The Hundred-and-Fourth Letter: Christmas Rolls Gently In

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Dear Daughters,

Yesterday was the fourth Sunday of Advent, and today already is Christmas Eve. Tonight you will play Silent Night on the piano at church and dress up like an angel in the children’s nativity. Tomorrow you will find your stockings full.

But today, it is not yet Christmas.

Yesterday we got out the last of our Christmas decorations. I unpacked our full ceramic nativity set that was painted by your Grandpa Troutman’s mom, my special grandma Ginny, who passed away when I was in high school. I set out all the pieces—even baby Jesus, even the Magi. Because I want the set to be complete, and I want to remember Ginny, and I want you to be mesmerized by the beauty of the angel, which you tell me is your favorite piece of the set.

Yesterday I moved our journeying Mary and Joseph and their donkey over to our empty creche, to prepare for their son’s arrival. This evening the shepherds will arrive.

Yesterday we lit another candle in the yule log. We read a story from our Jesse Tree book. You made special cards for each of us during quiet time.

We have one ornament left to color today.

This morning, your grandma and grandpa left after a visit for the weekend. The day after Christmas, another set of grandparents will arrive.

But right now, we are in the in-between.

There is so much fullness in the in-between, girls, and so much broken-heartedness in the in-between.

I mean “in-between” in the larger sense, of course.

Advent is about the already/not-yet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. But the truth is, all of life is the already/not-yet. Our life of faith that we share together and practice together is just an expression of the deeper truth at the core of all that is: God created the world, God broke through into time in the most humble and surprising of ways, God offers us hope and salvation, and God wins at the end of the story.

But we live before the end of the story.

Which is why we keep telling the story and living the story.

The liturgical year is one way of remembering the most important things, of telling the story of our faith over and over again, of helping us live the story even when we don’t feel like it because everything we see around us seems to contradict it.

Notice I said “seems” to contradict it—I sure don’t believe it actually contradicts it. I believe that if we have God’s eyes, we see grace and hope breaking through all around us in miraculous ways every single day. But it doesn’t feel like that a lot of the time.

On Christmas Eve, I think of my Pappy Lehman, who passed away in 2015 on Christmas Eve while gathered with family in Pennsylvania. I was states away, here in our house with you, when I got the call. That loss will always be wrapped up in Christmas Eve for me.

And so will the loss of Ginny every time I unwrap the ceramic nativity she painted or place on the tree the angel ornaments she gifted me.

But there is also so much joy and wonder on this day as Christmas rolls in gently, on candle light, on the notes of the piano I can hear coming through the floor as you practice your carols again and again just for the fun of it.

It is Advent and it is Christmas and it is beautiful and difficult.

It is joy and it is loss.

It is beauty and it is chaos.

It is light and it is dark.

Because that will always be life in the already/not-yet.

Always.

Merry Christmas, girls.

Love,

Your Momma

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The Hundred-and-Third Letter: On Repetition and the Pink Candle (Advent 3)

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Dear Daughters,

You helped me rake the leaves this week.

That we were still in need of raking our leaves this third week of December is surprising. And that you were able to be so helpful for much of the task is also surprising, given how wet and heavy the leaves were and that we had to rake them from the back of the driveway out to the road. But you do love to help, and I am appreciative, even if you did prefer the big, nice rake with the squishy handle that I bought for myself last year.

After a certain amount of time, though, you were happy to go play in the treehouse with our neighbor girl while I furiously raked to try to finish up before your dad got home and (or?) before my shoulders gave out.

Oy. Raking is hard, thankless work.

Pretty much every time I rake, I think about the desert monk Abba Paul from the early centuries of the church. One of the stories passed down in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers is that Abba Paul would weave baskets and then, after a day of basket-weaving, he would take the baskets all apart and start over again. (Depending on the story, sometimes he burns them all.)

The baskets weren’t the point for Abba Paul. The task was the point.

The task was valuable in and of itself.

Even though it happened day after day.

Maybe even because it happened day after day.

