15 minutes.

Packing is easy for up to a week. I picked up a bright Cotopaxi backpack for myself after my daughter let me borrow hers when I was traveling to D.C. so often for work in 2015.

Undergarments go in the roomy inside pocket. Then I layer clothes, putting whatever I’m going to wear last in first and working my way up. There’s always room for my makeup bag at the top before I cinch up the drawstring. I generally have a bag of Clorox wipes in the outer pocket, along with assorted herbal teas, a few hair ties, and some tiny headphones. I usually squeeze a few sample-sized bottles of my favorite essential oils (On Guard and Serenity) along with any seasonal allergy meds (if the timing is right, or wrong, as it were) into my CPAP bag.

My still-muddy tennis shoes in a grocery bag under the seat, and a couple of pairs of socks and a sweatshirt get tossed in my shoulder bag that stays up in the front seat, and I’m good to go.

If you travel light, then there’s more room for good company.

[Day 101 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Living at risk – building your wings on the way down after jumping off a cliff (or something like that)

When we were first married I had just graduated from BYU with a degree in English and Shane was still pretty new into the Elementary Education program at BYU. We lived in an old ugly but adequately warm puce stucco house. We both worked. And then it was time to start our family.

I had a decent full time job as an associate editor at the local free newspaper and Shane worked full time as a shipping clerk at Best – a local retailer that has since gone out of business.

My entire life I had looked forward to being a mom. So it was without question that I gave notice just before giving birth to our firstborn, Luke so I could be home with him. Even though rent was cheap back then, things didn’t really look so great on paper. But we weren’t so concerned about the balance sheet on paper.

And so we jumped. At the time, I compared it to jumping off the high dive with a blindfold – not knowing for sure if there was water in the pool. The metaphor of jumping first and building wings as you go is pretty much the same thing, but it sounds a little gentler. Maybe just a little.

Looking back, those were some of the best times. We lived simply, but we did not want. We were even able to buy a home. Which helped us eventually get into this home.

A couple of years later we were expecting our second child as Shane was finishing up school and looking for work. He got a job, but pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition and the delivery wouldn’t be covered until a couple of days past my due date. We worried. But what could we do?

My due date arrived and we waited some more. The day our insurance kicked in arrived. And my water broke at 1am. Zack was 10 lb. 5 oz. and healthy and happy. And our bills were covered.

At the time new school teachers earned a salary below poverty level. We used to joke that we lived on the way to D.I. Because so many people gave us first shot at their unwanted furniture and clothes and literally dropped it off at our house on the way to D.I. But I never felt poor. I read books. I had a pretty good idea of what it meant for people who truly were poor.

And so we flew.

Two more kids in the nest–both in school before I went rejoined the paid work force.

Those were powerful wings. Wings built on faith.

No regrets.

[Day 100 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

three places my shoes have walked this past year

mud

A week ago tonight my walking shoes were in a would-be suburb of Enoch Utah. They would have been walking in the snow, but for the heat of the fire, which, with the prior rain, turned the saturated earth to mud. Thick mud. I had an expensive Canon camera in one hand and my iPhone rolling in video mode in the other, so when my left foot stepped forward, the thick, viscous mud held one of my shoes captive and my socked foot, already in motion, landed full on in the wet, cold mud.

beach

A year ago I had just finished my last big trip with the FAA, helping my team film two international airports–Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood and Miami International–and a number of smaller regional airports in the area. I swapped my walking shoes for sandals. Said shoes–more precisely the inside soles of my favorite pair of Birkenstocks–actually came home a little worse for the wear as they walked through thick sand until I got to the water’s edge each night as I unwound along the beach that was right outside my hotel room.

rooster

My shoes and the rest of me needed a break, so they traipsed around the “southernmost point of the continental United States” next to my friend Melody’s shoes. We walked the colorful, lushly tree-lined streets, kicked around Hemmingway’s home, dodged the delightfully free-range chickens (and inevitable droppings) through the middle of town, and patiently kept a light touch on the gas pedal as I drove the hurricane escape route at about 5mph through most of the upper keys on our way back to Ft. Lauderdale.

apricot jam

Somewhere in between last April and last fall both pairs of shoes alternately braved manure, mosquitos, and rotten apricots as I explored my brother’s new ranch–he ended up naming it Serenity–on my first visit. I find myself homesick for it (the too-sweet sticky mush of rotten fallen apricots–not so much, but rumor has it they’ve been rigorously pruned). I need to go back.

