Category Archives: Family

The Gifts I Gave . . .

This is not even remotely close to a serious post.  However, every last word of it is true.

From December of 1992 until February of 1997, I worked at Lighthouse Christian Bookstore.  It changed names and owners a couple of times, and it wasn’t a continuous period of work (there was a 3 month sabbatical at JByron’s Department Store, and a 3 month run in the Winn Dixie Seafood department, and the worst lawn service job in the history of the world – but this isn’t about those).

I cannot even believe I’m allowing you guys into this side of my mind, but my friend Katherine somehow drew this out in the comments on one of her posts, so hang with me.

Because, without fail, every gift I gave anyone during that time period was purchased at Lighthouse Christian Bookstore.  Every single one.  All of them at either 10% or 20% (different owners equal different discounts) off.

I bought my mom most of the seraphim Angel collection.  She loved ‘em, or so she told me.  They were kinda creepy, I thought.  I put them on layaway for, like, 18 months or something.  Longest layaway plan in history.  Then I bought her a Bible.  Then a Beth Moore Devotional.  Then a Beth Moore Devotional Bible.

I bought my dad a genuine leather Bible, KJV.  Then I bought him a Charles Stanley Devotional.  Then I bought him a Rick Warren Devotional.  Then I bought him the Men’s Devotional Bible.  Then I bought him . . . you get the picture.

I also used my employee discount to score items of affection for potential women in my life.  I’ll never forget scouring book after book of “birth name” cards.  Come to find out, these were for newborns, and you’d put them in a first Bible or something.  But they’d have the name, a la “Amanda” and its definition (“worthy to be loved” or “beloved” – they all basically had the same definition since there were no Amandas in ancient Rome).  It’d be a glossy card, with like a picture of a seagull or a mountain or a sunset in the background; text would be in the the calligraphy font straight from Microsoft Works 1.0.  How I didn’t score more dates by leaving those $.49 cards on girls desks and in their lockers at school, we’ll never know.  I was certain that would leave a trail of cheerleaders in my path.  I did not.

Anyway, my sister reaped the most benefits of all, because I ascended to the man in charge of the music side of the store . . . This means she benefited from my behind the scenes music access.

First, you need to understand that I was under the impression that I was IN the music industry.  Sure I was making $7 an hour selling Bill and Gloria Gaither Videos . . . but that doesn’t take into account the perks.

Like free backstage passes to meet Steven Curtis Chapman?  Mark Lowry?  Petra?  Michael English?  How could you put a price on that*?

*Technically, those tickets all had prices on them.  But whatever.

When Christafari sold there 100,000th record, and the band decided to call Christian Bookstores and thank them, who picked up that phone?  Mark Mohr didn’t carry on that conversation by himself.

When Jars of Clay decided to send a Gold Record to all their mega-stores, who was only 9 album sales short?

So I was kindof a big deal.  Which meant I could take home the standup displays after they’d run their useful life.  And this is where my sister really benefited.

Off the top of my head, I remember bringing home:

A life sized Carmen.  A 3/5 scale cutout of PFR.  Andy Griffith (because she was a huge Andy Griffith fan).  The Steven Curtis Chapman Great Adventure display AND the SCC Signs of Life display.  Signed Third Day posters.  Signed DC Talk posters (not actually signed by them; but really good reprints).

This is to say nothing of the bands I brought home who never made it, but woah if they had, we would have some serious memorabilia for the Alt-Rock-Christian-Retro movement that’s afoot* . . . a Believable Picnic Poster?  Boom.  Imagine This promo tents?  Nailed it.  Keith Brown, well, anything?  Give me a hard one.  Oh, a signed East to West Poster, by the dude who’s now in Rascal Flats?  Please . . . I could’ve had tons of those if I’d wanted (if by “signed” you meant “not autographed so much as re-printed”)

*What do you mean it’s not afoot.  Just wait.

None of this really has any point at all, I just felt like y’all needed to know.

Anyway.  That was life with me in the mid-90’s.