That’s what I was thinking about while I raked this week.

When our leaves first begin to fall from our old, tall trees, we mulch them into the grass. And then they fall a little bit more and we pile them into our compost bin. And then they fall a little bit more, and we pile them into our raised beds that have been put to sleep for the winter. We rake and we mulch and we pile and we still end up with lots of leaves to deal with. So we rake them out to the road and eventually a big leaf-sucking truck comes by and takes them away.

But sometimes the truck doesn’t come. And sometimes the leaves blow away. And sometimes they blow back down the driveway after we have spent so much energy raking them out to the end of the driveway.

Alas.

It feels like we’re burning up the baskets we just finished weaving.

But here’s the thing, girls: the fact that we have to do it again and again doesn’t make it less valuable of a task.

There are lots of things we do that we know we will have to do over and over again.

Dishes. Laundry. Mowing the grass. Setting the table. Reading Tyrannosaurus Rex versus Edna the First Chicken. Disciplining children. Practicing the piano. Braiding your hair.

Also: praying.

Practicing the liturgical calendar is also an exercise in repetition (and, I’ll be honest, frustration). The pink Advent candle was lit this week, and there’s a lot of stuff going on in the background as to why, but one of the things is that the joyful, pink candle reminds us that we’re halfway through Advent. It’s a reminder that HEY, YOU MADE IT THIS FAR. It’s the promise that we can make it the rest of the way until Christmas. Don’t get discouraged, the pink candle says. It’s coming. It came last year. You made it last year. It will come next year. You’ll make it then, too. But keep on going, friends, because Christmas is coming.

Again.

And again.

And again.

That’s the pink candle.

A sign-marker on the repetitive road that is the cycle of the liturgical year to say—here it comes again, y’all! Be joyful!

And in our case, it means, go ahead and get out the rest of those Christmas ornaments. And it means go ahead and turn on that Christmas playlist, you’ve waited long enough this year.

So there’s meaning to this whole repetitive liturgical calendar.

And there’s meaning to the whole repetitive life we live.

Because so much of life is repetition.

To be honest, I believe that the most important things in life are repetitive. I’m serious. The spiritual practices of prayer and reflection and attention? The care-for-people things? The how-we-love-better things? All repetitive.

And the repetitive things are the things that shape us, our habits, our bodies, and even our souls, girls.

Do you know why my grandma was able to sing the old hymns and pray lovely and heartfelt prayers long after her mind was no longer living in the present?

It’s because she sang the old songs and prayed heartfelt prayers her whole life.

Her whole life.

Girls, that is the life I want for you. A life of the daily repetition of grace. The daily and boring and humdrum and yet absolutely astounding practices that cultivate a life of grace.

Of accepting grace.

Of offering grace.

It’s still Advent, girls. But Christmas is coming.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Forty-Sixth Letter: Pappy’s Old Shirt

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Dear Daughters,

When I was back in Pennsylvania last spring, my grandma gave me two of my pap’s old shirts. One is thick and flannely, an assortment of grays and blues in plaid, and the other is thinner, a turquoisey green with a small stitch of pink throughout. There are a few stitches of white at the corner of the pocket where Gram repaired it at some point. She told me this was one of her favorites of his shirt collection.

I slip it on sometimes when I need to rock the baby and I don’t want my sweaty skin to keep her from drifting off to sleep.

I wore it last week while in Santa Fe at an art workshop.

A little while ago, a strange thing happened. As I grabbed the shirt from my closet, a series of quick thoughts ran through me. This is Pappy’s shirt. Why do I have one of Pappy’s shirts? Oh, that’s right, Gram gave it to me. Why? Because Pappy passed away on Christmas Eve. Really? He died? Yes, I went to the funeral. That’s right. The funeral.

That’s strange, right? Being confused about the death of a beloved family member? I mean, I wrote about the funeral and how Pappy was such a badass who had lived a life of transformation.

So of course I know that he passed away. I know it. Of course.

But for that brief moment, it was as if I didn’t know it.