[Day 99 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Mail

book
Know what’s even better than a check in the mail? A physical manifestation of the fact that someone’s been thinking of you.

I’m actually feeling a good deal of guilt about mail at the moment. A friend of mine sent me a lovely can of sweet rose herbal tea last week (via Amazon, but yes, it arrived by mail) and I have yet to thank her. At first it was because it arrived at a crazy time. Then I was on the road for work, unexpectedly, every day last week. Now it’s because I feel like so much time has passed I should think of a more personal way to express my gratitude than a simple text. Yet such a way hasn’t presented itself. In the meantime, my tardiness increases by the hour.

Also, I have not one, not two, but three overdue items I meant to put in the mail. One is a baby gift for an infant who is now 18 months old and will have already outgrown the outfit I purchased BEFORE he was born. The sad thing about this is that I even already have postage on the envelope, so I was planning ahead, but I failed to connect the mailing address with the envelope.

This is my usual method of failure–connecting the address, the proper postage, and an actual envelope in order to get said package to the intended recipient.

I have a lovely book of English grammar errors purchased for a friend ages ago on that day when I cried while reading my favorite passage of Hamlet from the preserved First Folio which was on tour at the Salt Lake City Library. I don’t recall when exactly that was, except that it was months ago, because it was a beautiful warm sunny day, and those are just now returning to us. So clearly it was at the very least last fall.

Sigh.

My worst failure is a package of hand crocheted baby items that I mean to return to a family in France. They were sent to me as a gift nearly 30 years ago, and as such were intended for me to keep. However the dear woman–a woman who loved and treated me as a daughter–since (at least best I can translate) has been afflicted with health ailments that prohibited her from crocheting such delights for her grandchildren. I meant to send them back as a courtesy as soon as I regained contact with this dear family and learned of the situation. To make things worse, I learned several months ago this dear woman passed away. At that time I felt it best to wait. And then it was Christmas. I have little faith in international mail, especially at Christmas, and decided it best to wait again. At this point it is simply a failure on my part.

Failure to send.

On a happier note, I have been blessed by the generous actions of a good number of people who are much more successful than I at actually connecting the gift, my address, and proper postage and getting things in the mail.

These people deliver!

Numerous and perfect handmade reminders of Doctor Who
Delightful books and presents for my grandson, Sweet Baby James
Cadbury chocolate (a number of times) from the mother country (it’s better from Great Britain)
Belgian chocolate (a number of times)
Scottish shortbread (also a number of times)
Rose tea
A beautiful coffee table book with photos of ancient and magnificent trees
Darling and clever Star Wars dish towels and pins and such
Both sweet and sassy notebooks in which to record my thoughts during hard times

Just to name a few…

What I love most is these appear when I least expect them, but also, habitually, on those rough days when I need a bit of good cheer and when it does my heart veritable good to know I’m loved and supported and that someone out there was thinking of me and acted upon it.

I’m blessed by good people in my life.

I aspire to be more like them.

[Day 98 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

things I do that annoy people

monkey photo credit: Syed Ikhwan (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

I leave cupboard doors open, lose my keys regularly and my phone often, repeat myself sometimes when I’m trying to explain something or feel passionate about something, but perhaps my most annoying trait is that I like to be right. This is not in a proud or an “I’m better than you” way, it’s simply in an “I’m passionate about my convictions” and a “truth matters” or “words matter” way.

Unfortunately, the expression of my convictions and my desire for truth and understanding are often misconstrued. And painfully, the fact that I recognize this in myself and consciously try to tone it down and let it go is often lost on the people who are the most annoyed by me.

I still recall and inwardly recoil over moments in my youth and my past in which I failed to let something go. But I’m also aware of a number of times I stopped myself and walked away, yet the effort went unnoticed. Perhaps it is easier to notice the presence of an irritant than the absence of it?

True I deserve demerits or detention for every time I needed to have the last word. But I also would hope the scale could be balanced if at least just a little for every time I let someone say “irregardless” without correction, bit my tongue clear through while people praised a leader I’ve witnessed painfully disrespect nearly every minority group I can imagine and, in recent months, display a disassociation from the truth–yet defended those same people from the other side that derides them.