I thought, he walked, on the water

Leland Thompson was the truest Floridian you’ve ever met.

He was my first hero.  And he passed away on Sunday evening.

Uncle Leland was my grandfather’s brother.  He spoke with a rattle in his voice that belied his years of life; slow, deliberate speech, with a southern drawl and that gravel that told me maybe he’d smoked in his past.

He and Aunt Margaret lived on a farm in Dade City.  If you imagine a farmhouse from the 30’s, complete with wood paneling and hardwood floors, a gorgeous front porch – the exterior painted white.  No trim colors of any kind.  Just white.  Set by a pasture, next to the woods, under a hammock of the most stately oaks ever seen, just at the end of a dirt road near the river . . .

In his younger days, he was elected sheriff of Pasco County.  As an officer, he once apprehended a man after the man shot another officer while the three of them were in an elevator.  His farm had hundreds of cattle, and pigs and gardens and all the stuff farms should have.  He was a real life hero, as well as one in the imagination of a little boy.

When I was little, he’d always slip my mom a dollar for both me and my sister, right at the end of our visit.  He’d pretend we were in on it, and wink, and say “Now, Mrs. Joy, these young’uns need some ice cream – so here’s a little money for each of them.”

He would always make time to take us on rides on the Grey Gopher, his old army jeep.  Some of the most thrilling memories from my childhood were of my parents telling us we were going to Dade City on Saturday, and getting there, knowing we’d take the Gopher out for a ride.  We’d see deer and hogs and turkeys and alligators – some of my love of Florida was formed in those tattered vinyl seats.

There were summers when I’d spend whole weeks on that farm

His barns were filled with hay bales we could climb on, or a recent batch of kittens, or maybe some little fluffy chicks he’d give us to bring home, much to my mother’s chagrin.  There might be a horse in the stable, or a docile cow, or his tamed deer Buddy might show up in the pasture.  He once let me pet some buffalo that wandered in.  His front porch was a southern Sunday in the south with old folks in rockers and someone singing gospel and sweet tea and chicken and dumplings . . . in short, it was everything a country boy could want out of life, all in one place . . .

I’m rambling a little bit, but it’s hard to put into words . . . the last time I saw Uncle Leland was 2011 . . . we had brought him some furniture from my apartment.  Cancer and time had savaged my hero.  He met Will, and Olivia.  He teased her about how pretty she was, about boys and school, and he gave Will a watch.  We visited for a couple of hours.  He bragged about his grandkids and kids, and I knew, when I shook his hand and hugged him goodbye, that it was probably, you know, a real goodbye . . .

Each of my kids, in turn, gave him a hug, this man who was so large in my mind, a frail and genial old stranger to them.  In that moment, I flashed back to my childhood:

My grandfather, my Poppy, Uncle Leland’s brother, died when I was 12, and Em was 7.  It was sudden – I talked to him on Saturday, and Sunday he was gone.  Poppy was buried in Dade City, in the city cemetery there.  As was always the case, after the funeral, we all headed to Uncle Leland’s after the service.  All of my cousins and uncles and aunts were there, and it was a family reunion of sorts, somber at first, but warming as the day went on.

If Uncle Leland was my hero, Poppy was my buddy – we talked on the phone almost every day, about sports and fishing and who knows what else.  But like most 12 year olds, I didn’t fully grasp the situation.  I was sad, but I didn’t completely understand.

And, as we got ready to leave that June evening, in the late 80’s, I’ll never forget saying goodbye – he put his arm around me, and around my sister – he looked us in the eye, the only time I’ve ever seen him misty, just hours after burying his brother.  He always called my mom “Mrs. Joy,” and his raspy voice scraped the words one more time . . .

“Mrs. Joy – the young’uns are gonna need a grandfather now . . . here . . . Let me get ya’ll some ice cream money . . . ”

I’m out of town for work today, 2500 miles away, so I won’t be there this afternoon, after the funeral in Dade City, when all the Thompson’s will head down that dirt road out to the farmhouse near the river.  Bring a dish, comfort Aunt Margaret . . . it’ll start somber, but warm as the day goes on . . . there’ll be sweet tea and chicken and maybe a gospel song . . .