For the last sixteen years, I haven’t lived in the same state as the majority of my family members for more than a few weeks at a time. Still, our family, all branches of it, feels really close to me, because I grew up around most of my cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents.

But I don’t live close to any of them now, not physically, and so I miss out on the day-to-day memory-making that comes from family in community. The whole in-your-business-whether-you-want-them-to-be-or-not phenomenon. I don’t have that.

And I miss out on having those family members getting to know you, girls, and watch you grow and change, which I’ll confess makes me a little sad.

But I also miss out on something else. I miss out on missing those who have died, I miss out on the gap that comes into a life when a loved one is no longer present.

It’s not that I don’t mourn and grieve, I do. I am a cry-er, and I’ve spent lots of time crying over loss. But sometimes I am startled to realize that I live inside a memory that keeps them alive.

That sounds kind of weird. I just read it out loud. Let me try to go about this another way.

When I welcomed my neighbor into our house for tea this week and poured boiling water into Grandma Wise’s green teapot, I thought of my friend Katy from Texas. She had me over for tea dozens of times during our years in Waco. Yesterday, pouring dark black tea into the matching green mugs, I remembered Katy’s teapot stand that kept her pot heated by a burning tea light candle, and I thought to myself that I should get one of those, and as I thought that, it felt as if Katy were still alive. It was as if I had forgotten the news of her death, as if I could open the mailbox today and receive a letter from her, addressed to me in her loopy cursive script. She passed away four years ago.

When I make the bed in our guestroom upstairs, and I shake out the blue star-patterned quilt my grandma made me as a wedding gift, I think of her, and I often forget that she’s been gone for seven years this fall. Seven years. I might have been the last of the grandchildren to get a quilt for a wedding gift. We’ve been talking about her a lot recently because it’s sweet corn season and you both love corn pancakes. She used to make them for me when I was a little girl.

When I go back to my in-laws’ house, I often expect to see Oma or Opa come wandering out from the new addition where Mimi and Papa now sleep. It’s not even a “new” addition any more, but in my mind it is where the great-grandparents still live. They were both gone before the baby was born. 

I can imagine Beanie rocking in the big recliner in my dad’s living room. I think of the room where your dad and I sleep while we visit that house as Beanie’s room. She died before you both were born.

I know the apartment where Uncle Stephen lives was built originally for Pappy Sands, and when I think of that living space, I think of eating dinner with Pappy toward the end of his life. He called me Betsy, I think, or maybe Betty, during that last visit, and I didn’t know if he was trying to be funny or not. But the thing is, it feels as if he’s still there.

I am surprised repeatedly that your dad has never met Ginny, one of my beloved grandparents, who died while I was in high school. She’s still so alive in my memory, her tapioca pudding, her chocolate chip-heavy cookies, that she must still be living. That’s how it feels. She must be. Your dad probably feels like he knows her, of course, for as many times as I’ve mentioned her.

That’s the way memories work, I suppose. Or maybe just my memory works that way, because of my love of a good story, of strong memories, of family, of loving deeply, of being empathetic and overly sensitive in all the good and bad ways.

So.

Maybe I’ll continue to be perplexed when I grab Pappy’s shirt out of the closet. I’ll have that split second of confusion, unsure why I even have this shirt in my possession.

Or maybe, someday, it won’t seem strange that he’s gone.

But regardless, I’ll be thinking of him when I wear the green shirt with the pink stitching, the repaired pocket, the thin cotton. And though it seems cliche to even write it, I’ll be keeping him alive in my memory. And in your memory of my memory.

Because I’ll be telling you the story.

That’s what I do.

I wear stories.

I tell stories.

I live stories.

I suppose it’s how I do my remembering.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Forty-Fifth Letter: Funerals & Eulogies

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Dear Daughters,

I’ve been to a lot of funerals in the last few years. Between your dad and me, we’ve lost six grandparents since moving to Kentucky. That’s a lot. And our church community has lost a significant number of members in recent months.

