north carolina, with love


Front porch
I took this while sitting on a rocker on Stacie's front porch.

In early May I was in North Carolina visiting my sister Stacie. It was a glorious time. Almost every morning I enjoyed a pot of coffee on her front porch. And every moment of it, I felt I was experiencing a slice of heaven.

The view from her porch is magnificent. The spring scents were sweet and subtle. The breeze was tender and the birds' singing was like salve to my heart. Every sense I possess smiled.

There were a few rainy days and even they were heavenly. I sat on the porch wrapped in one of my mom's afghans, sipped coffee and listened to the rain. On occassion I called Gordon so he could hear the thunder and rain. I just sat and smiled. It was refreshing to every cell of my being. I'm sure my liver was smiling.

It was delightful to spend time with my beautiful neices and nephew. Melody was home from South Sudan. I watched Emily and Rebekah graduate from college. Jordan finished his first year of college while I was there, so he came home too.

I got to connect with all of them and that was huge. Their lives are all going in different directions, so it's not easy getting them all home at the same time. I was blessed.

Em and bek's grad
Emily and Rebekah, 2012 graduates of UNCA

At Emily and Rebekah's outdoor graduation, there was a tremendous deluge of rain. Hundreds of people ran for cover, me one of them. The show went on. As I stood there I knew I would regret it. I left the safe overhang and ventured out into the downpour to see Emily and Rebekah graduate. I felt so "present." Under the overhang, I was missing out; out in the downpour, I was truly there. I was glad I left the shelter and truly engaged in their graduation.

My sister Diane came to North Carolina and the three of us had the usual sisterly-bonding that is so special. We talked and laughed and spent one evening dancing in Stacie's living room.

I came back home to Canada refreshed and eager to see the family. It was a delightful, much needed break from ordinary life.




stacie, hammin' it up

Life has had me by the tail ever since I got home from Arkansas and I've not captured many of my memories from the trip. I told about the photo shoot my sibs and I had with my dad. Before we had the opportunity to have a group picture made, my hammy sister, Stacie, captivated all the cameras. She is a ham-dinger. I wish I'd gotten a little more of that gene, but I didn't so I just get to enjoy her.
 Stacie hamming

Stacie hamming while we wait 

She is so funny and entertaining. I lub' 'er lots.
As you can see in these pictures, she put on a show. So unintimidated, acting like a teenager getting her picture made. As you can also see in the pictures, we were all waiting for her to finish the production.



first time driver

DrivingLast night I was doing some organizing and found this story from 8th or 9th grade. It's not a glamorous story but remember I was a mere child when I wrote it. Even with its juvenile spirit, I hope it provokes a little grin.

First Time

I'll never forget the first time my sister Stacie drove. It was a Sunday afternoon and we were on our way to church. My brother Michael and I were in the backseat and my mom and Stacie were in front. Stacie was in the driver's seat but I can't help thinking she could have done any worse had she been in the backseat between Michael and me.

She poked along cautiously until we got to Potter where Highway 375 intersects Highway 71. The road was desolate except for one car that was a good half mile away. Panic was all over Stacie's face as she yelled, "Mama, can I beat it? Can I beat it?"

Mama's patience with beginner drivers isn't her strong suit. She sighed impatiently, "Well, I trust you can. If you hurry."

Without question, Stacie took Mama seriously and put the accelerator to the floorboard. We fishtailed out of there leaving a trail of smoke, gravel and black marks.

We went just a short distance when Stacie started driving straight toward a concrete bridge. Mama yelled and Michael and I joined her.

Before we made it to town, Stacie decided she was experienced enough to pass a car. She calmly drove into the other lane and drove and drove and drove. Perturbed, Mama said, "Stacie, it always helps to catch up with the car before you try to pass it." Stacie pulled back into the right lane, still a fair bit behind the other car.

Stacie was slightly embarrassed and irritated with everyone. Mama was annoyed, and Michael and I were laughing uncontrollably.

The End

are you washed

When Stacie and I were between 2 and 5 years old, an electrician was doing some work in our house. I sang "Are You Washed in the Blood?" After my solo, Stacie looked up at the man and said, "Mister, are you washed in the blood?"

