These things take time.

When I think of the American Revolution, I tend to think of specific incidences and spurts of battle. I envision Washington crossing the Delaware. I hear Paul Revere riding his horse and yelling his warnings. I see Lafayette surveying the troops at Valley Forge. I think of the local militia in Lexington and Concord.
Maybe that how our brains work. At any given moment, we are capable of understanding pieces of the big picture.
In fact, maybe it’s impossible to consider the fullness of an event as vast as the American Revolution at once. In reality, that war lasted for eight long years and was muddled, rambling and had so many aspects that few of us consider today — even though our youngest generations are learning all over again that war is messy in any arena.
Every time I read about the American Revolution, I learn something new — something that was major then and of which I’ve led my life completely unawares. For example, did you know more people died of smallpox during the American Revolution than died as casualties of war — and that the epidemic may have changed the outcome of the war? An enormous smallpox epidemic was spreading and Washington had the foresight to realize its potential consequences. Many historians believe that Washington’s decision to use the barely 100-year old smallpox vaccine to inoculate his troops played a huge role in the American victory.
This week, we’ll focus on the healing that has happened in the years since America declared and won its independence from Great Britain. Our once sworn enemies are now our allies.
These things take time.
We will celebrate the signing of the document that Thomas Jefferson drafted between June 11 and June 28, 1776. Our country’s forefathers then signed the document within weeks’ of its completion. The war had already been waging a year and lasted seven years more after the Declaration of Independence’s signing, but we commemorate that one point in time.
Radical change isn’t one point in time — and it’s seldom about joyous celebration. It is painful and sometimes takes generations to unfold before coming to an accepted resolution.
These things take time.
More than two centuries later, we’re still feeling the growing pains.
Last week, an attorney here in Lafayette told me that he reads the Declaration of Independence out loud every year on the Fourth of July. Maybe that’s a good practice for all of us. With his permission, here’s what he said about that reading:
“Every time, it strikes me that it is pretty bold talk from men who owned slaves — men who did not practice what they preached,” my friend wrote. “Then it strikes me that these flawed men set up an American Experiment that has moved toward freedom, time and time again. From the emancipation of slaves, to women’s suffrage, to the Civil Rights movement…”
These things take time.
I believe my friend is right. Even though, in the throes of that movement toward freedom, what’s happening around us may not feel like progress to some. Yes, it’s sometimes painful. Yes, sometimes we take steps backwards.
“It is a lumpy, messy, sometimes chaotic process,” he continued. “But imagine the genius of our system, which in its own cumbersome way can continue to bring increasing vibrancy to that word that meant so little to the world of 1776, but just shines like the sun today: freedom.”
These things take time.

LSS: Boatload of family

Everybody involved knows it could have gone either way.

With 18 family members spending six days and nights together — and what with family dynamics being what they are, let’s be real. It really could have gone either way.

But it was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

To celebrate, my parents — especially my mom — wanted our whole family (including children, spouses and kids) to be together for a week. After debate, discussions, compromises and a ratification process that surely rivaled the Geneva Convention, we settled on going on a cruise together. For a year, we’ve been making arrangements — that’s how long it takes to coordinate the schedules and make arrangements for 18 people to go on a weeklong adventure together.

Yet, other people do this all the time. Indeed, large groups of people do this all the time. All I have to say is that I tip my hat to whoever organizes all those family trips and cruises.

I handled the logistics of this one. Such planning is not for the faint of heart. Most of my family is either afraid of me or recognized that this was a chance to take it in and be, as my niece said, an “accommodator”. Fortunately, they had the good sense to refrain from offering any unsolicited critique or much in ways of complaining.

By the way, if you have a person in your family who seems to magically make all sorts of events happen, let me tell you, it’s not magic. It’s hard work. Hug them. (Who am I kidding?) Hug her. Send her flowers. Tell her she’s wonderful. Don’t complain if the cole slaw isn’t just how you like it. Getting all this stuff together and trying to make sure all the pieces and parts fit, the place is clean, everybody gets invited and gets there and not offend or aggravate anyone in the process requires energy.

I will admit I was nervous going into this trip. My expectations were not high.

Family dynamics in my family are like most families — they’re complicated.

For us, differences in political opinions transcend most of our interactions.

Yes, you’re right — that’s crazy. You are correct — people, especially families, shouldn’t let a little thing like politics cloud relationships. All I can say is that we’re trying not to let those issues creep in to discussions. We’ve been down that road before, and now we’re better. I believe when we’re together my family lives in a constant internal battle not to make assumptions or say off-handed comments that presume another’s views. We’ve all made this unspoken commitment to each other in order to remain as a cohesive family unit.

So, on this cruise, the 18 of us were on a boat big enough to do our own things as necessary and contained enough to get together often. Some of us met for trivia competitions. Some of us met by the pool. We cheered my baby brother on in the hairy chest competition. Before we had dinner together every evening, we gathered for at least an hour. My mom asked each of her children’s spouses to orchestrate simple programs about our family, offering a chance to honor one another and hopefully our children gathered some of the family history, as well.

