Friday, October 19, 2012

Farewell to a friend.

Between classes, I got the news. Big Tex is gone.

My initial reaction? "Nooooo!" Then I saw the photos, the website slideshow that began with that familiar face, ended with an iron skeleton and had lots of flames in the middle.

And I was so very sad.

Oh, there are already plenty of good jokes ("The food's not the only thing 'fried' at this year's fair!" and "Big Tex was packin' heat!"), and yes, it's just a statue, a big ol' prop. But as an icon, Big Tex is so much more, and I'll miss him.

Since my college days, Big Tex has been our North Star, the focal point of 25+ Texas-ou gamedays. Those October Saturdays have always begun with breakfast at the Fletcher's corny dog stand in Tex's shadow. Just six days ago I posted this photo:

The caption: "Nothing like breakfast with an old friend."

And he was just that: a familiar face with a friendly (albeit slightly creepy) smile to welcome us back to the hallowed Fair Park. His jaunty wave and well-known "Howdy, folks" greeting signaled autumn as much as pumpkins and changing leaves.

Forget Reggie Jackson; Big Tex was the REAL Mr. October.

Of course, it didn't take long for me to associate today's loss with my mom. Gone for eight weeks now, my mother LOVED all things Texas, from historical places like San Jacinto and the Alamo to traditional icons like armadillos, cowboys and yes, Big Tex.

There are certain traveling rituals that we McCoys always observed, such as spotting the Tower and Capitol as we drove into Austin, looking for the Goodyear blimp in its hangar on our way to Houston, and walking straight to Big Tex when we visited the State Fair.

When I was a little girl, Mama and Daddy made sure we used our Columbus Day holiday as a "fair day," making the two-hour drive from Tyler most years to watch the cow-milking demonstrations, grab samples in the Food and Fiber building, peruse the car show, see all the ribbon-winning arts and crafts. Saying howdy to Big Tex was a given.

Meeting up with my parents at TX-ou 1989
For ou weekends throughout my college years, I would drive from Austin to the fair and meet up with my folks, who had driven in from Tyler. Our meeting place was always Big Tex's left boot. (Everybody says they'll meet at Big Tex, so it was Mom's idea to be specific!)

Big Tex's legs showed up in many a photo!
Fair officials promise Tex will be back next year, and I know he can be rebuilt, but watching the footage of him burn was strangely painful. To play the shrink here, I can see that my sadness is yet another manifestation of my grief. Even though I know Big Tex's demise would've made Mom sad, I still wish I could talk to her about the fire, exchange a few "Did you see that?" moments. As we bemoaned Tex's loss, she would help me remember the times we shared near that left boot.

But most likely, the greater reason for my angst is the reminder that nothing is permanent, not even a giant cowboy who wears a 75-gallon hat.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


Wednesdays are still difficult.

Mom died on a Wednesday morning. On more than one occasion I've found myself swimming in a particularly deep sea of grief, wondering what brought on that particular fit of sadness. Then I realize: "Oh. It's WEDNESDAY."

But now that we're six Wednesdays removed from that dark day, I can tell I'm no longer marking the weeks. In fact, we noted the one-month mark the weekend before last. Besides a fleeting meltdown, the 22nd passed without too much fanfare. (It really helped that we were in Austin for our great niece's seventh birthday party that day. What joy she and her sisters bring us all!)

Just tonight I finally cleaned up my little "grief workstation" in our living room. Our corner table by the couch had become "Thank-You Note Central" over the last month. I had stacks of cards, the memory book from the funeral home, envelopes with return addresses I needed to keep, floral cards, you name it, all piled up. For the longest time, I just couldn't put any of it away, but lately, that stack was getting on my nerves. It felt good to finally bundle it all up and move it to my office, where it now sits atop financial papers and other funeral-related junk I don't want to deal with. Yet.

The waves still wash over me from time to time, in some cases every bit as intense, even if they're not as frequent.

Last Friday was our school's homecoming, and the mom of one of my former students was on campus for the big pep rally. It just so happens that Mary was my mom's nurse at the nursing home, and I had not seen her since Mom died. As soon as the pep rally was over, I walked across the gym floor to try to find her.

She found me first. After a big hug, she just said, "She's in a better place." I tried to convey my gratitude, my profound thanks for her kindness, the grace she showed Mom in those last months of her life. But all I could do was cry. Sweet Mary just hugged me, offering her condolences. Through my tears I had a hard time navigating past all the kids and parents and pom-poms and mums to get back to my classroom.

Another wave hit as we sat in church Sunday. The praise and worship songs often get me, as well as just sitting in our usual spot up front. (Mom sat up there with us for so long; I still half expect to see her scooting up the aisle with that walker of hers.) But this time the grief hit during communion time. When I saw that tray full of grape juice, I remembered the countless times I'd helped Mom disguise her barely touched cup. Mom HATED grape juice, so when the "fruit of the vine" was passed each Sunday morning, she would take the world's tiniest sip before returning her cup to the tray. Since no one would be able to tell she had drunk out of that cup, she would always put her cup inside of my empty one to spare her fellow worshippers from her germs! Even though Mom had not been to church for months when she died, now that she's really gone, her absence is palpable.

In spite of those all-out tearfests, I can tell my grief is morphing, that healing is happening. I can feel my strength returning, even though I'm most definitely still off-kilter. (I know, I know: Who could tell?) Now that it's been more than a month since our last encounter with dementia, I no longer flinch when the phone rings; a voicemail notification on my phone no longer instills panic. That's progress, too.

But even as I heal, three of my friends are facing crises of their own with THEIR mothers. One lost her mom today. Another moved her mom to hospice care this afternoon. A third is watching her mother fight for her life. Of course, I ache for them. They're my friends, and it's awful to see them in pain.

But THIS pain, this specific loss. Oh, man.

Because I've traveled this road so recently, I feel like I should be overflowing with words of wisdom, a verbal salve to soothe their pain. Instead, I don't know what to say at all, mostly because I know too well just how extensive that pain can be. I know that they have just boarded a roller coaster that will take them from joy for the one who has fought the good fight all the way to despair for the massive void that person has left here on earth.

Of course, it's not all grief all the time around here. School, work, football and band have kept us busy, thank goodness. I look forward to getting back to our regular blog programming soon, including the big vacation recap. (Next up: Magic Kingdom!) But for now, this space offers cheap therapy, and I'm certain to be venting here in the months to come, especially as the holidays approach.

To our loved ones: THANK YOU. Thanks for your prayers, your kindess, your grace. Please keep us in your prayers as we struggle to emerge from the depths. And please, please pray for my friends who find themselves facing their own "Wednesdays."