He replied, "Yes Ma'am I sure am."

I was reminded of this story this morning when we sang that hymn in church. I smiled.


happy birthday to me

I received this lovely birthday greeting and am still basking in its make-me-feel-good-ness. Stacie made my day with my first birthday greeting.

"Happy Birthday, Valerie.

You always write such eloquent birthday tributes to those you love and this simple greeting seems so pale in comparison.

What do I love about you: You have the most wonderful humor. You can make me laugh like no other and you laugh with me so whole heartedly. Your writing is so fun to read because it can make me laugh though you are so subtle in the effort. I'm so impressed.

You are a great listener. Truly. You don't interrupt (like me) and I always feel like you really hear. Poor souls that have no one to listen. You listen to me blab on about what I made for dinner, what I wore to work, all the places I went, blah, blah, blah. Wonderful.

You are a willing learner. I mean, you've learned to sew, candle make, quilt make, cake decorate, genealogy sleuth, write, etc? You do it with gusto and competently. I stop before I start because I know I can't be an "expert".....

You are humble. Yes, you are and no, you haven't always been.

You share freely and graciously your mistakes, mis-judgments, hurts, pain, embarrassments, social errors, mis-steps, etc. There is something "freeing" about it when you share your confessions so honestly. God bless this trait.

You are a wonderful sister. I love you so much and I am so blessed to have such a dear dear friend and confidant. You are important to me and I miss you ever so much. Happy birthday, Stacie"

And then, lo and behold, my sister Diane wrote:

"My favorite thing about you is how much fun you are and how easy you laugh. I was thinking about this today, and I've decided that we Callahan kids enjoy ourselves like no others. I mean literally; we enjoy OURSELVES. I enjoy me, you enjoy you, etc., etc. No one laughs harder at our funnies than we laugh at our own. That's the mental picture I got when I was thinking about you today. I could see you making a funny comment and then slapping your knee real hard and laughing boisterously! I laughed just thinking about it (because that's what we do; we laugh at ourselves).

You and I have had soooo many fun times laughing at ourselves and at each other. Do you remember the time we were at the motorcycle rally in Colorado and a guy walked off after talking us near-comatose? Before he was out of earshot, you turned to me and said, "He bores me."

I could go on and on, but you have already written about most of our funniest times, so mine would be redundant and not near as entertaining. You are a great writer. I always laugh out loud when I read your blog.

On a serious note, I appreciate how transparent you have become. You used to protect yourself at all costs, but you have become very vulnerable and "real." I truly appreciate that, but especially since I know how hard it must have been for you.

I remember vividly the day you were born. Do you remember how much I doted on you when you were a little girl? I know, I know, you remember what a witchy older sister I was, but maybe in the recesses of your mind, you can conjure up a memory of when I used to call you "To-Val." Strange nickname, I know, but it was my pet name for you.

I love you and wish you the very happiest of birthdays. Diane"

I couldn't have asked for more feely goodies in one day. But another one came from my aunt, Jill.

"I love you because you are funny. I love you because you are articulate. I love you because you are intelligent. I love you because you so obviously love me! I love you because you are strong.I love you because you are warm and supportive. I love you most of all because you are you! Jill"

Beautiful. I had all I needed for days and days of high spirits.

You know how I hate talking about myself. Ok, so that's a lie. But you know how it's so much cooler if someone else toots your horn rather than you tootin' you're own? Here's my rootin' tootin' niece Mindi tootin' me up:

"Valerie, I know that you cannot know what you mean to me. As a child I always felt a bond to you because I was often told that I was so much like you. Little did I know, that the adults in my life were referring mostly to negative traits that we had in common, namely stubbornness. As an adult, I still feel a close bond to you, and now it is because there are traits that I see in you that I admire and want to develop in myself. I admire you as a mother and a wife. I admire your commitment to your marriage, and your commitment to raising your children to be kind people. I admire your skills in the domestic life you lead, as well as the way you push yourself to try new things all the time, even if those new things lead to "butthole roses" in a cake decorating class. I admire your transparency. It is ever so humbling to admit our shortcomings. If you are anything like me, humility is not our strong point. I appreciate your open mind, and for proving that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. I in no way think you are old or a dog, but I can't think of a better metaphor. Who would have thought that a little country girl from Arkansas, would grow into a tree-hugging, Wal-Mart boycotting Canadian. (All said in jest, of course.) I do admire you Valerie, and love you dearly. I hope your birthday is fabulous. *ching ching*