And I’d give all the ice cream money I’ve got, just to do it one more time, to sit there with him, in that little white house, under those stately oak trees, set by the pasture . . .

Happy Birthday, Gilly

In honor of your birthday, here’s a list of things I love about you:

  1. I love what a fantastic mom you are to my kids.  You truly show them unconditional love, and you make me a better dad.
  2. I love that you’re always willing to go on an adventure.  Alabama, Pennsylvania, build a tower, climb a mountain, or getting ice cream.
  3. I love the crazy way you dance, arms flailing all over the place.  It’s my favorite.
  4. I love how you are addicted to the DIY network.  Can’t stop, won’t stop.
  5. I love how you hate movies, but put up with my crazy shenanigans anyway.
  6. I love the way you make baked ziti.  I think about it at least three times a day.
  7. I love the way you snuggle with these crazy-nuts dogs I stuck you with.
  8. I love fishing with you.  First mate.
  9. I love when you get excited about a project.  Any project.
  10. I love the way you’ve made our house a home.
  11. I love the way your mind works
  12. I love when you go for a run or workout, and you come home and your hair is a mess, and you look so incredible to me.
  13. I love how sexy you are.  This could’ve been on here 30 times.
  14. I love that you do dates with Will.  He’ll remember those long after we’re gone.
  15. I love that you spend so much time with Liv – homework and girls days and coffee and haircuts  and running.
  16. I love the way you love my crazy family.  Bacon Sundays and birthdays and drop ins and vacations.
  17. I love that you read, that you continue to learn.
  18. I love, no matter how much I tease, how much you love John and Sherry.
  19. I love your style – sexy, professional, and appropriate for our teenaged daughter to emulate.  That’s not an easy balance to achieve.
  20. I love how excited you get over good food.
  21. I love even more how excited you get over your good friends and spending time with them.
  22. I love that you love to fish with me.
  23. I love that you encourage me.  No matter what.  I know you have my back.
  24. I love when you make that adorable face, the “Gilmer face” as the kids call it – it’s cute and fun loving and reassuring, as crazy as that sounds.
  25. I love when you act silly.
  26. I love when you kiss me
  27. I love when you hug me.  Every day when we get home.  That’s a big deal.
  28. I love that you always want to fix whatever you can for me – be it a job, or a truck, or a hurt . . .
  29. I love your skills with a sniper rifle and energy sword.
  30. I love being your husband.  You are my dream come true.

Happy Birthday, Babedro!

Advice and gentle rebuke. The first day of school.

I don’t want to forget some stuff about the last hours of Summer, 2014.

Liv is starting high school, and she’s getting a lot of advice. She is a heart-breakingly beautiful mix of staggering self confidence, and scared nearly to death. She is my best girlfriend I want to hang out with at a bar, and she is a little girl who wants me to paint her nails. She is getting a lot of advice, and blowing it off as teenagers do. But I told her yesterday, “Hey, you’ve never been you on the first day of high school before. So be nice to yourself.” And she got really still and looked at me and said, “Yeah,” like maybe I know something.

On the way to his first day of 3rd grade, Will is less than enthused. He requested several things:

1. That summer last for another year.
2. That I flip the school year so that school is the length of summer, and summer is the length of school.
3. That school be one day and summer be the rest of the days.
4. That I buy him a paper shredder for his homework.
5. That we pretend it’s the actual Shredder from TMNT.

I was trying to cheer him up on the too short drive to school.

Gilly: Hey Will, do you want me to walk you back to your classroom this morning?
Will (cautiously): No ma’am.
Gilly: Ok.

Gilly: Because I was really wanting to walk you back there and give you a really big hug and a smooch in front of alllll your friends.
Will (giggling): NO WAY.

