Dancing With Holidays Past

My father Roy Rotha Allen with his grandson Zach, Christmas 2012.

I remember the year our beloved nephew Zach played his classical guitar for us on Christmas. “Play one more song, Zach! That was beautiful!” And there was the time we gathered for our annual wacky family Christmas group photo and Kedi, the neighborhood cat that had adopted us, refused to stay in my husband Kurt’s arms, and we laughed till we cried.

This year I had plenty of time to consider Christmases past–and other family get-togethers–as I joined the many people who were sick for Christmas 2023 and missed the whole festive occasion.

Christmas 2013 with our passionate and somewhat crazy family: (Seated) our lovely niece Abby, Daddy, Mama, our nephew Zach, and his wonder dog Jack; (standing) my sister Lisa, her husband Rocky, our son Justin, my husband Kurt, and me.

I began feeling sick enough to call it that on Friday, December 23. At first I had hopes that I would recover in time for Christmas. I thought: Maybe it is just a cold, and I can mask up and wash my hands a lot and join the family get-together.

But it was not to be. My temperature shot to 101.3 during the night, and my doctor was kind enough to call in Tamiflu on Christmas Eve just before the pharmacy closed at 6:00 p.m. We assume it was the flu that came calling for Christmas–the unwanted visitor–since three at-home Covid tests thankfully came up negative. A few dear people I know where not so lucky in that regard.

This was the first time I have ever been sick at Christmas, so I am grateful for that. But it was hard not to feel sorry for myself, and the other people I know who have suffered with Covid and other respiratory infections this holiday season. And of course, this was the first Christmas without my dear sister Lisa who died in June of cancer. Lisa achieved so much in life and inspired so many people. The mystery of her passing confounds us. How could cancer overcome such a fighter? The holidays are not an unalloyed gladness for those with empty chairs around the table.

Instead of considering our family’s loss this year, I will share our family’s most exuberant celebrations over the last decade.

THANKSGIVING 2014

The string of Thanksgiving hilarity started in 2014 when our family attacked the turkey together and Daddy thoroughly enjoyed himself even though he had began to show some mental decline. In the turkey-takedown photo at left are: my husband Kurt, our son Justin (during his goatee period), my niece Abby (fetching as always), Daddy, Mama, my sister Lisa, her husband Rocky, our nephew Zach, and me. The turkey did not have a chance.

THANKSGIVING 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 we celebrated together at Daddy’s assisted living facility and had the main entry space to ourselves–piano and all. Our usual hijinks ensued.

Clockwise from top left: (Photo 1) Our son Justin (still with the goatee) was accompanied, physically not musically, by his fiancee Tracy who is an accomplished pianist. Daddy was the matchmaker who was an early cheerleader for the relationship and could not have been more delighted. (Photo 2) Mama is usually very reserved in photos, but she showed her playful side in the photo below. (Photo 3) I was a relentless photo bomber (someone had to do it) in this photo of our gorgeous niece Abby and Daddy, and (Photo 4) most of the family showed some attitude except for Mama who took a more relaxed approach.

THANKSGIVING 2016

Matchmaker Daddy was over the moon that his grandson Justin and the love of his life Tracy had married in the spring of 2016, and he was Justin’s best man. That Thanksgiving we gathered at Daddy’s rehab facility to celebrate the holiday and Tracy’s birthday.

Daddy had broken his hip a few weeks before Thanksgiving and the rehab facility was kind enough to allow us to gather in their cafeteria. The top three photos show Kurt’s efforts to take a photo of Daddy with his girls: Lisa and me. Kurt could not get Daddy’s attention which cracked us up–and eventually Daddy started laughing too. The group shot captures Daddy’s relationship with Kurt: total delight with each other! It was great to pull of such a fun occasion at a rehab center!

A few days after Thanksgiving, which was on November 24, Daddy died of a heart attack at his rehabilitation facility during his morning exercise workout. We were devastated, but there were so many reasons to find comfort after Daddy died: We all had such a lovely time together at Thanksgiving. Mama was at his side when he died. He did not have a long protracted death. He had some mental decline, but he still knew us and was very much himself even in his final days. For all these reasons, we celebrate that Daddy no longer was in pain, and he did not suffer.

CHRISTMAS 2013

On this Christmas nearly a decade ago, I made a scrapbook for Daddy filled with photos of his favorite musicians, along with a CD of his favorite music from the 1950s. Lisa and I had grown up listening to Daddy’s 45s, so we knew every word of his favorite tunes. One of those songs “Love Is Strange”, by Mickey & Sylvia, was also featured prominently in the movie “Dirty Dancing” which Lisa had watched repeatedly with her daughter Abby. So the three of us did an impromptu dance to “Love Is Strange”. Kurt caught the magic which is just one of the many advantages to having a photographer for a husband!

Love Is Strange

Love
Love is strange
Lot of people
Take it for a game
Once you get it
You never want to quit, no no
After you’ve had it
You’re in an awful fix

Many people
Don’t understand, no no
They think loving
Is money in the hand
Your sweet loving
Is better than a kiss
When you leave me
Sweet kisses I miss

Sylvia
Yes, Mickey
How do you call your lover boy
Come here, lover boy
And if he doesn’t answer
Oh lover boy
And if he still doesn’t answer
I simply say
Baby, oh baby
My sweet baby, you’re the one
Baby, oh baby
My sweet baby, you’re the one

Written in 1956. Songwriters: Ethel Smith (actually Bo Diddley using his then-
wife’s name)/ Mickey Baker / Sylvia Robinson

Yeah, Bay-bay, you’re the one!!!!