And all those times I’ve carefully worked to discern what is worth speaking up for and what is not.

What do you do?

You keep trying every day.

[Day 97 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Things you save

thewayofthedodo
This isn’t even good ice cream, but oh how I miss that HALF GALLON in all caps at the bottom of the carton.

I like to save money. In fact, I even like to save other people’s money. When I was traveling for work (that’s funny, because I just got back from Cedar City where I found out I have to turn around and go back to Cedar City tomorrow before heading down to St. George. For some reason, unless I have to also board a plane, I no longer consider it travel) I went to great lengths to get a good deal on hotels and plane fare and rentals even though those expenses would ultimately be paid for by the federal government entity for which we were working (and, as we all know, the federal government is not exactly known for being thrifty).

One time I left polite feedback for a hotel that was not very clean (I have a little thing about seeing visual reminders that someone lived/slept there before me) and the hotel gave me $30 off my room. Which I promptly passed on to my employer.

I loathe finding out something went on sale the month after I bought it (looking at you, Suave Body Wash, for which Costco ran a rebate in their next month’s flyer). I love stores that let you double or triple up on savings (item on sale, plus 20% off sale, plus an additional $10 off your $50 purchase). I am still mad about that time nearly all ice cream labels (brands, they are not, in fact recording studios) cut the half gallon down to 1 3/4 quarts, which is now even smaller. They were not even subtle or apologetic about it.

I’m pretty sure the extinction of the half gallon of ice cream is right up there with my concerns about the bald eagle, wolves, tigers, giant pandas and manatees–all which have made remarkable and beautiful comebacks. Because we all know the half gallon is never coming back and as far as our grandchildren are concerned it will be right up there with unicorns and the dodo.

In any case. I just realized I forgot to set my 8-minute times, so apparently I’m not as concerned about saving time as I am about saving money. And yet it is true I have come to appreciate the value of time over money (within reason) and, in an uncharacteristic move, have, since I started working full time, become in the habit of seeing the doctors at instacare for some things rather than trying to fit in a doctor’s appointment during my office hours, even though the copay is $10 more. That is a really awkward sentence, making one thing entirely clear. Timer or no timer. This writing prompt is over.

That said, I’m all of a sudden curious. If anyone happens to read this post (admittedly not my best work), tell me the best deal (in other words, the most money you saved) when buying something you either really wanted or really needed. Like that time you really had to buy something now and couldn’t wait for it to go on sale,* but through some miracle, you got a really good deal on it and came away relieved and happy. Go!

*Like how I really need a new pair of Birkenstocks right this minute but I do not want to pay full price.

[Day 96 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Of pine, funeral potatoes, and a good set of pipes

My mother didn’t have a funeral. Neither did her mother. Part of me was relieved. When my grandmother died I was relieved I didn’t have to fight with my mother or anyone else to honor her wishes, because she made me promise I wouldn’t let them do a funeral for her. When my mother died, we all felt the same about honoring her wishes, and we were, perhaps, relieved at not having to plan her funeral. But I think we missed out on something. We did have a gathering–I’m not sure you would call it a viewing with her casket closed–also her wishes. Several members of my dad’s family came. They’ve always been supportive like that, even though–perhaps especially because–he has been gone for so long. Mom’s sister Jean and all her children came, along with several people from my mom’s work and her neighborhood. And a number of our friends. I still remember from when my father died how much it means to you when your friends show up for you in times of loss and tragedy.

In any case, so it was a new experience for me to be involved–or at least present–in the planning of a funeral as we gathered in Duchesne last Saturday for the planning of my mother-in-law, Barbara’s services.

So I figured now might be as good a time as any to draft my own wishes.

I want to be buried in a simple pine box. With one of the quilts I made. I used to think I’d like to be buried with my favorite quilt, but one of my friends threatened to open the casket and take it back before I was laid to rest, so I’ll settle for the first quilt I made. The pattern is called Card Tricks. The fabrics are tan with trees, moose, bears, and a canoe (remember how I always wanted a canoe? I still hope to make that happen some day). It’s also the one with a splash of black craft paint on the back (back when I made boring, un-crazy-pieced quilt backs). Because, kids.

Please don’t let them curl my hair or put lipstick on my lips or blush on my face. I didn’t bother in real life and I certainly don’t want it in the post-life.

