INTENTIONAL FRIENDS  By Lori A Alicea

Her name is Betty.

My next door-neighbor of many years and twenty years my senior, and yet our relationship celebrated differing views and perspectives; not competing generations.

Across the street where whistle blowing trains rattled our windows all hours of the day, was an old country street of five houses nestled under the acreage of trees they were built on, where barns, horses, gardens and chickens running loose added to the old fashion charm of a picturesque postcard.Jake 1

Betty and I began borrowing cups of sugar from each other when she was a young grandmother and I a young mother myself.

As neighbors, we smiled and witnessed from our porches and swing sets the passing of time in the growing faces of Betty’s grandchildren and my children between the two houses.

Betty’s twin granddaughters and two grandsons always seemed to sport a glove and bat for a family baseball game of endless innings in their backyard where parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, each took their position on the field.

My two year old son watched these games from the dugout of his sandbox, waiting his turn to be big enough for the team; my baby girl and I rooted Betty’s grand-kids from the window or lawn chair nearby.

Betty and I loved being home with our children and grandchildren, both sharing the arts of sewing, canning and crafts.

More than anything, we neighbors shared the same pew at heart when our love for God overflowed those morning cups of conversation.

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As time passed by, my young children and I would leave the neighborhood in tears and brokenhearted due to an unwanted divorce, but would return years later as Betty’s next-door neighbor, newly married to the man of my dreams.

Sadly, moving back to this old country neighborhood of five houses where whistle blowing trains from across the street would fascinate my future grandchildren, Betty has said good-by in sickness to the love of her life; a marriage of thirty-five glorious years.

In her husband’s honor, Betty planted a backyard tree to celebrate his life and life going on thru nature in its magnificence towards the skies and God; a widow’s place of remembrance for someone she deeply loved.

Albeit divorce, sickness or death, Betty and I continued to share sugar and heartache over tears, conversations, hugs and sometimes sitting in silence as true friends and neighbors feel comfortable to do.

For years I felt guilty for all the celebrations of open houses, baby showers and parties that took place on the front acreage of our property, where life and laughter…

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Could be heard and seen from Betty’s house and open windows a few steps away.IMG_6069

Through our intentional friendship though, Betty continued to be encouraged and lifted up, reminding her through scriptures that God promised to be a husband to the widow, a father to the orphan, a redeemer for another day.

Fifteen years later God redeems Betty’s vacant heart at a high school reunion with the re-introduction of an old friend. Betty’s eyes illuminated with joy and happiness unspeakable once again as a little girl, and the two were married in the fall of that year; eventually moving out of the neighborhood to begin their newly married life in another state.

Distance didn’t change our friendship as the miles were bridged with Betty’s cards sent in the mail and my telephone calls to her.

Betty and her new husband would come into town every so often to visit family or attend their favorite quartet concerts, for which they stopped into the old neighborhood for a visit with us.

Not making excuses, but life started happening in those one by one good-byes to parents, grandparents and loved ones and moving two more times for us, somehow losing touch with Betty.

Interestingly, Betty’s cards stopped coming although I didn’t question it, assuming life was happening for her.

Sadly and heartbreaking enough, it was.

I decided to look Betty up on social media after three and a half years from our last conversation, when an arrow plunged my heart in despair after realizing Betty’s account had been moved to legacy status.

Not wanting to assume the worse, I searched the internet for an obituary, yet never finding one in my quest.

Remembering in former conversations of Betty’s wishes to be buried by her husband of thirty-five years, David and I drove to the old country cemetery a short distance from where Betty and I used to be neighbors, only to find that indeed, Betty had passed away mere months after our last conversation.USE cemetery

With only one dirt road winding through this final resting place of a few hundred loved ones, it didn’t take us long to find the headstone of Betty’s last name she once shared with the love of her life.USE dirt roads

To my surprise, Betty left behind a love story of a different kind, choosing to be remembered beside both men who stole this woman’s heart in life.

Not knowing for sure, I imagine Betty’s thoughts…

God didn’t forget Betty and she wanted to thank Him by telling the world her beautiful story beyond her absence.USE headstone

I’m so sorry for the conversations we didn’t have those final months of Betty’s life.  I regret not bidding good-by to my intentional friend.

I didn’t attend Betty’s celebration of life and convey to her family how much their mother and grandmother meant to a next door neighbor; only because I didn’t know.

But may these words be the flowers I send to Betty on her life’s Graduation day to heaven, albeit three and a half years after she received her diploma.USE flowers

Thank you Betty for decades of friendship, for cards, for sharing cups of sugar as next door neighbors do.

I will never forget you.

Remembering…

One day we will once again share a front row pew with God who will tip His heart’s tea-pot and overflow our morning cups of conversation.USE church

MEMORIES OF SUMMER  By Lori A Alicea

Graduations from pre-school thru high school all set off confetti cannons to celebrate the end of another academic year.

Antsy students fidgeting at their desks on the last day of school will burst through the classroom doors as a mass exodus of summer excitement with the final ring of the bell.

From the beginning of June through the middle of August, parents have penciled in their children’s summer break on the pages of their calendars, signing them up and planning in advance for what will become in years down the road, their memories of summer.

Summer fun for me as a child rewinds a simpler life of baseball, camping, strawberry jelly and the county fair; a scrapbook of delightful memories the little girl in me loves to revisit each June.