So I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my life.

And I’ve heard a lot of eulogies.

A friend of mine who is a few years older than I am–so she’s in her late 30s–told me she has never been to a funeral.

Talking with her got me thinking back to the funerals of my childhood. The first one I remember was the funeral of my maternal great-grandmother: Grandma Ebersole. My memory of her is mostly of the later years of her life, when she was small and frail and lived with my grandma. She dressed plainly, I believe with a head-covering. Her hair was white. She was little in stature, and for me to think that, given that I was a child, albeit a big child, is telling. She must have been small.

I don’t remember much of that funeral, except that there were distant relatives around and it’s the first time I remember becoming aware that my mom had cousins and used to be a kid once, just like I had cousins and loved to play with mine.

My great-uncle “Woody” died when I was a little bit older. He was my paternal grandma’s brother. And also my great-grandma Woodward, my paternal grandma’s mom, passed away. Because they both had lived in Ohio, and I used to visit them both in the summers along with my cousin Angela, those funerals run together a bit. But I was old enough to feel those losses as someone who, well, as someone who remembered.

At Grandma Woodward’s funeral, the Family Circle sang. My dad offered the eulogy. I remember hearing my dad’s voice breaking, and realizing again the way intergenerational relationships work–he had been this woman’s grandson, and she had been his grandma, and he had been a boy once, and that meant that my grandparents would die, and I would be a grown-up with my voice cracking as I remembered their lives, too. Some day.

I am now that grown-up.

I still tear up when I try to talk about my grandparents who have passed away.

I’m tearing up now, just writing about it.

(This probably won’t surprise you, when you’re older, because already you see my cry all the time, over books or articles or sad news or happy news, and you come over to me and rub my arm or my back to offer comfort in the only way you know.)

I’ve attended funerals as a family member of the deceased, and I’ve attended funerals as a friend of the deceased, and I’ve attended funerals as a mere acquaintance, which makes it sound less than what it is–a member of the community that did everyday life alongside the deceased.

The last two funerals I’ve attended have been that kind–funerals of folks I know through church, who have had an impact on me because of their service to our congregation and to the wider community. I knew these women as strong and courageous and independent. I knew them as encouragers who always asked how I was feeling when I was pregnant, who checked in on me when you both were born, who always commented on how big you were getting.

But I didn’t realize how little I really knew them until I went to their funerals. I only witnessed, in my years here in Kentucky, a small glimpse of their whole lives. It was an inspiring glimpse, but it was only a small fraction of their story.

They had both lived such incredible stories.

And we live in a small town, so their stories affected so many other people’s stories.

That’s what you find out at funerals.

You go from knowing how a person interacted with you to knowing how she changed your whole community.

My friend who has never attended a funeral told me she feels a little morbid about attending funerals, like when people she knows lose loved ones and she wonders about whether she should go. She feels like it’s kind of weird to watch others who are mourning.

I don’t feel that way. In fact, as I sat in a funeral at our church last week, listening to the stories of a life that had worked to bring about the Kingdom of God, I thought to myself: I should really attend more funerals.

Maybe that’s how we can learn to be better human beings.

Maybe that’s how we can witness the genuine loss that every death brings to a community.

Maybe that’s how we participate in the beautiful heartache that is life in community, the sacred ordinary of life lived alongside others, the scars we feel on the hands and feet of Jesus as we offer our own hands and feet to the world.

And maybe that’s how we start thinking about what our own eulogist would say about us.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Forty-Fourth Letter: I’m Still Patriotic

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Dear Daughters,

A half dozen years ago or so, I received a phone call from a federal agent because a friend of mine worked for the government and needed security clearance. The government was looking into her history, which had involved much time spent overseas, and so the agent wanted to ask longterm friends about her. I was happy to chat with him because my friend is top-notch: brilliant, amazing, compassionate, and talented.

In the midst of our long conversation–it was a lot more thorough than I had expected it to be–the agent asked if I would use the word “patriotic” to describe my friend. Patriotic.