Gilly: But..I had a song prepared and a DANCE and everything. This one– (I sing, loudly, impersonating his dad) I HAD A DREAM IN SIDE MY MIND, I HAD A DREAM THAT I WAS NAKED…
Will (quite seriously): GILLY. That song is not appropriate for school.

He has a future as a hall monitor, I just know it.

 

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

This is another post from the archives (of a previous blog), but I love it so much I decided I’d repost it here, 4 years to the day after these events unfolded.  It’s funny, because I have no pictures of that day – I totally forgot my phone!

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to put this post together. It’s long and wandering, and, I hope, has just a touch of magic.

I think I’ve alluded to it before, but my daughter and I read the Harry Potter books together. Not, together, like, I sat on her bed and read them while she listened; and not together, like, I had a copy and she had a copy and we sat on couches in the living room doing synchronized reading. Together, like, we read through them at approximately the same time.

It was my second time reading through them, but, as Liv was young, and none of her friends had read them, I wanted her to have someone to process the books with, to debate and discuss and determine what she thought about them. We’d read a book, and then take practice AR tests on it together, and then we’d watch the movie that corresponded with the book.

For hours and hours we’d debate who was the greatest wizard of all time? Who was braver, Sirius or Snape? What would it be like if there was a real Ministry of Magic? Should we adopt a snowy owl? What do you think Diagon Alley smelled like?

And it was with great fanfare that we sat in the living room and watched videos where the kid that played Draco in the movies unveiled plans for a Harry Potter theme park. And right then, in a scene (almost) straight out of Thelma and Louise, we joined hands and resolved to go.

Fast forward to “Spring 2010″ which, evidently, Universal barely squeezed in (Summer, 2010 started on June 22nd or something, and The Wizarding World opened on June 18th, so, yes, technically spring. But not really. Not in Florida.). We make the pilgrimage (’cause that’s what it was) to the King Kong Level of the Universal Parking Garage, walk through CityWalk, redeem our tickets, and stand in line somewhere around the giant Betty Boop*.

*it should be a testament to my grandparents and teachers that I somehow know who Betty Boop is. I don’t remember ever learning about her/it, I just somehow know. Maybe everyone knows, intrinsically somehow. Me, I just feel like my grandmother told me. Or my 3rd grade teacher. It’s not important. In fact, I shouldn’t have even asterixed it. Oh well. Too late now.

Now, I could regale you with all the details of how long we stood in line*, and how awesome the Forbidden Journey was*, or my take on the food*, or the butterbeer*, or Honeydukes*, but this post isn’t really about that. This post is about Ollivander’s wand shop*.

*a long, long, long, time

*very, very, very, awesome

*the food was pretty good; like rotisserie chicken from the Publix deli

*the butterbeer, when frozen, is pretty magical stuff

* Honeydukes, was, in a word, crowded. And pretty authentic.

* keep reading, I’m getting to the part about Ollivander’s

So, it’s probably 1:30 in the afternoon on June 21st, and we are standing in line for Ollivander’s Wand Shop. I’d read all the reviews and heard that the wand shop had a cool little show, and you really don’t want to miss it.

And so we stood. And an hour passed.

It’s funny to look at the village of Hogsmeade when it’s June. I mean, it looks spot on perfect to what you see in the movies. Your eyes realize it’s a perfect match, down to the snow on some of the roofs.

Only, your brain has trouble putting that all together, as it’s 95 degrees, and the snow seems terribly out of place in the Florida heat.

Another hour passed. We were now into the “rope line” portion of the wait, which is encouraging, but also misleading. It’s encouraging, because you weren’t in the rope line before. It’s discouraging, because rope lines are constructed in a manner to pack people as closely together as possible, deceiving you once again into thinking you’re closer to the front than you really are.

Another hour.

Now we can see the door.

I’ve read that they select someone from the audience to participate in the show. I think how cool it would be if Liv got selected. I look around at the group we’re likely to shuffle in with. Hmmmm. Lots of kids. This is gonna be tough.

We’re the next group. Wait, what is that woman doing? She’s asking if she can cut in line and go in? She doesn’t speak very good English? Wait, the prefect guarding the door speaks Spanish! Day saved!