Watching our grandchildren take their turn at the baseball plate,

Reminds me of those summers back fifty plus years ago with the smell of concession stand hot dogs and popcorn, boys trading baseball cards with a wad of bubble gum in their mouths and my brother riding his bicycle to the Little League field for baseball practice and games.

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(my brother sits in front of the baseball bats)

Spring training for Little League announces a brand new season of baseball memories, while a little girl still reminiscences when her brother, a star pitcher back then, leads his team to a first place win two years in a row.

Summer memories are also made roughing it in the squelching heat of a tent or camper, sharing the experience with mosquitoes and raccoons in the back woods or back yard of a camping trip.

In exchange for hotel air conditioning and fine dining, the smell of sizzling bacon and scrambled eggs waft among the trees at breakfast.camping cooking

Camping trips fill up a childhood album of time spent fishing with dad, swimming with siblings, and making s’mores around a crackling campfire before bed.

Making the highlight reel from my memories of summer take me back to an old fashioned tradition of strawberry picking and watching mother at her Magic Chef stove, preserving summer in a jar for those winter biscuits only months away.

Now, mother watches me from her kitchen stove in heaven, still wearing her apron, still sharing a summer memory as her recipe and an old fashioned tradition is being passed to the next generation.

Summer wouldn’t be complete without those memories of elephant ears, cotton candy, butter drenched ears of corn, cooling down with a bowl of Dippin’ Dots, being squished on the Scrambler while enjoying it all as a fun filled evening at the county fair with your dad.

fair jake little girls The county fair reminds you to thank your Aunt for the years she filled up the pages of childhood memories for two generations of nieces and nephews at the fair, giving no thought of the money she spent on tickets, food and game prizes, all because she wanted to make a summer memory with you.

Lastly, after growing up, the sweetest memories of summer is the intentional pursuit of the little things

Quality time spent with lifelong friends over coffee and breakfast.

Remembering to celebrate the generations and gifts of family around the dinner table.

Letting kids be kids at the beach, kids racing and acting crazy down the Slip ‘n Slide of your own backyard, or kids even spending a spontaneous moment in Papa’s sprinkler while only wearing their underwear.

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Or, for those quiet moments spent alone with God in prayer during those early morning walks around the neighborhood track.

From the beginning of June thru the middle of August, the memories of summer are filling up scrapbooks of our children and grandchildren’s childhood.

I don’t know why I’m drawn to these albums during Little League season, when strawberries are ready, or when the county fair has made its way back into town.

Maybe becoming a grandmother, I remember the good ol’ days through the lives of my grandchildren.

Maybe I miss mom more when I see a batch of homemade jelly line the shelves of my kitchen pantry.

Maybe summer reminds me that the little things really are the big things, and to be more intentional about my pursuit of them.

Maybe I’m so thankful to God for my memories of summer, my scrapbook of delightful memories the little girl in me loves to revisit each June.

 

BEST BUDS FOR LIFE By Lori A Alicea

Ever had a best bud?
Ever been two peas in a pod?
Ever been stuck together like glue?

First they were cousins, now more like brothers.
Yes that’s Ethan and Brodie, Best Buds for Life.

It all began years ago at “cousin camp”; a weekly Friday night tradition where all the grandkids spend the night with Papa and Gaga.  When David and I became grandparents we wanted to create a library full of scrapbook memories during that small window of opportunity where the grandchildren still wanted to hang out with us.  When friends and sports become a part of their life, it will be our turn to pursue them for available time.

Ethan and Brodie became partners in crime the minute cousin camp opened its doors.  You never saw one without the other and quite the tears when half the duo couldn’t attend our Friday night sleepover.

brodie and ethan in window in pullup

At cousin camp there is no minimum age requirement to join the club.  These boys have had their diapers and pull ups changed together.  They’ve learned to crawl and walk as a team.  From tricycles to training wheels to full freedom on two tires , they have shared so much life together on Friday night.  Brodie and Ethan lay their sleeping bags side by side so they can wrestle and laugh and whatever boys do when nobody is looking.  Oh the times Papa would have to end the midnight crazies so everyone else could sleep.

Little boys don’t require much.  Give them a ball and bat and the movie Sandlot comes to life where an old fashioned neighborhood of kids get together for the love of baseball.  The laughs and cheers as these two swat the ball and round the bases like miniature Babe Ruth’s.

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The boys are sprouting faster than a field of weeds.  They’ve outgrown their bikes again and Papa will have to hit the garage sales for summer replacements.  The parents can’t keep them in shoes and Papa and Gaga sense the Friday night window with them closing ever so slightly.

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To date, cousin camp takes in six of our ten grandchildren, as four live out of town.  Our DC babies join our Friday night traditions whenever they come for a visit.  Our oldest grandchild is thirteen soon so our first cousin-camp graduation might be this year.  Just don’t tell Papa.

When cousin-camp closes its doors for good, it is our prayer as grandparents that our grandchildren enjoy turning the pages of their cousin camp scrapbooks every now and then.  That the intentional time we’ve sowed into these “gifts from God” reap relationships with each other into their adult lives.

May their cell phones always have cousin camp members on speed-dial.

May all ten of them be Best of Buds For Life.

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OFF YOU GO
By Lori A Alicea

And off you go a cousin pair,
The miles in your car.
Remember where your Papa lives,
He’ll wonder where you are.

Don’t get too far or dare forget,
He’s crazy for you two.
So pick him up when think of it,
He’d love a car ride too.