“They asked me if you were patriotic,” I told her later.

“They did?” she asked me. “What did you tell them?”

It’s such a strange thing to evaluate about someone else.

Because my birthday is just before Independence Day, I’ve always had a soft spot for fireworks and the red-white-and-blue combination of colors.

Whenever I’m in an airport going through customs, I feel a little twinge of pride to be able to queue up in the “U.S. Passport Holder” line.

My grandfather was a 101st Airborne paratrooper in World War II, and he earned a Bronze Star for defending a bridge with a bazooka. By himself.

I was raised in a family that votes, and I vote.

As a kid, we went on myriad Washington DC daytrips from central Pennsylvania and saw the famous monuments, went to the Smithsonian Museums. I remember my dad lifting a woman up so she could trace someone’s name from the Vietnam War Memorial.

I remember singing “Danny Boy” as part of our high school honors choir concert at a local church for Veterans Day.

I never had a problem saying the Pledge of Allegiance in high school. I was, however, less than thrilled with my fellow students who not only did not say the Pledge but refused even to stand.

Here’s a random side note: because our high school principal, who led us in the Pledge over the loud speaker every morning, didn’t pause after “nation” in the typical way of most Americans (“one nation [pause] under God [pause] indivisible [pause]….”) and instead said “onenationunderGod” quickly, I still say it differently than most people.

 

Though I don’t come across as very political, these days, I’ll confess I’m still sentimental about songs like “Proud to Be an American.” My Uncle Larry always sang it back when we were part of the Family Circle, our family’s traveling gospel group.

The thing is, I am proud to be an American.

The other thing is, I think Americans get a lot of things wrong.

But it doesn’t mean I’m not patriotic, not a good citizen.

I am patriotic.

And I’m a political moderate. At least, I assume I am a moderate because about half of what I hear from one side sounds crazy and about half of what I hear from the other side sounds crazy.

To listen to the news, you wouldn’t think that I exist. You’d think there were only extreme views of conservative or liberal. I even hear this among my friends who feel strongly about politics, by the way. Everything is us versus them.

I don’t know what happened to an America that allowed for a diversity of voices, but it’s not today’s America as far as I can tell.

Girls, there is a lot of unpleasantness in the political news cycle these days.

That’s the understatement of the year, by the way.

Many months of political campaigning has culminated in the Republican National Convention this past week. The Democrats will have theirs next week. The upcoming fall is guaranteed to be nasty and cruel. We’ve succeeded in choosing two of the most polarizing candidates in American history. So many accusations. So much hostility.

So much unhappiness.

 

I’m tempted toward fear and anger sometimes, embarrassment sometimes, sometimes just paralysis because a remedy seems impossible.

But then I hear the preschooler recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which I’ll confess it had never crossed my mind to teach you. You learned it last fall at your twice-weekly preschool at a local Baptist church. You pause after the “one nation” like all good little Americans do. One nation. Under God. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.

And then at the end, right after “justice for all,” you raise your voice and begin singing.

AMEEEEEEERICA, AMEEEEEERICA,

God shed his grace on theeeeeee,

and crowned thy gooooood

with br00000otherhood from sea to SHINING SEA!

 

And in the in the midst of that off-key loveliness–especially since for many months you sang “motherhood” instead of “brotherhood”–how can I not be patriotic?

How can I not think about my grandfather risking his life with his bazooka poised to take out a tank singlehandedly? How can I not be grateful?

How can I not think of the woman on my dad’s shoulders, tracing a loved one’s name? How can I not be grateful?

How can I not remember the Lincoln and Washington Monuments, the Smithsonians? How can I not be grateful?

How can I not hear Uncle Larry singing “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free”? How can I not be grateful?

I am patriotic. I am a political moderate. And I know that the double stroller doesn’t fit through the door of our polling location–because I vote.

But I always give you the sticker.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Twenty-Sixth Letter: The Family Circle

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Dear Daughters,

Occasionally when the toddler is quiet, I send the preschooler to go find her and report back to me what is going on. The other day, I was told that baby girl had found some pretty ribbon she wasn’t supposed to have.