It’s our turn.

We walk into the chilly room and our guide asks us to cram over as far as we can against the wall. As my eyes adjust to the light, I look around to see wand boxes everywhere, with display cases highlighting some of the most famous wands.

Finally, the door closes, 25 or so of us, sweaty and smelly and giddy with excitement, all crammed into this tiny room, and a man, gaunt and robed, up on a ladder, turns and crassly says “I’ll be with ya in a minute”

He comes down the ladder, and meanders through the crowd, looking at his list, muttering to himself.

We exchange glances, a little bit of “this is so cool” and a little bit of “this dude might be off his rocker.”

The other kids in the room, each certain they’re going to be chosen, crowd toward the old man.

All of a sudden, he turns around in a tornado of robes and dust, and says, pointing at Olivia, “You there? What’s your name?”

“O-Olivia”

“Olivia what?”

“Olivia Thompson”

“YES! YOU’RE THE ONE! Come with me!”

And Liv glanced at us nervously, but followed him up to the wand counter. I mean, we knew enough about Harry Potter that you didn’t want to cross Mr. Ollivander.

He stood there and measured her and eye’d her. She giggled and turned around to look at us. Unsure, but safe, she went along with him.

“You’re here to choose a wand, right?” he asked . . .

“yes sir”

“Well, as you know, the wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around. Let’s take a look at what we have here for you”

He chose the first wand, and handed it to her, reciting some of the specs of the wand.

“Using this wand, I want you to open that drawer”

Liv turned and glanced my way, skeptical. But, ever obedient, she pointed the wand at the drawer.

And to her utter amazement, all of the drawers in the place started snapping opened and closed.

This time, when she turned my way, her look was less skeptical pre-teen, and more “wow, there may actually be something to this magic thing.”

“That’s not the right one. Here try this one. It has a Unicorn hair and is made of willow. Point it at that bell and make it ring one time”

She took the wand and aimed it, and the bell rang repeatedly. Everyone laughed. Flashbulbs were popping everywhere.

“We’re getting closer. How . . . about . . . this one.”

He went into his schtick about this wand, displaying it to her as your optometrist office would help you pick out glasses.

As the wand was placed into her hand, we’re a little foggy on the details. Some say a light shown down on her. She promises that a wind blew her hair, although, I think that may have just been chills.

A lot went through my mind that day. I didn’t entirely have all the money I wanted to take that trip. It was a stretch. And I thought about the past couple of years, of the toll the separation and divorce had taken on her, hide it though she might. I thought about taking her to her first doctor’s appointment, all by myself, and how much she’d grown, and here she stood, looking more like a young lady than a little girl, sitting between reality and magic, and wanting so hard to believe, but not knowing for sure.

And as she turned one final time in that cold, musty room, and our gaze met, I saw it in her eyes; they widened and then relaxed, with the realization that, in that moment, I believed in magic as much as she did.

So now, if you walk in my living room, you’ll see a dusty burgundy box sitting on one of my bookshelves, next to the Harry Potter books.

And laying there, proudly displayed in front of it, is that wand that chose her.

The Longhorn Song

In honor of the end of the school year, I’m reposting something I wrote a couple of years ago.  It’s the only post I saved from my oldest blog, and it just felt right to put it here, on it’s 6 year anniversary:

The Longhorn Song – May 16, 2008

Every morning, while Olivia and I are sitting at the light by Andy’s Igloo, she looks over at me, as she has almost every morning I’ve ever taken her to school, and says “I hope you don’t sing the Longhorn song, Daddy.”

Longhorn, food long on flavor
Steaks you can savor
MOOOOooooooOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

This is usually sung in my loudest, highest, most piercing voice. She absolutely loves it, even though she pretends that she doesn’t.

