Just like that one year is past and another is already well underway. They sure do seem to come faster and faster with advancing age.
And cut deeper, too, as with every passing year more and more dear loved ones leave us and become only precious memories – and big empty spaces in lives left never to ever be quite the same again.
The holidays make this especially painful for some due to the timing of a particular loss, or the passion a departed loved one might have had for a special holiday activity, or perhaps the absence of a unique dish whose mouth-watering aroma no longer fills the holiday kitchen, a much-anticipated traditional treat that is no longer a mainstay on the holiday table, and never will be again.
Very little is more poignant or sadder than that missing dish, or the empty favorite chair around a family holiday table, or the missing gifts under a Christmas tree, or the hole in people’s holidays – and their hearts.
Except maybe wishing you’d done some things differently. Sometimes something simple.
Like learn a collard recipe.
That was the regret my cousin, Carla Knight, of Camden, lamented about on Facebook recently when she advised a group to heed her advice and not miss opportunities that can easily just slip away before you can avail yourself of them. You see, Carla and her sister, Lisa, lost both parents, their father, R.C., and mother, Allie Ross McCormick, both lifelong residents of Marlboro County, in 2016. And apparently, when Allie reluctantly left her girls for her heavenly home, she took her collard recipe with her.
And in the South, that presented a big problem for Carla when the end of December rolled round and it was time for the traditional Southern New Year’s Day dinner of collards – green to symbolize folding money or dollar bills; “hoppin’ john” – black-eyed peas representing good luck, which dates back to the siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War when citizens ran out of food and considered themselves fortunate to have peas to eat; and pork – which is considered an omen or harbinger of prosperous times in the new year.
In short, a meal that many insist increases the odds that the coming year will be filled with good fortune, good times, and increased wealth.
The custom is so deeply ingrained in Southern culture, in fact, that some folks even count out their vittles, going so far as to believe that one black-eyed pea for each day of the coming year should be consumed, just to ensure that the good luck cards are stacked in their favor.
Bottom line: Southern tradition is nothing to be trifled with, especially if it involves the kitchen. And cousin Carla was in a bind this year, with a hurting heart, and without the proper instructions necessary to prepare Allie’s collards.
I’m not sure what she eventually did, don’t know how she handled her dilemma, but I imagine she may have done what we all have to do at one time or another in a down moment, when we just don’t know where to turn, but gotta make a move of some sort: take a couple deep breaths, say a quick prayer, and carry on the best we can.
I just know that it pained me to know that she could no longer turn to the one person she had always known she could. It hurt me to know that, as good and kind and caring a person as Carla is, she’d missed a chance to do something important with her dear mother that, no matter how desperately she wanted, she couldn’t get back.
And that I had, too.
You see, Allie and my mother grew up together up in the Boykin community, and for as long as I can remember anything, I can remember Allie and her family being a part of my life. And throughout my life, Allie and I always seemed to have a special bond.
She and R.C. made their home and raised their girls up on McCormick Road, which happened to be near my parent’s country place where I’d often go to fish or hunt arrowheads or just unwind, and later in life, after we’d all grown up, I even lived up that way a couple times for a few years, so I was a frequent visitor to Allie’s house. And I was always greeted with, “Well, looka there, there’s my Gray-Boy,” followed by a hug and an offer of a water or a soda, and an almost insistence that I have something to eat.
I can’t put into words how much I miss that now. I don’t really even like to go up there anymore, don’t want to even see that empty house.
Because life can be nasty at times, and both R.C. and Allie’s health began to decline over the last few years and it often seemed they spent as much time going to doctor appointments or hospitals, or recovering from such visits or stays, as they did at home. They battled this ailment and that affliction as their health roller-coastered until March of this year, when R.C. finally lost his battle, leaving Allie to face the fight alone. And she did, as best she could, for as long as she could, but she finally realized that she was not going to be able to properly take care of everything as it needed to be handled, and decided to move to the Carolinian Retirement Community over in Florence.
And when my folks and I rode over to visit her in her new place, she appeared almost excited about the new phase of life she was beginning, showing us around and telling us about the activities they held and showing me the coloring books she had been working on.
You couldn’t not love Allie.
So, I told her – and myself – that I’d get some crayons of my own and go back over there real soon to sit on her balcony on a nice, pretty day and color with her. And I meant it. I was looking forward to it. And there were a couple opportunities to do so. But then this and that came up and the trip to see Allie got pushed back. The next thing you know, she was having more health issues, this time serious enough to require hospitalization, and our coloring “date” had to be postponed even further.
I soon heard that she was not doing well and that the girls were worried, which concerned everyone. Sadly, Allie’s condition continued to slowly worsen until it became more than her body could withstand and, on August 3 of last year, she passed on to her heavenly reward.
No one is more deserving to walk those streets of gold. She truly was an angel going home.
It brings a tear to my eyes tonight just thinking of Allie, but a smile to my face when I realize that she’s no longer hurting, no longer bound by Earthly bonds, that she is now with her Lord and Savior. And watching over me.
Life can fly by, folks. Don’t be so focused on tomorrow that you forget to live, and more importantly, value what you have and treasure most, today. Tomorrow is only a hoped-for block of time that we expect to have delivered to us by the morning sun. But there are no guarantees.
Pablo Picasso once said: “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”
No truer words have ever been spoken, folks. Don’t blink, and don’t miss a chance.