The incredible gift

Welcome to a typical morning with Mama and Daddy, August 2013

Welcome to a typical morning with Mama and Daddy, August 2013

“The incredible gift of the ordinary!  Glory comes streaming from the table of daily life.” Macrina Wiederkehar

One of the hardest things about the past year has been the need to cancel no fewer than three scheduled visits to see my parents.  It’s good that our grandson happened to be born in Atlanta, so I finally was able to stay with Mama and Daddy when I went to see Grady.  I had not seen them for more than a year, and it felt like forever.

I took this photo one morning after arising to an everyday scene that becomes more dear to me each time I see it.  I know a day likely will come when I would give so much for one more chance to wake up to this sight.  Mama and Daddy were preparing freshly picked beans from their organic garden, and Mama protested when I brought out my camera (and she might be mortified if Daddy tells her about the photo appearing on this blog), but she has always been a good sport about such things.

I think she looks pretty good for a woman in her 80’s who has just gotten up and hasn’t yet dressed, combed her hair or put on makeup.  As is her frequent custom, she prioritized getting a start on dinner before tending to her personal appearance. I know you can probably guess who she sent out to pick those beans, long before I got up!

I had enthusiastically devoured the freshly picked purple-hull peas and cornbread they fixed the day before, so I appreciated her fresh vegetables and wanted a photo of her as I’ve seen her countless times. To me she is beautiful any time, as is my Daddy, whose longsuffering smile has always brightened my spirits.

Today you probably will come in contact with at least a few people who are dear to you. Chances are there won’t be any special occasions to photograph, but it’s the everyday memories we will treasure most anyway.  Take a minute or two to snap some digital or mental images of your extraordinary ordinary life, and cherish these incredible gifts for many years to come.

This post was first published seven years ago today. Those of you who know me well can guess how bittersweet it is to read these words again. The day I refer to in the second paragraph above is now here, and has been arriving every day for years now. If only I could go back for just a moment to that morning! On the other hand, there’s a sense in which I really can be there again. I love looking at this photograph. I still feel Mama and Daddy looking at me with the same expressions: Mama, eternally no-nonsense but willing to make allowances for my whimsy (which I always felt she enjoyed vicariously) and Daddy, wise, humble, funny and loving, through and through.

The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Sheila

    Good morning Julia ☕️ This photo means more to me today than it did 7 years ago, also. Your heartfelt addendum warms my heart, knowing the love and wonderful life you shared with your parents. You were sharing a lifestyle that I love and miss. I miss our day to day correspondence, as well. You are my forever friend and love crosses the miles! It’s hard to believe we’re sharing our 8th Verandah of 2020. We are preparing to go to Knoxville TN to begin Bill’s proton therapy treatment and will live there for September and October. It’s a beautiful time of year to be staying there. I’m taking my calendar with me! Give my virtual hugs to Matt💛 Take care and know how very much I loved this post, again. Purple hull peas and cornbread, yummy I reckon❣️ ♥️🙏🏻

    • Sheila, thank you for this warm-hearted note. I really needed it today. I just learned that my friend Carolyn (a frequent commenter on this blog) has died. I don’t yet know the details but I imagine her ovarian cancer returned. Since you read the comments you may remember her as our longtime (since 1988) friend and also Jeff’s former dental assistant, who was always planning for that 5-year survival celebration for her and Jeff — she was diagnosed not long before he was. She did make the five year mark– even the 8 year mark — but cancer is vicious. I had just written her awhile back and noticed I hadn’t heard from her here or by mail for a couple of months, and the last time I heard (which was on here) she said she had a lot she needed to tell me. So I went her her Facebook page and saw the notices of her funeral. It was a shock. We didn’t share any mutual friends and I’m sure Terry just couldn’t notify everyone. I remember what that was like, I didn’t have the heart to talk to hardly anyone and couldn’t even write an obituary for Jeff. I relied almost totally on others to spread the word. I will really miss Carolyn’s love and generosity. I’m so glad we got to see them a few years ago when they came to York County from Tennessee. Anyway, your kind words were a balm to my soul. WOW, I didn’t know you’ll be living in Knoxville that long? Is this something you had been planning or have I just forgotten about it? You’re right, it’s a GREAT time to be there. Will you be in the “tin condo” or in a hotel?

  2. Good morning, Julia!
    I know that some of my very favorite old photos are the semi-candid shots I took as a child with a film camera. Film and the cost of developing were precious commodities, and now those photos are ever-so-much-more precious.
    Love and prayers, to and for you.

    • Susan, I sometimes think that today’s generation does not really appreciate photos the way we used to. When I was a child, photography was truly magical. My Daddy would set up a darkroom in our bathroom (he knew how to develop and print B&W film, and that’s how I was able to have pictures in the early years) and it would be amazing to me to watch the photograph “appear” like magic under the chemical bath, in the otherworldly light of the darkroom. Years later when I took photography in college, I think I had as much fun with photographs in the darkroom as I did taking them, learning how to do special effects such as high contrast, tone line, etc. I practically forgot I had a camera sometimes, I had so much fun with the negatives I already had! I’ve said it many times, but I’m glad I lived when I did. I wouldn’t trade anything for the convenience of digital photography, but I have so many happy memories of the “old days” and photography was definitely my favorite college subject, even though it was only electives for me.

      • My Daddy also set up a darkroom and taught me some basics. We didn’t have an enlarger, so we used OLD film negatives! So fun to newly experience a decades-old moment in time!

        • Susan, our generation is pretty much the last one that will have such memories. Hard to imagine.