For four years, I’ve driven Olivia to school. The same route, every morning. We know where all the punch buggies are. We’ve inadvertantly run over a squirrel or two. We’ve made it in 8 minutes (where it normally takes 12). We’ve stopped for breakfast at the gas station, and purchased things to eat that would make her mother and her doctor blow a gasket. We’ve “jumped” the railroad tracks, and taken shortcuts, and stopped to look at fishing tackle. More than once we’ve been late. There’s one place where we sometimes roll our windows down and listen to the parrots chirping in the tree (yes, they are parrots. I don’t know where they came from). We’ve been behind school busses and fire trucks and dump trucks and at least one tractor and stopped by numerous trains. Twice we’ve stopped to identify reptiles in the road. We’ve sang Linkin Park, and Hannah Montana, and Fort Minor, and High School Musical (1 & 2), usually way louder than her mother or her doctor should ever know about. We’ve run out of gas (once), had a flat tire (once), and broken the speed limit (742 times).

Whenever we come into view of the light at Andy’s (where we stopped for a breakfast milkshake one time), she observes whether or not anyone is sitting at the light, trying to determine how long we’ll have to wait before we cross the intersection. Once we make that light, we’re home free. And most mornings, at that light, she mentions the Longhorn song.

Recently, we’ve decided she’s going to a different school next year. Nothing that her school has done wrong, just the fact that there aren’t enough kids in her class. And this decision means that at some point, she and I will take this drive for the last time.

This morning, we made the light. It happens about once a month, the perfect confluence of events that means there’s no stop. Which means there’s no song.

In my rush to get her to school today, it wasn’t until that intersection that I realized today was the last time we’d make that trip. As we careened into the parking lot (with two minutes to spare) I mentioned to her that this would be the last day I would ever take her to HCA.

As the weight of my words hit her, she looked at me with glossy eyes and asked:

“Do you think you could please sing the Longhorn song, Daddy?”

107

“But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

– Paul Bowles

107.

That’s how many weekends we have left with Liv at home.

Our new custody arrangement (it’s not so new anymore) has us with the kids every other weekend, and every weeknight except Thursday.  That means we have 107 weekends left, give or take a weekend or two, of Liv in our house.

Sometimes when you parent, you look at the day to day and think “If we can just get past the teeball game/talent show/concert/recital next Thursday, life will slow down for a second.”  I’ll be the first to stand up and say there are days, Saturdays and Sundays sometimes, where I want a minute to veg out and watch the Rays play, or a rerun of 3:10 to Yuma.  But it’s not time for that.  Because I have 107 Saturdays left.  And I have 107 Sundays left.

107 more chances to go fishing together.  To go to church together.  To go camping together.

107 more potential Family Moooooovie Nights.  Mario Kart Tournaments.  Chess matches.

107 more opportunities for quality weekend time.  Me and her.  Her and her Gilly.  All 4 of us.

That 107 is spread over 4 years (26 weekends a year, beginning at the end of May).  She’s going to end up with school reports and band activities and friend stuff, and before you know it that 107 is going to look more like 75-80.  She’ll have to get her hair done 5-6 times a year – there goes another 24 Saturday mornings.

Duck season is 3 months long – that means I get half of those weekends – that means 24 more chances to duck hunt together.  Football season is 17 weeks long – I get half of those weeks – that means 34 more Sundays of Fantasy Football.

And if I sound sad, or melancholy, I’m not.  See, I learned a lesson after the divorce, and after having to travel so much with work, and after realizing that life is way more fragile than we take for granted.  Because 107 Saturdays aren’t guaranteed, even if it seems like they should be.

Make the most of the time you have with your kids.  Cherish it.  Build memories and moments that they’ll have forever.

Will loves very few things in this world more than playing Minecraft.  He’s been known to hole up in his room for hours at a time, his whole world existing in the iPad.  About 6 months ago, we put the kibosh on Minecraft at our house.  Let’s play a video game together.  Let’s go for a bike ride.  Let’s hang out and talk.  Let’s take the dogs to the park.  Let’s go visit a neighbor.

Will turned 8 a couple of weeks ago.

26 weekends a year.

260 Saturdays left.

Seems like a lot.

It isn’t.