We all took part in the programs — my parents, my brothers, their wives and all of our children and spouses. The gatherings were magical. They were beautiful. They were good for us. Adulthood gets in the way of families sometimes, doesn’t it? And that’s where our family had been for a while. After a week together, I feel a new kinship with each of them.

Even though none of us knew what the trip together would hold, my parents were right. A week together is exactly what my family needed.

Happy Father’s Day!

For the first time in our extended family’s history, we went on a weeklong family reunion to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary this past week. Throughout our time together, I recognized the beauty of the five fathers in our family — my dad, my husband, my two brothers and the husband of our long ago German exchange student.

The fact that each of our five families has strong father figures is somewhat remarkable, but a Norman Rockwall portrait we are not. We have warts and, like every family out there, we have our share of challenges, disagreements and plain ugliness. However, this week, watching five men do their roles as husbands and dads with grace, love and caring that went above and beyond the call of duty was a beautiful thing.

Each of the fathers has a signature style — and there are generational and cultural differences to be sure. Nonetheless, their love for their children is evident and seems to have served to create happy, healthy children.

Anyone who has ever tried parenting knows that it is not for the faint of heart and is a constant learning experience. To celebrate Father’s Day, I asked the five most prominent fathers of my life the biggest thing they’ve learned thus far in their parenting journey — and what has made them a better father.

My youngest brother has been a father for about 18 months. He says he’s learned how quickly children learn, how much your life changes and how much you enjoy it. He believes patience has made him a better father.

His wife agrees that his patience makes him a better dad. “Also, he helps more than most fathers do. He changes diapers. He gets up with our son during the night. He gives him baths. He accepts responsibility for everything. Nothing is ‘my job’ because I’m the mother. He helps all the way around.”

Martin, our German friend, who has a four-year-old daughter, said the biggest thing he’s learned is that he can’t really plan things. “If you have a child, she has her own way,” he said. “If she’s not ready, you have to wait. Now, if we come late, which would have been a big problem for me before, I have to just be ok. As a father, I’ve learned that I have to be more relaxed.The last time we came to the States, it didn’t matter which hotel we stayed in. Now we have to plan in advance — on one side, you must plan more. On the other side, you cannot plan anything.”

His wife agrees. She says that her husband is always there for their daughter. “He’s always listening to her,” she said. “Before he thinks of himself, he’s thinking about her.”

My husband, whose daughters are 15 and 11, said becoming a father later in life probably made him more reflective. He’s recognizing, as our daughters grow, their personalities are developing in different paths. Because they’re so different, he has to deal with them differently.

My middle brother has three children, 22, 18 and 14. He said the biggest lesson he’s learned as a dad is much like the one my husband has recognized — each child has an independent personality and is totally different. Even so, he strives for consistency. “I’ve also learned that most things are small stuff, and don’t sweat the small stuff,“ he said. “And one last thing, every now and then, it’s good if your children are a little bit afraid of you.”

My dad, whose children are 33, 45 and 49, said he now believes that you never quit raising your children. “I have learned to look over things that would have upset me at one point,” he said. “I have learned to accept my children for what they are and not what I want them to be. I know they are grown, but still I worry about them and want to take care of them.”

My mom said that through the years my dad has always been there. “And, I never doubted his love for me or the children or grandchildren,” she said. “He works so hard, too hard sometimes — it’s all because he wants to provide for us.”

Having this kind of time to just hang out and be with our extended family was a gift that I believe we will all cherish for decades to come. Happy Father’s Day to each of them and the fathers in your family too.

LSS: When I was 15

I remember every little detail of that day, except one thing.

As I watched the little girl and 11-year-old boy play that morning, I could tell that neither of them knew how to swim and suspected that if it wasn’t their first time swimming, it was probably their second. There weren’t many other people in the lake at the time, so I got down from my chair and tried to show them the basics — focusing on how to float.

At 15, I felt like I could save the world.

By early afternoon, it was my turn to open the giant slide — an engineering marvel involving sheet metal and fiberglass that no legal department would let slide today. The equivalent of five stories high, if you knew how to go down it just right, head first on a small raft, you could pick up enough speed to glide out 40 feet across the water.

In other words, back in 1979, that slide was legendary.

I climbed the slide and made sure it was properly wet down. Five or six people slid down. I was standing there on the little covered platform trying to make sure a small blue life jacket was properly fastened on a four-year-old boy, when I vaguely heard someone calling my name. The little boy’s father tapped my shoulder and said, “I think he’s trying to get your attention.”

I looked down to see Ricky, my fellow lifeguard, waving his arms frantically. Suddenly, I could hear him like he was right beside me, and for some reason, I knew what was wrong.

I slid down the slide to get to Ricky and try to help, thinking the whole way down, “Nothing like this has ever happened here.”

Ricky quickly told me the little girl and boy had gone under. He went to rescue them and got the girl up to safety. When he went back, the boy was gone.

