39. Thank You Notes

I’m sitting on the faded carpet floor of my terminal in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, every once in a while peering up at my phone charging on the crowded USB hub, surrounded by 20 somethings with their better, faster-charging phones. Hunched over so closely to the plugs, you almost wonder if they themselves aren’t plugged into the wall. I’m just making sure no one gets the bright idea of stealing my old phone and selling it on eBay for a buck or two.

 

I’ve spent the past three days with my parents here in my hometown, before leaving for Switzerland. I feel like I’m on tour again; this time it’s just me, telling tales of my near future abroad. 

     There were three main things I needed to do this weekend: eat as much of my home state’s food staples before heading back to Nashville as possible; meet with as many friends and family members as I could, including reuniting my high school band in the same room for the first time in ten years; and finally, going with my mom, sister, and other female family members to look for my Lausanne wedding dress. It would be a jam-packed weekend.

 

Firstly, my Texan food-themed scavenger hunt was a complete success. Upon arriving in my hometown, my parents and I stopped off at Mi Cocina to grab a quick Mexican lunch. I knew we were in for a big dinner, so I had 3 tostadas: queso, bean, and guacamole. At the restaurant on Friday night, a mostly open-air Tex-Mex hangout joint called Marty-B’s, I had two “Texas sized” brisket tacos wrapped in freshly-made flour tortillas with red salsa. They were about as good as you’re imagining they were.

     The next evening, we had a grilling extravaganza, featuring the greatest smoked ribs I have ever eaten, made lovingly by my sister’s brother-in-law: an Austrailian pit master with his own spice rub brand back in Perth. It’s called “Sugartitties”.

     The last morning featured a selfless drive by my dad to Rosa’s Cafe, for one final Texan breakfast burrito to store in my taste bank until I could make my own proper salsa in Switzerland. I’ll be recreating it the best I can for C, whose stomach I could hear rumbling all the way over in Europe when I described my weekend’s eatings. Sunday afternoon we went to Babe’s Chicken Shack, perhaps my favorite restaurant in all of the Lone Star state, for some fried chicken, mashed potatoes, thick white gravy, and buttermilk biscuits. All the right boxes were sufficiently checked.

 

Next, I was tasked to say as many “goodbyes” as I could stand to as many folks as possible. My mom, little did I know, was the secret matchmaker for all of the small final memories I was so longing to make with these longstanding presences in my life.

     On Friday night at Marty B’s, she had organized the meeting between my two closest male friends and first and only band mates, who made up my high school trio, and who I had toured with all across the Dallas metroplex and nearby cities over the course of five years. We hadn’t traded stories in nearly a decade, and to see them in the same room together brought on a deep warmth in the pit of my soul. These guys had showed up to practice, plugged in, and jammed with me for hours on end through sweltering summer nights, sometimes carrying amps and speakers up two flights of stairs, just to feel that rush of a chorus crashing down so perfectly, or that feeling of camaraderie owed to a three-part harmony so agonized over, yet knowingly done for the betterment of the song (and mostly to make me stop pestering them about it). We were a real deal band. Like the Stones or the Beatles, we cut our teeth young on the tough cookies of rock and roll. And now, a decade later and further down the paths we each had chosen, had coalesced as the same people we once were, like nothing had changed.

     My sister, while doing her due diligence as my guiding light, leading me by the hand through an otherwise overwhelming Saturday, had also organized a humongous, family-wide barbecue at her house on Saturday night. It was epic: her husband’s Austrailian family members were fortuitously in town, injecting their Aussie good will and overall charm into the Texan festivities. My sister had pooled all of her collective knowledge from TLC shows, Pinterest, and our childhood potlucks to create a seamless buffet table, a cheese plate for the sitting area, and a drink bar in the kitchen. I could see from her face that she was simultaneously in her element, and fighting back the feeling she was herding cats. She even found time to give me a tour of her house, and show off the kick butt new Forerunner she’d recently purchased. It felt a little like we were in a twilight zone episode: both of us had become our parents overnight, but neither recognized nor even cared about the change. 

     I hugged aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and kind Australians until I was the last one to leave. As I turned towards the door, I spontaneously burst out singing “La Vie En Rose” to my sister’s parents’-in-law after they mentioned Edith Piaf to me. They were very good sports about it, and gave me no indication that they thought I was nuts.

     The biggest surprise of the weekend had been meticulously planned by my mother, swearing family members to secrecy under penalty of death. Saturday morning we awoke, and got ready for what I thought would be a quiet brunch with my female family members, before looking together for a wedding dress. As we passed through my hometown and journeyed through the network of highways crisscrossed along the plains, my mom and I talked about children, and the future, as I gazed at the dramatically differing landscape from when I was a kid. About 40 minutes passed before we got out of the car in the beating morning sun in front of a tea room, located inside an Antique Mall.