When the goodness was just too much to imagine anymore, my sweetheart added this to my day's blessings:

"I love you because you hung on. It has not been easy, but you kept getting up each morning and caring as you could, without going anywhere. I love you because you have learned through much pain to adjust to my weaknesses without kicking back. I love you because you keep trying new things, even when the last thing didn't work out like you planned - including things between us. I love you because you love our kids, and do your best to bring out their best, even after they have annoyed you into temporary isolation. And, I love you because you kept on laughing at my weird, silly, and sometimes asinine comments, and then went and cooked a meal or did the laundry or just prayed for all of us. I guess if you get right down to it, I love you because in spite of how life works out sometimes, you have been faithful to me, our kids, our life together, and our common Lord, in big and small ways, even when it was the hardest thing in the world for you to do. And I'm thankful to God for it. Will you be my Valentine, Valerie? Love, Gordon"

This has been a most glorious birthday. I don't think I've ever received so many kind words. I'm truly blessed.

happy birthday stacie

(Stacie 2005)
Today is my sister Stacie's birthday. As with all my siblings, Stacie is years and years and years older than me. She was born in 1964 and I in 1966.
Stacie and I are very close and kindred spirits. Billions of miles apart, (Edmonton and North Carolina), we talk on the phone several times a week. (Before she went back to work a couple years ago, we talked on the phone nearly everyday). My telephone plan is better than her's so when she wants to talk, she phones me, lets it ring twice, then hangs up. Like an obedient sister, I phone back immediately. She is the only person in the world I could talk to that often. I'm not a telephone person. Dead space doesn't make me nervous with her and it does with everyone else.
018_18 (7)(Stacie 1970, 6 years old)
 A couple years ago the little girls and I spent February with Stacie and her family. Wheweee! Was that ever a learning experience. What I learned is this: There is a big difference between 26 days and 28 days. At 26 days her family was coping with four extra people pretty well. At 28 days, they were packing our suitcases and bag lunches for our trip home - even though we still had one day to go. While with her, we drove down to Florida to our other sister Diane's. On the drive down, we nearly split our guts laughing. We reminisced about some of the quirky ways we were brought up and gave a generous amount of time talking about our childhood church. We told stories and were finishing each other's sentences. As silence came, we would both, at the same time, remember another song and belt out singing like we did in our long ago church. We laughed so hard we cried.

Stacie and I were inseparable in my preschool years. My first depression was when Stacie started school. I would have been four. Of course I never knew that was what was wrong with me then, but every morning when I watched the school bus get out of sight, a terrible heaviness would envelope me. I didn't realize it was because Stacie was gone, I only knew that watching the bus pull away was terribly sad.  Mama says I also started sleeping more and she recognized I was depressed. What I'm trying to say is, Stacie is at the root of many of my problems and dysfunctions.
(Stacie and Jimmy, 1983)
I am at the root of a few of Stacie's issues too. We grew up in a pretty straight-laced home. We didn't do lots of things that were ok in other homes. One year when the Montgomery Ward catalog came, we sat on the blue vinyl sofa each of us holding our half of the catalog. No page was overlooked. We dreamed about everything in it. We chose the prettiest garment on each page; the bedroom suites we would have in our grown-up houses; in secret, we scrutinized the underwear pages.

We even looked at the men's clothes. We chose which man we wanted to marry, and we picked out the clothes he would wear. Stacie has always been more risque and edgy than me. As we looked at the men's pages, Stacie pointed at one man and whispered, "He looks like he has boobs." I turned both my lips inside my mouth and disdainfully said, "Uuummm." She was in trouble. Not only was she looking at men's chests, but she said "boobs."