          • Oh my! I hadn’t realized that until now.
            When you mentioned in another comment that your chemistry classes at school were disappointing un-fun, I wondered if class presentation differed with the focus of study, for example at Michigan Tech where I studied engineering versus perhaps a more liberal arts type school. I think that education is becoming more specialized and now I’m thinking and hoping that maybe there are small delights in each discipline. For example, my that studied computer game design…. They must have some interesting moments that I cannot imagine. Or people who study cooking, or accounting?
            I cannot even imagine what / how studying accounting could have appealing moments, but maybe?

            • I personally find accounting much more appealing than the purely mathematical aspects of chemistry, if only because I understand the fundamentals of accounting so well. While Jeff was in dental school, I was offered a job at the medical school that required an accounting “or similar” degree, which definitely did NOT have (they must have been desperate). I was worried that, having had NO math in college (I CLEPed out of the basic requirements), I would not be able to handle it. But my best friend at the time, a CPA, reassured me that it’s mostly just common sense and she felt I’d be fine with it. I found that to be true. The logic of it, and the predictability, appealed to me greatly, and I loved being a bank teller for the same reasons. I think chemistry was just a little beyond my understanding, and I wasn’t interested enough in it to work at learning it. It was all far more abstract than I had imagined it would be.

              • Thank you for explaining that. I can see how accounting could be conceptually more concrete than chemistry.

                • Yes, there’s something about cold hard cash that is easy to see in concrete terms, until one gets into the truly unimaginable numbers that the government deals with. I’m convinced one reason the debt is such a runaway train is that it has gone beyond our ability to know what it represents.

                  • I thought of this blog piece again last week when I attended a statistics forum online and found myself tittering at the presenter’s very nerdy jokes! 😄

                    • A nerdy joke? Really? That sounds like an oxymoron to me; humor is a great equalizer. Were you laughing at him or with him? See how I assumed it was a “he?” 😀

                    • Now I’m laughing with (I hope) you about nerdy jokes!
                      Yes, in fact, it was a “he.” Men seem to wear their nerdiness with such confidence! 😉

                    • I’ve always been proud to be a nerd myself. So I understand! Speaking of which, here’s a longtime favorite from one of the most talented male performers of our time (and I’m not kidding about that – he’s a total genius). It took me an amazingly long time to figure out that’s Key & Peele in the beginning (I love them too) and somebody recently told me that’s actually Donny Osmond in the background at the last part, but I wouldn’t know how to recognize him. Watch this – it’s great!

                    • I love this video! I had seen this before and I didn’t recognize Donny Osmond, either, but since you said that, I’m pretty sure it would be the guy dancing behind Al in the scenes with the white background and formulas written in black behind them.
                      What a fun video – it always makes me smile!

                    • I think it’s totally brilliant. Al Yankovic is highly underrated, and I think that’s just fine with him, as he’s a modest and self-effacing Christian in real life.

                    • That’s a great article!
                      I agree that a lot of his parodies are more compelling than the original songs.

  3. Chris

    I can’t even begin to say how much I love this post. I don’t go back and read comments 7 years ago on most of the posts, but this one is special. I read every word in the prior post. Your description of a seemingly “ordinary” photo arouses extraordinary emotions and feelings. I would guess that very many in that generation lived very similar lives. In my memory, I can see this scene, at the kitchen table, at my childhood home, and at my uncle’s, my grandmother’s, and our neighbor’s.
    The things you said about your Dad were amazing. I could probably say the same about my Dad. Out of necessity, he was a do-it-yourself’er. He could fix, make or create about anything around the house. I’m glad I still have some of those “photos” of special moments in my mind. Thanks for sharing!
    Have a great weekend!

    • Chris, I thought this scene might be fairly universal, at least for those of us who can remember when people grew their own vegetables! And yes, I grew up thinking my Daddy could do anything. As I got older, I realized it was only ALMOST everything. 😀 Were we lucky or what? These are the types of experiences that no amount of money could ever buy. Thanks for being here and for sharing the affection and respect for those who created loving homes for us.

  4. Susan

    Oh, Julia, what a homey, comforting picture, and lovely description of the very ordinary, but still so special time. I hope it does make you capture the feeling of being at home with your parents, with memories that outweigh the sense of loss, at least over time.

    • Thank you, Susan. I’m so happy you like it! Yes, the memories do outweigh the sense of loss when I think of my parents. They each lived long, full lives, and this helps with the grief. It’s harder with someone who dies at a younger age. But in every case, there is always a sense of gratitude for having had the years of love and the happy times. Getting older involves one loss after another; it’s inevitable. I suppose this is why people try to deny or avoid the idea of aging. But being older has its own compensations. Hope you have a wonderful weekend! As always, it’s a joy to visit with you here.

  5. Judy from Pennsylvania

    I remember this post because after I first read it years ago, I then began purposely photographing my loved ones doing ordinary things. I realized that I had very few photos of my family members that captured them during everyday activities. Almost all photos had been taken on vacations or to capture “smiles for the camera”.

    Yet the snapshots I treasure most are ones that show my grandmother quietly reading her Bible like she did every morning, or my mother and I trying to clean up our messy yard, or my father with a cigar in his mouth while he drove his fishing boat. Those photos still take me back to the moments when they were taken because they were very personal and showed us as we really were. They bring back intimate memories of loved ones who have since passed away.

    Yesterday I took photos of my husband and grandson cleaning the chimney, a chore that they’ve done together for a couple of years. I hope that someday the photos will bring up some special memories for us, just as your photo of your parents does for you. I was glad to see you publish this one again!

    • Judy, I’m so happy to learn that this post sparked some everyday photos for you. Yes, those unrehearsed moments are definitely the ones we treasure most. You are an excellent historian and future generations of your family will be so grateful for your faithful recording of what would otherwise be lost. Thanks for being here!

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