My favorite hymns are More Holiness Give Me and Lord, I Would Follow Thee, and Be Still My Soul (aka Finlandia). Well Come Thou Fount speaks to my heart and always makes me cry but it’s not in the hymnbook anymore, so I’m not sure everyone would know the words. My other favorites are There is Sunshine in My Soul Today, but I think it might be a stretch asking people to sing that at a funeral. Also, Reverently and Meekly Now, but that’s a sacrament hymn, so also not appropriate for a funeral. I do want people to know what I believe (I don’t know how anyone couldn’t already, I’m not exactly shy about it). 2 Nephi 31:20 sums it up nicely and I’d love to have it included on the program, if there is one.

People can speak or not speak as they wish, but I do have a silk envelope of really kind things my friends once wrote to me tucked away in my top dresser drawer in case my family doesn’t have much to say. But whatever else is on the program, please remember to keep it short. If it goes over an hour long I’m going to come back and haunt people, and not in a good way.

Please let Lindsay be a pallbearer, but only if she wants to be. I’ll forever be grateful for dear old Cora Soulier for having the good sense to choose the women who supported her in life to be her honorary pallbearers. But there is no good reason for women to not be actual pallbearers as well.

My favorite flowers are gerber daisies, lavender, and hydrangea (I’m not sure those go together particularly well). I’d honestly be almost as happy with some sage brush, as the scent brings back many fond memories, but I think people in my family are allergic. Aside from something simple on the casket, please encourage people to give their hard-earned money to the refugees or the missionary fund–or both–in lieu of flowers.

One teeny tiny thing that would make me almost as happy as that time we finally tracked down someone to play the banjo at Kate’s Celebration of Life and that other time when Book on Tape Worm performed at my 50th birthday party would be the sweet sound of bagpipes. Amazing Grace would be lovely as people leave the chapel and head to their cars, or even as they leave the graveside and head back to the church for a family dinner.

Note: I’m fairly certain at least a few of my family members will be sad if there are no funeral potatoes, so please someone make sure there are funeral potatoes. Oh, and if it’s not too much trouble, serve root beer floats for dessert instead of cake. I don’t really love cake. And root beer floats are my favorite.

before they were adults

momanddad

When my mom was a little girl she moved a lot. I’m not exactly sure why. My grandpa was an educator, not military. But I know she never spent much time in the same school and I think she must have been kind of lonely. She worked hard in school. She was the oldest child in a family where children were seen and not heard and expectations were high. She was responsible. (As an oldest child myself, I understand the pressure of being responsible.)

She didn’t seem to have a particularly happy childhood. But I know from her younger sister that part of that may have been perception. She was extremely hard on herself. She was an achiever. She was a perfectionist.

But it was as a child, or at least a youth, she fell in love with the ocean. She lived in a number of places in California where she had access to the beach. Her love of the ocean stayed with her throughout her life. It was evident every time she would pack us kids and sack lunches in the car and drive us to Florence–Devil’s Elbow and the Heceta Head lighthouse–for a cold sandy and salty day on the rugged Oregon coast. Not at all like the warmer, milder beaches of Southern California. Her love of the crashing surf was also evident in the many wave-scenes she painted during her oil painting years.

Dad, on the other hand, was raised on a land-locked ranch. He was riding a horse as a toddler–all the Rex kids did and at least once–it may have been Uncle Bob–one of them fell asleep and slide right off said horse. He spent lonely days as a sheepherder during his childhood (and the more I learn about sheepherding, the more alarming that is to me). But by the time I fell in love with the ranch the sheep were long gone and there were just cows to feed and brand and herd.

My parents met at BYU (which is where my children’s parents met as well). According to my mom, my dad was somewhat of a legend. He was tall, dark, and handsome. And was known for wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots and walking on the grass adjacent to the sidewalk. My mom was petite. Tiny ring finger (I know because of the way her tiny ring fits so neatly inside of dad’s). Size 5 1/2 shoes. She had lovely legs. I know this because my dad told me so, but also because of their wedding picture, in which she wears an untraditional short dress. At my dad’s request, from what I understand.

They loved to dance. Or so I’m told. I recall many a night where us kids were left with dinner and instructors to “play nice” as my parents, all dressed up, left us to attend various ward and stake balls. Back in the day when such things were held.