Terrified of getting in trouble, she begged, "Oh Valerie, please don't tell. Please don't tell." I didn't tell her I would or wouldn't tell. I let her squirm and worry. That night as it was my turn to do some kind of chore, I turned to Stacie and raised my eyebrow to warn silently, "If you don't do it for me, I'll tell Mama you said boobs." Stacie jumped to do my bidding. For days Stacie was my servant. When told to do something, I'd give Stacie "the look" and she would jump up and do my chore. It worked like a charm.

I don't know how long this went on. Stacie would say weeks, but I figure it was only days. It was Mama who ruined our working agreement. She asked Stacie why she was doing all my work. Stacie told her she just wanted to, but Mama knew better and pressed harder. The truth came out and Stacie got in trouble for letting me treat her like that. Mama was much more concerned that Stacie let me bribe her than she was with what I'd done. I got off really easy, but poor Stacie got chewed on for quite a while. But she didn't get in trouble for saying "boobs".

Stacie and I miss each other terribly. I wish we lived closer. We would go out to eat, we would go to each other's kids' performances, we would probably do stuff we never did before, maybe concerts, ballets, live theater. We lived near each other for so many years and never knew how amazing that was. Now we would know how special it is and wouldn't take it for granted.

Stacie is smart, classy, professional, funny, a great cook and entertainer, a talented decorator, a wonderful devoted mother and wife and a great sister. Happy Birthday Stacie. I love you!

the mind of a child

(Me, Easter morning, wearing my very best Union Bank smile. 1970)
020_20 (3)When I was a very young child, I had three aspirations. I wanted to work at Union Bank so I could smile all day and dress pretty. Stacie and I use to play like the ladies at the Bank. We put on silly smiles and smiled, smiled, smiled, just for the fun of smiling. We played "Mail Call, Mail Call, 4th Street Mail Call." I have no idea where we got that game; I suppose it was a Stacie/Valerie original. One of us would take a slew of discarded junk mail and stand in the back freezer room and yell, "Mail Call, Mail Call, 4th Street Mail Call." The other, a resident of 4th Street, would come out of her house (the bedroom) and make her way down 4th Street (the hall) to collect her mail. When she arrived at the postal counter (a piece of broken sheetrock), we would make small talk about the kids, the family, the weather, and of course the job at Union Ban. We played this game with smiling fervor.  

My second aspiration was to buy the big yellow-brick house across from the old hospital. I don't remember thinking the house was that wonderful, (although it definitely was a step-up from the house I was used to). The big draw was living across the street from the vending machines in the hospital. That seemed like the life for me. I loved when people got sick and went into the hospital. Those vending machines were my idea of heaven.

(Hannah recently told me that when she was little, she thought that heaven would be a place where there was a great big bowl of candy and you could have as much as you wanted. When she was even younger than that, she thought it was all about bubble gum. She doesn't remember that though.)

My third childhood aspiration was to shake my kids like Mrs Heath shook her son Kenny in church when he made a peep.

So the good life consisted of smiling while I worked at Union Bank, coming home to the Emerson house across the street from the hospital vending machines, and faithfully attending church so I could shake my kids.

in the backwoods

(Stacie and me, early 70's)
001_1 (2) 
When Stacie and I were teenagers, probably 14 and 16, we went to see new friends who lived way, way out in the country. We got terribly lost and were on the back-roads of the back-roads. In desperation, we took a hilly, rutted driveway to seek help.

At the end of the driveway, we found a dilapidated trailer and a number of barking hound dogs. As we sized up the situation, a skinny, wild-haired, bare-foot old woman came out of the trailer and stood looking at us while she yelled at her dogs. Hesitantly, we stepped out of the car and approached her. As we got close to the lady, we saw horrifying evidence that all people are not created equally. As she smiled kindly at us, she revealed her pathetically bad teeth. They jutted north, south, east, and west. I can nearly assure you that you've never seen anything like it.

I have a strange compulsion that I've carried with me throughout my life. Based in my private insecurities regarding my toes, I always "check out the toes" of new acquaintances. Pulling my eyes away from her teeth, I was equally as horrified by her toes. They too jutted in every direction and each wore a dingy yellow, thick, grotesque nail.

Stacie and the lady got it sorted out who we were, who we belonged to, our relatives, and where they lived, all while I stared at this poor woman's toes.

