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  • We made it as far as Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, at 1:00 a.m. this morning. We're carrying a heavy load, literally, and in more ways than one. We're pulling a two thousand load of family heirlooms dating back to the 1800's that include: the bed Dad was born in and Mom just about died in; another bed that was in Mom's family at least since she was a little girl and that I slept in when I came in to take care of her these past several months, and that I slept in a couple of the times I moved back home to get back on my feet in my earlier days; both of her dressers that, all I know is, I've known those dressers all my life as Mom's dressers; a secretary and a desk that Dad worked out all of the bills and kept track of all of the family items of importance, and that Mom continued trying to do the same at; another dresser, a bunch of old mirrors, and a whole pile of other stuff we took just to keep them in the family.

    I know what you're thinking. "Pete, that's just material stuff - you can't hang onto it - let it go - hang onto the love and the memories." And, I hear that. I do that. But, I also will hang onto the stuff, thank you very much. You gotta know this family. You gotta understand what this stuff means. Let me tell you a little bit about that.

    We just couldn't see any of this stuff going to a consignment shop, or to charitable donations - not this stuff. We donated a ton of stuff as it was. This stuff needed to stay in the family. Dad poured his sweat and love into each and every stick of furniture crammed front-to-back and floor-to-ceiling in this 6 x 12 enclosed U-Haul trailer, and by God, I'm not ready to let it go to the universe just yet. Just like Mom wasn't for all of those moves. There's no room for any of it back home in Virginia, but that's o.k. - we'll make room. All that stuff we picked up along the way, that has no long-term family memories, can go. This stuff stays.

    43 years ago, brothers Brian and Ken, Dad and I rescued a lot of this furniture from Grandma Bridgeman's old house on Stanton Avenue in Pittsburgh, when she finally moved out of it. Pissed my Godmother Aunt Fran the hell off, as she was counting on getting some cash for it to help with Grandma's care, but Dad just could not see it go. I've seen this furniture make the trip from Pittsburgh to Connecticut in 1972, from Connecticut to New Jersey in 1973, from New Jersey to Pawley's Island, South Carolina, in 2001, from Mom's Villa to her apartment at the lakes last year, and now I'm hauling it up the road, doing 50 mph max on a 70 mph highway, but to me, this is not a heavy load. I pull it with years of love leading my way, and I will keep the memories of the stories these precious pieces tell alive for as long as the blood of my father and mother pump through my veins.

    As we pulled in to the hotel in the wee hours of the morn, I realized in horror that I had left my laptop back in Debordieu. I was so intent on making sure I didn't forget Mom - I have the big brass Urn that contains her cremains, which I will be safe-keeping until we reunite her with Dad at his resting home in the Columburium at Arlington National Cemetery - that I must have forgot to put my laptop in my laptop bag. I'll have to give Stu a call this morning to ship it up to us. Stu's the "house chaplain".

    Yeah, my brother Chris has a house chaplain. Funny story.

    Chris and Cindy have never opened their house in Debordieu up to anyone, not even their own kids, when they are up north in Michigan. Just not something they were willing to do. Chris met Stu once in passing, then had dinner with him once. Stu is the new "teaching minister" at Chris and Cindy's little church community down here in Pawleys Island. There was just an instant connection between them, as each told the other their story of how they've gotten to this point in their respective life journeys.

    Stu was in the process of building his house down here, moving down from Pittsburgh, where he's lived all his life, and written a couple of books about. He was planning to rent a place in Pawleys for a few months while they finished building his house. Chris just, on the spur of the moment, offered up his place in Debordieu for Stu to stay at while he had his place built. He doesn't know why he did, the spirit just moved him to do this. Chris also offered his place for any of us who were coming in to care for Mom to stay at when we had a "shift change", i.e., when I was heading out and Jim was heading in, so I had stayed there a couple of times previously, and gotten to meet and know Stu when I did. He and I also had an immediate connection. Stu used to be the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers chaplain back in the 80's and early 90's. When brother Jim came in last week, and Chris introduced him to Stu, Jim, always quick with these kinds of things, looked at Chris and said, "Little brother, you've really come up in the world! Not only do you have this large, lovely mansion by the sea, I see you now also have your own "House Chaplain"! Stu will probably never shake this moniker for as long as he remains a friend to this family, which I suspect is going to be a long, long time.

    Chris asked Stu to do Mom's memorial service, and he did it beautifully. He worked with Chris and I to develop the whole service, and was spot-on in the conduct of his role in it. Stu, like it or not, is now and will forever be considered one of the family, as far as I'm concerned.

    He's just one of those people who show up at the right time. Talking with him after I'd spent a couple weeks with Mom, and working with him on her service, was just such a pleasure, and such a comfort. There is no question in my mind that he was sent by the universe to be here to help us through this time. Maybe Dad had something to do with it - who knows? All I know is, I'm glad he showed up. Now, I need to press him into service again. "Hey, Stu - can you ship my laptop up to me?" I'm sure he won't mind. Hey - at least I didn't forget Mom. I had my priorities in order! It would have been a heck of a lot more awkward to have to call Stu to say, "Hey, Stu - mind shipping Mom up to us?" Yeah, I'd say the laptop was the right thing to leave behind, if I were going to leave anything.
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