We began to dive for him.

And we dove.

And dove.

And dove.

And then other strong swimmers joined us.

And they dove with us.

To me, the water got darker and darker each time I went down. I remember the lake’s muddy bottom. The whole thing was worse than a nightmare.

Two ladies sitting were standing near the shore, losing their minds. Somewhere along the way, someone got them chairs. One of them must have been his grandmother. They sat there the whole time, weeping and wailing with a grief that I can still hear, even though I don’t want to.

Ultimately, at least ten people helped us search.

Two hours into it, I was catching my breath with my right elbow on a board beneath the pier. I said to a lady I didn’t know but felt close to in that moment, “At this point, if I find him, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

She said, “You’re going to bring him to the top and do your best to bring him back to life. That’s what you’re going to do.”

And so I dove some more.

Nearly three hours after I slid down the slide, two fishermen brought their boat over and dove in near the diving board pier.

That’s where they found him.

In the deepest part of the lake.

Together, the fishermen brought him to the surface. Someone had called the ambulance. They took his body away, walking right in front of his grandmother.

After the ambulance left, we closed the lake. My uncle drove me home.

By the time we reached our house, I was much older than I had been that morning. Nobody was home, but my uncle had to go. I didn’t want to be inside or alone. I grabbed my basketball and headed to the driveway. Basketball was always there for me, but on that hot July afternoon, I just stood there looking from the goal to the street, basically hoping someone I knew would drive by.

And that’s what happened.

A classmate drove up on his brand new motorcycle. I told him about the afternoon. My friend said that he and his dad and another classmate were going bowling that night. Did I want to go? My friend went and got his dad. I wrote my parents a note and went bowling in his dad’s beige car. Somehow that recognition of friends making sure I was OK got me through.

And that’s all I could focus on at the time — getting through.

All these years later, I think of that 11-year-old boy, his grandmother and his sister. I wonder if he had been a good student. I wonder what his classmates said that fall when his desk was empty. I wonder if his grandmother blamed herself. I wonder how his little sister made it through and how deeply that day scarred her.

That whole day runs like a movie in my head. I remember it well.

I just don’t remember his name.

A man and his truck

Ten years ago, my husband fulfilled his lifelong dream of owning an old truck.

His prize wasn’t quite as old as he would have liked, but it suited the purpose and pocketbook just fine. It was a 1986 GMC Sierra stepside longbed with running lights.

He says he bought it for its aesthetics.

“I like the look of old trucks,” he said. “You ask anybody who sees the truck and they’ll guess it’s at least 10 years older than it really is. Even when I saw it, I thought it was older than it was. …The thing that impressed me the most the first time I got in the truck, I looked down and saw the clock. It working and the time was right.”

And we’re not talking about one of those fancy digital clocks. Right there in the middle of the dashboard is a rather large analog clock. One day around 4:17 at some point in the last ten years, the old faithful clock stopped working, but the truck rides on.

Now.

Gentle reader, please understand that this truck is not, with an emphasis on the not, a showpiece. Instead, it’s a slightly banged-up-original-paint-job-old-truck. My husband has added the region’s requisite upside-down Delcambre Reeboks between the cab and the bed — and some fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror.

Yet, through the years, every time one of our “dependable” vehicles has broken down or had problems, it’s the old white truck that we count on.

Truth be told, we don’t drive it often. Most of time the truck sits near the back of our yard, watching boats head down the Vermilion. Compared to the tiny car I typically drive, the truck is such a large ride that I feel like I’m in a parade and should consider tossing beads to the folks along the roadside when I’m in it.

However, there’s one thing that happens almost every time we take the truck anywhere. It happens in the grocery store parking lot. It happens at busy intersections. It happens at church. It happens at school. It happens at football games.

Nearly every time we drive that truck somewhere, a man — usually one getting close to middle age — approaches us and says, “If you’re looking to sell that truck, let me know. I’m interested.”

We’ve never been looking to sell that truck, but there’s something about an old beat up pickup truck that must invite men of a certain character to feel that it’s their public service duty and responsibility to take a truck like that off of someone else’s hands.

I can see it in their eyes. There’s this strange sense of reverse Antique’s Roadshow — like they’re thinking, “These folks have no idea what they’ve got on their hands here. I’m the one who could properly appreciate this old truck and give it the home it deserves.”

For sure, it’s a truck that deserves a name.

The truck comes up in conversation more than you’d think, and when it does, my husband repeats the old saying about the only thing better than owning a truck is having a friend who owns a truck. In that spirit, at least nine friends have used it to move their belongings from one side of town to the other or for a few days while their car was in the shop.

“But that saying is not necessarily true,” my husband said. “A friend with a brand new, shiny truck may not let you borrow it to move your beds, bikes or books across town. However, I tell my friends that even if you have to haul a load of manure and barbed wire, I’ll still lend you my truck.”

Lucky for me, he’s a man as good as, maybe better than, his truck.