Pointed in the right direction again, Stacie and I bid her our thanks for her time and directions and got back in the car. As soon as the doors were closed, we both bursts out our shock, sympathy, and disbelief. "Did you see her teeth?," Stacie asked. At the exact same moment, I was saying, "Did you see her toes?" Stacie answered, "See her toes? I was too busy wondering how she eats with those teeth to look down at her toes!"

I remember nothing else about that day other than that poor old kind woman, her living conditions, her teeth, and her toes.

my sister, the worrier

Scan20163(Stacie, far left, and me, far right, with all our girls, Colorado 2000)
Yesterday I was talking to my sister. Her emotions are all over the map these days. Her oldest child graduates this week and will soon be leaving the nest to begin a new life as a college student. Stacie is one of the most devoted, dedicated mothers I've ever known. Yet, as only a mother can be, she is overwhelmed with feelings of having robbed Melody. "I just wanted to be a perfect mom. Was it more about me than Melody?" she asked. "Should I have given her more freedom? Should I have....?"

She began to recall memories. Through her tears, one of the things she recalled was when Melody got lice in elementary school. This was one of her examples of it having been about herself rather than Melody.

Admittedly, Stacie use to be a chronic worrier. When Melody had lice (every other kid in the class did too) Stacie worried that they'd never get the lice out of the house, that they were permanent "carriers."

As Stacie relived this episode, I was carried away in thought by a different time when she was overcome with irrational worry.

She and I were visiting in her living room when my nephews and two of their friends dropped by. The friends had a distant relative who had died of aids two years earlier. Stacie was visibly uncomfortable. When the teenagers went to get drinks in the kitchen, her eyes were darting all over the place.

When they left, Stacie shut the door behind them and walked purposefully to her kitchen and began to search through drawers for the tongs. I was unaware of her problem, so I was engaging in a one-sided conversation. I followed her to the kitchen and sat down on a barstool. She started boiling water and filling the sink with soapy water. Having found the tongs, she stuck her bottom out to create a bigger distance between her body and the glasses. With her butt sticking way out, she lifted each glass with the tongs. Careful to keep her arm perfectly outstretched, she put the glasses in the soapy water. Then she began scalding them with boiling water. I watched, assuming she needed to do this before she could have peace of mind.

When the glasses were washed, we went back and sat in the living room. She still couldn't engage in conversation. She seemed a million miles away. Her gaze was directed to the wall and she was totally unresponsive to my stabs at conversation.

Finally she blurted out, "You don't think we'll get aids do you?"

My delightful sister is a recovering worrier. Last night as we spoke I remembered this story. I started laughing and reminded her of it. It must have been good for her, because she laughed too and I think that was when she stopped crying, at least for a little spell.

family and movies

016_16 (2)(Diane, me, Stacie, Mama, Michael, Daddy. 1980)

I just got off the phone with my sister Stacie. She's been way too busy and I've missed our regular talks. We have a delightfully fun relationship. There's much to be said for sharing a family of origin. Families share a common style of communication, body language, insecurities, and even humor. My siblings and I do and say stuff regularly that would require an explanation to an outsider. I know other families are the same.

Stacie and I share an idiosyncratic bond in that we often quote movies, and occasionally a book, to drive a point home.
When we don't really get along with a person, "There's a wall." (The Emperor's New Groove).

When someone gets what they deserve, "There's a price you pay for the life you choose." (The Godfather).

When we are in circumstances that put us way out of our comfort zone, "I just came here to worship, but this is the wrooong denomination." (The Out of Towners).

When things are going poorly, "We have no food, we have no money, our birds' heads keep falling off." (Dumb and Dumber).

When we've had the opportunity to express our heartfelt opinion, we may end it with, "And that's all I've got to say about the Vietnam War." (Forest Gump).

When one of us has a secret, "I am the soul of discretion." (Sense and Sensibility).

When things leave us at the end of our rope, "Damn that octopus." (Portofino).

My kids are picking up on this silly way of communicating. We picked up some "I Love Lucy" videos at the library recently. A few days later Rachael wasn't feeling too great. She said, "I feel dowdy. You know, kind of blah." I knew exactly where her expression came from.

The quirky tradition continues to another generation.