“Before they were adults” is such a tricky phrase. The truth is, we may grow into adulthood. We have jobs and mortgages and children and cancer and high cholesterol and even–blessedly–grandchildren. But we are still kids at heart. The child and teenage versions of ourselves are still tucked inside of those flawed and imperfect adult minds and souls. We are still worried and afraid sometimes. Hard on ourselves. Excited over little things. Hurt and bewildered by unkindness, thoughtlessness or people who are hard on us or fail to appreciate how hard we work to be good people and to carry the heavy burdens of adulthood with our child-hearts.

We ought to be gentler with ourselves and with each other.

[Day 95 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

One time

overwhelmed

One time I typed the writing prompt at the top of my post and was all set to hit go on the stopwatch but I realized I am still so emotionally spent that what I really want to do is roll over and bury myself in blankets, close my eyes, and sleep.

But I will prop my eyes open and skip over the series of one-time events I can think of that may be interesting to write about and return to yesterday and the day before.

To that one time a seemingly quiet and unassuming woman was taken from us before we were ready and we were overwhelmed.

We were overwhelmed by the grief. The first-time unimaginable grief for her husband and children and sisters and brother and grandchildren who have never experienced such a loss. The still unimaginable grief for those of us–primarily in-laws who even though we do know that this unimaginable grief you don’t think you can possibly survive is in fact something you will live through, also know that losing a mother is a loss like no other.

We are overwhelmed–and even humbled–by the show of support by family and friends. By the food pouring in at everyone’s homes. By the phone calls and visits and texts and Facebook messages. By the friend who bursts through your door and runs up your stairs to give you a real hug even as you are both still on the phone with each other as you are in the midst of breaking to her the bad news. She jumped in her car and drove straight over so she could give you a real hug.

Overwhelmed by the lines of people spilling down the hall, out the double-doored church entrance, down the stairs and into the church parking lot when you arrived at the viewing Tuesday night. A crowd that was undiminished even half an hour past the scheduled end of the viewing, but finally dissipated an hour past.

The crowd that resumed the next day before the funeral. The crowd–as your brother-in-law puts it–inclusive of almost all walks of life. Family, friends, teachers, classmates–some we’d seen recently, some we hadn’t seen for ages. The Native Americans who stayed in with the family during the family prayer and also came to the cemetery and the family dinner because they were indeed welcomed and loved as family by this woman and who told my father-in-law, “you asked us to be here and we are here.”

Overwhelmed by the same bursting-through-the-door-while-you’re-still-on-the-phone friend who drives nearly two hours while still suffering from a concussion to be to the funeral and to stay to the cemetery and take lots of photos because she knows you will be busy talking to family and not be able to take all the photos you want–or even know the ones you will wish you had taken later, because she has lost both her parents too in recent years and she knows.

Overwhelmed by the cousins from California who always show up and are there for you. You thank them for coming and let them know how much it means to you that they would be there and when they say “We wouldn’t miss it,” you know they mean it, because they always have and always will be there with you and for you.

Overwhelmed when you see your stake president who works closely with your husband and who has also lost his mother and who took time off of work and also drove that nearly two hours to be there for your husband. (Nearly two more hours back home again afterwards, of course.)

Overwhelmed again when you see your brother and his wife who still mourn the loss of your mother and who also took time off work and drove the same distance to be there for you and your husband and your kids even though they knew with so many people you would hardly get a chance to visit with them. They just needed you to know they were there.

Overwhelmed again when you learn your Relief Society president and your neighbor down the street–both who have lost their mothers–who had no idea where they were going and who had to stop and ask for directions, twice–also took time from their busy days to show up for your family.

Overwhelmed again to learn that not one but two of your husband’s coworkers (one is now retired) made the long drive to and back to show up for him and to let him know they’ve arranged for his class for extended days so he can have more time with his family.

Overwhelmed and again humbled by the reach of this wonderful matriarch whose mortal resume may not have been long by the standards of the world, but whose faith and service surpassed what any of us likely imagined and whose mark on the world was overwhelmingly good and beautiful and worthy of such an immense tribute.

Overwhelmed by the knowledge you can work harder and love more and serve better and by the desire to do so as you are once again reminded in a powerful and beautiful way that “…by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.”

[Day 94 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]