Well now, we don’t have much ribbon lying around the house, so I knew I needed to go check on the situation.

That “pretty ribbon” was the innards of a cassette tape.

I’m not completely sure where the cassette had been stored, but she’d found it, and she’d pulled on the ribbon. And pulled. And pulled. And pulled. It was creased and knotted.

I was determined to save that tape. With a clicky pen, I wound and wound it back up, only to discover–when the cassette player kept eating the tape and rudely spitting it out at me–that I’d wound it the wrong way. After a texting conversation with your uncle Stephen about the engineering of cassette players, I persevered.

And so, after years of this cassette tape being hidden away in some box–a box apparently within reach of a toddler–I’ve been listening to some of my favorite old timey music again.

This is a Family Circle tape, girls. Family Circle.

My parents and aunts and uncles, in the 1970s, had some radical Jesus-movement-conversion experiences, or so I take it. And, coincidentally, they could all sing harmony. So they did what any group of vocally talented, excited-about-Jesus twenty-somethings would do: they started a traveling gospel music group.

The Family Circle eventually ended up with a painted Coach bus, complete with living space and multiple bedrooms inside, matching outfits for the adults, and kids who could sing off-key kids songs. After my youngest cousin was born, there were 13 of us in that bus.

I was born into the middle of that, bless their hearts.

On weekends and various vacations throughout the year, we travelled as far north as New Hampshire, where my grandfather owned a campground, down the coast to Florida, where he was a snowbird in the winter, and played at churches and campgrounds for love offerings. We had a dark green velvety tablecloth on the merchandise table–records, cassettes, eventually CDs were for sale. I don’t know why that very-seventies tablecloth sticks out in my memory.

Like many of my cousins, I had my own song for awhile, called “My Mommy Told Me Something.” But we kids mostly sang group songs like the old Gaither “I am a promise, with a capital ‘P,’ I am a promise, full of possibility…”

My nuclear family withdrew from the group when I was in elementary school because of my parents’ marital difficulties, but the Family Circle kept singing for many decades, even after all the cousins were grown.

They came out of retirement to sing at Pappy Sands’s funeral a few years ago. That was the last time I’d heard any of the old songs.

But gosh, I love the old songs.

What’s extra special about this cassette to me is that my parents’ voices are on it. I can hear my mom’s steady alto throughout. And on one song, I can hear my dad’s two-line baritone solo.

I could not believe the wash of emotions I felt when that tape began to play for the first time.

I’ve known these songs my whole life–every word, of every song. As long as I could sing, I’ve been singing this music.

But these last few weeks, I’ve been hearing these songs differently. I hear them and realize that all my aunts and uncles are grandparents now. Their voices are so young on these recordings. So clear and so young.

My cousins’ children are older than I was when we left the group, and yet I remember so clearly the conversations we had back then, young as I was, squished into the dining area of the bus. I remember sitting up beside my dad on the big red velvet navigator chairs. I remember my bottom bunk across from my cousin Justin. I remember watching movies in the back and getting foot massages from Aunt Diana, who was a reflexologist. I remember singing the Twelve Days of Christmas–each of us having our own day in order of our ages, so the kids all got to sing many times and the parents–my dad was the twelfth day–hardly had to sing at all. I was “two turtle doves.” Justin was the youngest then.

I’m glad I found this tape. I haven’t seen some of my cousins in years, and we won’t be traveling home to Pennsylvania at Christmas this year because of your dad’s job. But this tape reminds me how much I love these people, and how much I miss these people.

This is a special part of my story, and I hope you can feel how it is part of your story, too. Because that’s how our memories should be, girls. I want you to know my stories.

And I want you to know my songs.

Which is why I keep playing this tape. It probably doesn’t have many years left, you know.

I talked to my aunt on the phone the other week and asked if she had copies of some of the old Family Circle sheet music. I was thinking maybe I’ll find a way to sing it some day.