“I’ve never been to a tea room! I’ve always wanted to go to one,” I said.

“Well, here we are!” Said my mom, pleasantly.

     I didn’t realize how fast she was walking ahead of me until I looked away, and then noticed I wasn’t following her anymore. Peering across the tea room, I saw a few long tables, completely empty, that I assumed were ours. No mom. Then I saw a somewhat hidden private room at the back of the restaurant, with a chalkboard propped up outside the door. When I got close enough to read it, my heart stopped.

LET’S CELEBRATE THE FUTURE MRS. C

Obviously, my soon-to-be married name was written on the board, but for the briefest of moments I considered that there was someone else there by that name. When I turned the corner, just to take a peek—

“SURPRISE!!”

     There before me was a sea of female cousins, aunts, two grandmothers, unofficial aunts, and childhood friends and church mates all gathered around me with smiling faces, wondering if my blank expression meant I was happy or upset. I teared up at the beauty of the occasion; I had been thrown a surprise wedding shower by my mom. I had absolutely no idea it was going to happen. I love surprises, and this one was a humdinger.

     I took my seat at the head of a long, T-shaped table, seated next to my dad’s mother on my left, my own mother on my right, and my sister to her right. We were served a sampler platter of brunch salads and fruit, followed by beautiful little tea cakes and bite-sized desserts. My mom had, unbeknownst to me, informed my entire childhood church of my departure and upcoming marriage, and they in turn had answered with stacks of cards and well-wishes.

     There was a time I thought I wouldn’t get married. A year, maybe two. I’ve never been one to watch bridal shows, and I’ve never been invited to a tea room with party favors, balloons and card trees to watch someone else open gifts labeled “Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue”. I’ve also never felt as lucky as I did in that moment. 

     On a nippy day this November, underneath a thick coat, I’ll wear a sapphire necklace, a new dress, my mom’s borrowed garter, and my great grandma’s handkerchief, tucked in my pocket or tied to my bouquet.

 

Last up, following my surprise shower, I was to venture out into the wild of a crowded Dallas shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon with the ladies of my family, and try on dresses.

     When we hit Dillard’s everyone scattered; I stayed closely behind my sister, nipping at her heels. In a few moments, white jumpsuits and knee-length dresses began to collect on my arm, as I inched ever closer to the fitting room. Having worn my largest underwear and bid adieu to my modesty long ago, I paid no mind to the ten plus women piled inside of my dressing room, the door flung open to any curious onlooker. A few contenders passed by with a few welcome oohs and aahs, and in the end I kept two on hold while we moved on to Nordstrom. When we got there, I looked at my mom and shook my head. “This place might be a bust,” I said. She and my aunts took their seats surrounding a large full-body mirror outside the dressing room with a raised platform in front of it. My sister followed me back to the dressing room, and just before we shut the door my mom’s best friend ran in and handed me a slick white dress on a hanger. My sister looked at it skeptically. I thanked my mom’s friend and began to try on the four dresses we had. My sister was the perfect attendant. Like I had seen the salesperson help her get into her dress when she was about to get married, my sister made sure the layers underneath the top one were unruffled, and my hair was the way I wanted it to be. She got on her knees and gingerly slipped my shoes on like Cinderella. When I finally shimmied on the sleek white number we both hadn’t thought much of on the hanger, we stopped and took a moment, staring up and down at the small changing room mirror. A exhaled a nervous smile. “I really like this one...I think I really like this one.”

     My little sister nodded, and went out of the room to introduce me to the family, just like on “Say Yes To The Dress”, a show I’ve only seen once or twice. As I watched her go, I couldn’t help but feel really close to her. There goes my sister—I’m so glad I’ve got someone to look out for me.

     I strode out, the dress falling perfectly around my torso and hips, cutting deftly around my chest and framing my shoulders. My family brightened and looked up at me with excited grins. No alterations; no changes. This was the dress for me.

 

————————

 

     I’m sitting in Sharon’s quiet living room now, taking stock of the names and addresses written on envelopes, waiting to be stuffed with my sincerest of thanks and mailed to their intended receivers. For the past two days I’ve done nothing but tune pianos and sleep. Just before leaving again for another weekend away, this time in Ohio, my goal has been to write to you, and mail my thanks to those who have made my life all the more enriched by reminding me of their love. Sometimes we assume too much about what people think of us, and preconceive our opinions about them based on who decide they are. Sometimes you may not think you matter that much to someone, based solely on how you fill in the spaces between each text, call, email, or face-to-face meeting. But there are times when people surprise you: just to make your life more special, more enjoyable, to show they love you. That’s what I mean when I say I like surprises.