CHRISTMAS 2018

All the family, including Zach’s beautiful partner Paige, was in town for Christmas 2018 at our new (yet more than a century old) home in Old North Knoxville. This was the first Christmas gathering in our smaller home where photobombing had to be done on the stairs. I was definitely up to the challenge.

CHRISTMAS 2019

The yuletide celebration three years ago is significant because: Zach came in alone from Portland without Paige who stayed home to care for their adorable dogs Jack and Bear. He could only stay until December 21. We did not know it at that time, but due to the pandemic of Christmas 2020, Lisa’s illness during Christmas 2021, Christmas 2019 would be the last Christmas season we would be together as a family with Lisa.

Lisa was diagnosed with Stage 4 bone cancer in the fall of 2019, and she fought valiantly with full steam ahead through all that the local medical professionals offered her: radiation and chemo, needles and infusions, immunotherapy, and whatever the final treatment was that I have now forgotten. Lisa’s spirit was undaunted no matter whatever the news from the oncological battlefield that was her body. It was, after all, her body that gave out on June 19, 2022, but her spirit never did.

Lisa, me, and Zach, December 15, 2019, near Lisa’s home in the Island Home area of South Knoxville.

Can we get our heads around it? No. We never will. She is gone. She has a grave on one of the highest hills of South Knoxville, near where we grew up on Scarlett Court, a short walking distance away.

I see her stone there on the ground marking her resting place, but she is not there for me. She continues to dance, she continues to love, she continues to sing, she continues to smile, she continues to hug, she continues to inspire. There is not another. Lisa. She is still with us as long as we draw breath. We fought alongside her whether we were there for the infusions or not. Whether we saw the oncologists or the nurse practitioners, we were there with her in spirit. And she is with us now. We will not give her up.

Words, words, words. They are not enough. Visions of the past, we danced together. We found joy together. We shared sorrow. We laughed; we cried. We grew up in those houses together. We heard that music. We sang those duets. We joined our souls together, my beloved sister.

I had to give you up on that hill high above the land we walked together, but I see you still. Tears fill my eyes. I remember you. I see you. You are still here with me. And yet you are gone.

~ Anna – 12/30/2022

About aamontgomery

Seeing new possibilities in everyday things
This entry was posted in Autobiographical, Courage, Dance, Dementia, Family, Home, Love, Music, Tribute and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Dancing With Holidays Past

  1. dbb1957 says:

    “Words, words, words. They are never enough.” Indeed, they are not.

    I tried to post this on your actual website, but I am technologically challenged this last day of 2022! I hope you are feeling much better. Flu is bad, but I am glad it wasn’t Covid. Daniel & I both got Covid just before we were to leave Pasadena December 3 and my brother, John, ended up with house guests for an additional week. At least we got home before the crazy airline mess! I can tell you Covid is no joke. Ours were mild cases in many ways, but although I was pretty much over it in three weeks, it was five weeks before Daniel had multiple consecutive days of feeling decent.

    In this post I especially loved you, Lisa, and Abby dancing to “Love is Strange.” Daniel introduced me to that great song. How had I missed it all those years? I call out “Oh lover boy” regularly. It works!

    We loved your card, too. It shows Kurt’s and your talents and professionalism.

    May your new year be sweet with happiness and peace even in the grief over Lisa’s passing.

    Warmly, Dorothy

    >

    • aamontgomery says:

      Oh, Dorothy! Thank you so much for reading my blogpost and sharing your thoughts about it! I appreciate you so much! Writing this post, and remembering Lisa and Daddy, was a blessing but also hard. I cried a great deal near the end which is probably a good thing since I am not sure I have really allowed myself to properly grieve Lisa’s death. Kurt and I watched a series on TV the other night where one of the lines was, “Grief is love that has no place to go,” as Kurt quoted in his reply below. I suppose I need to grieve to give my love somewhere to go. But there does not ever seem to be enough time and strength to fully go there. Perhaps over time . . .

      I am so sorry to hear that you and Daniel had Covid! Wow! And you were so sick, which is not surprising, of course, because it is a hideous disease. But I know you took precautions and never underestimated this devastating virus, as many people do, so I am sorry that you went through it. I am happy to hear that you both made it, since many people do not. My flu has not been fun, but I know Covid would have been ten times worse.

      Thanks for your kind words about our Christmas card! It is amazing what can be done with an iPhone. I took the photo of Kurt on my phone, and he took the photo of Penny and me with his phone. Kurt has a new camera, so he will be busy trying it out more next year. We loved the card you sent with the photo taken by Jack! You guys look so happy, and we could not be happier for you! Love those boots you have on in the picture too! I hope you guys have a healthier 2023, with no more Covid scares!

      Gratefully,

      Anna

  2. Kurt Weiss says:

    I cried when I read this post. So joyful and sad at the same time. This post reminds me of the Simon and Garfunkel lyrics from Bookends:

    “Time it was
    And what a time it was
    It was a time of innocence
    A time of confidences

    Long ago, it must be
    I have a photograph
    Preserve your memories
    They’re all that’s left you ”

    I do believe that grief is love without a place to go. I miss Roy and Lisa very much. I share in their spirit when I revisit their photographs.

    • aamontgomery says:

      You cried when you read it, and I cried as I wrote this post! Daddy adored you, and Lisa thought of you as a brother. It is hard to know how to navigate the joys and sorrows of the past, but maybe we can find solace in all the laughter and love we shared with them. I do not know how to grieve the loss of their lives for THEM, nor do I know how to grieve their loss for those of us who loved them. I also miss the person I was in their presence, and the shared stories that stretch back to my first memories. I love the song “Bookends”; it is true that photographs preserve memories, but they preserve moments as well and people in them. I am thankful for your photos that bring Lisa and Daddy back to life! I love you!

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