Maybe.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Fifth Letter: Stuff & Story

Dear Daughters,

This morning I got up early to drive my mom to the airport. Grandma prefers to be at the airport ridiculously early for her flights, so we left at 4:15 am. (I’m the same way, so I shouldn’t make fun. I do, of course, but I shouldn’t.)

In the dark of my bedroom, after already rousing to nurse the baby and then unsuccessfully trying to fall back to sleep, I turned off my alarm and grabbed a sweatshirt, socks, and a pair of easy-on sneakers before heading downstairs.

As I tied up the shoes, I remembered that I had ordered them online six years ago before your dad and I headed to Italy. We’d been saving for five years and planned to celebrate both our fifth anniversary and your dad’s finishing his doctorate at the same time. Because we intended to live out of backpacks for two weeks as we stayed in bed and breakfasts, I needed a versatile and small shoe that would be comfortable for walking and hiking. The ones I ended up buying–these–are a strange shade of burnt orange, and the eyelits are pink, but they served their purpose as we hoofed it in and out of cathedrals and museums in Rome, Venice, Florence, and Tuscany.

That’s what I was thinking about this morning during my sleepy daze at four o’clock in the morning. Italy.

Your dad and I don’t spend a lot of money on new clothing. You might resent this about us some day, but the truth is, I hope you, too, are thrifty. Because thrifty-ness in our case isn’t just about money, or about our ethical convictions about the supply chain of most mass-produced goods, but about the importance of story and permanence and valuing a narrative.

Sure, I keep these shoes because (a) I have them, (b) they fit, and (c) they’re lightweight and comfy, but I also keep these shoes because they travelled around Italy with us. For our fifth anniversary. At the time, five years felt like forever happiness. Now it seems like we were only babies ourselves.

Tying these shoes up this morning—a double knot, because the laces are slippery and somewhat short–I remembered the ridiculously long path we hiked along the Cinque Terra and how it felt to come down into one of the small, colorful seaside cities perched on the cliff, with laundry hanging out of nearly every window and the strange German tourist we saw walking around in his Speedo and white socks and sneakers.

I haven’t thought about that bizarre image in quite some time.

The socks I’m wearing are a fuzzy giraffe-print pair that your dad’s grandmother gave me for Christmas one year. I have a picture of the toddler wearing them, pulled way up to her thigh.

The T-shirt I’m wearing is a “Walk Across Texas” campaign shirt from my old job at Baylor University in Waco, eight or nine years ago. I was on a team of middle-aged women who were wearing pedometers and keeping track of their footsteps in order to win this T-shirt. There may have been more motivation than that at the time, but all I remember is the T-shirt. Which I’m wearing. Right now.

The long-sleeved T-shirt on top of that is a Hard Rock Café London shirt—where your dad and I went on our first date, second semester of college, thirteen years ago. We were spending the semester abroad with our undergraduate college’s First-Year Honors Program. We were nerds. We still are nerds. But our first date was in London, which is freaking awesome.

The navy blue sweatshirt on top of that was my stepdad’s from when I was a kid. It’s got some fraying spots along the neckline and sleeves, but it is soft and warm. And it’s kind of eighties in its style, the big and bulky size of it, but–I never believed this would happen, never–the eighties stuff is coming back in. It’s almost cool. Maybe twenty years from now, you’ll pull it out of your closet and find the same to be true.

The scarf I wore in the car this morning was a souvenir my college roommate brought me from her semester abroad our junior year. She went to Paris, and these long pashmina-style scarves hadn’t yet become commonplace here in the States.

I could probably list off similar stories and facts and tidbits about eighty percent of my wardrobe, a sure sign that I hold onto my clothing a long time and also that I have a memory for details that aren’t important in the scheme of things.

Or maybe these are the details that are truly important in the scheme of things.

Because I guess what I am trying to say with this catalog of my clothing’s history is this:

Live as if everything has a story, girls.

Because it does.

Your Momma