Before we could fully process that event and what it meant to our lives, Newton Jr. (Dad to me and my siblings as well as Gaffer to 20 grandkids) was diagnosed with lung cancer, and Newton the Third (aka Sonny) moved into Grandpa’s house with his two kids. In August when my daughters and I visited Missouri for Crawford camp, Dad lamented that he would not live long enough to farm, and he gave each grandchild a coin from his childhood collection that had just been returned to him. Soon after, he received his treatment options and chose hospice.
Aunt Clarice, the reigning matriarch from Mom’s side of the family, the Cunningham Clan, had passed away the previous fall, and Mom traveled with her two brothers to help settle the estate in the fall of 2014. I remember Uncle David distressingly recounting that the three of them were all that was left now of the family in their generation.
Last fall, Laina and I packed up our three-bedroom condo, selling or donating much of the furniture, and drove to the Missouri farm to be with family. For a semester, we moved into the upstairs of the farmhouse where I grew up, and Lexi flew in for the holidays. After enjoying an emotional and action-packed Christmas with the family, what we knew would be our last one with Dad, I drove Dad’s Cadillac to Kansas City so that Lexi and Laina could see their dad’s family for a few days. We spent New Year’s Eve/Lexi’s 20th birthday with their grandparents during the day and then with Uncle David and Brittany that night, ringing in the new year with family.
We stopped by Brittany’s house on the way back to the farm but had to cut the visit short when Dad’s condition began to deteriorate more rapidly. I pulled an all-nighter, driving back late that evening, arriving first thing on the morning of January third. I knew he was seriously ill; however, I couldn’t comprehend a world without him in it. Regardless, we had to say our final goodbyes, and by the next morning, Dad was gone.
The first part of the year, we spent attempting to adjust to our new world, a place without Dad. An arduous task.
I’ll never forget April 28th and the phone call that changed everything, again. Uncle David died suddenly, and we were left to pick up the pieces, again. So within the first four pernicious months of 2015, we attended two funerals and lost two important men in our family. Since then, Mom has moved into another place on the farm, and our childhood home is now Ben’s house. Uncle Bob moved into Uncle David’s house, and the Cunningham farm where we made apple butter for over ten years is now cousin Robert’s home.
So, what has everyone been up to in the midst of dealing with the aftermath of our personal family earthquake?
After enjoying the severe winter and lovely spring of the Ozarks (not to mention the family birthdays and events, Bado church services, Stars Foundation theater and ballet performances, and numerous Spades tournaments), I moved back to the eastern coast of Florida where I had classes lined up to teach and where Laina could finish high school with her friends. We moved into a two-bedroom condo near her school, and I went back to taking as many classes as possible to make ends meet. Cost of living has gone up, so I am teaching even more classes (seven per semester if I can get them). I also applied for and even interviewed for jobs, though so far nothing has emanated. This fall, I joined a GreifShare group at our local church in order to have support through this difficult time. That and writing these blog entries (I still haven’t been able to start journaling again…maybe next year) and conversations with friends and family and weekly phone calls with my cousin Alyssa have helped me as I process everything.
Lexi graduated from AMDA performing arts school in February, and after staying to audition in New York for another month, she moved to Orlando, Florida where she began coaching gymnastics at Metro Gym and went to numerous auditions. In August, she attended the Rockettes Summer Intensive in NYC and then quit her job as a coach, moved back home, and signed up for classes at Eastern Florida where she will finish her AA in a year and graduate in the honors program. She also started teaching dance classes at a local studio. College classes, dance classes, and auditions keep her busy, and on top of all of that, she started working at Chili’s as a hostess during the weekends.
Laina is a junior at Viera High School where she and one of her best friends volunteers as a student assistant for the football team. She attended every practice and every game, standing on the sidelines with the football team, handing them water and other needed supplies. This year, VHS varsity football made it to the state championship, coming in second in their division. Laina is an honor student, taking advanced classes like Honors Pre-cal, Honors Economics/Government, Honors English, and Physics. She is also on a local competitive cheer team, so she has practices during the evenings.
Brittany continues thriving in her job and community where she is not only the school counselor but also the girls’ softball coach, Junior class sponsor, and NHS advisor. Sean is playing saxophone in the band and playing basketball. He has a pet snake named Rusty and a sheltie named Chap. Mark holds everything together and was the tootsie roll drive chairperson who helped double the amount made in previous years.
Sonny still lives with his family on the farm, working with Sam and Dan at Walmart warehouse. A straight-A student, Carly is a sophomore in high school and was crowned Houston High Homecoming Queen this fall in between her active schedule at school in band, choir, student council, and sports (a pitcher on the softball team and a point guard on the basketball team). She had her sweet 16 birthday, got her driver’s license, and recently started waitressing at a local diner. Little Sonny played 7th grade football and spends his free time plotting pranks.
Amanda has been working with Palen for four years and enjoys traveling and working with many different area band programs. Tom is in his fourth year of teaching at Ozark, and the band had a very successful marching season this year. Brett is now 12 years old and active in piano, trombone, and swimming. Brett, a musical prodigy following in Gaffer’s footsteps, has performed several outstanding piano recitals. Cale is seven years old and active in swimming and baseball. Brett and Cale are unique rapscallions. In fact, Tom posted once about how anyone considering having children could borrow their boys for a day of clothing shopping to cure that desire!
Sarah has had a tumultuous year in and out of the hospital and rehabs; however, the experiences have helped, and she has turned her life around. As always, she is a hard worker who is always helping those around with various projects. Malachi graduated from Houston High School with his high school sweetheart Chelsea. Aidan started his freshman year at Houston High and played on the football team.
Jill and Adam left Rolla to move onto the family farm, digging a well and settling in to their new home. Jill continues waitressing and began working with Mom as an enumerator for Missouri Agriculture Statistics (which means driving all over the Ozarks and interviewing farmers). Also, Jill entered the Labrada Lean Body Challenge, a national contest that included Canada with thousands of entries, and she won first in her age group. She continues working out and is studying for her personal trainer certification and inspires us all along the way. Adam is taking classes towards his degree and working at UPS. Their family adopted Uncle David’s small terrier mix, Lucky, in May, and a small tabby kitten, Gracie, who showed up on their doorsteps this fall. Owen is homeschooling and excelled in basketball while Jax started preschool and his first year of soccer and basketball. Mia is a force to be reckoned with.
All of Sam and Serena’s kids are excelling in school and getting great reviews from their teachers who even mentioned how exciting it was to have “intelligent” Crawfords in their classes. Katch, another musical prodigy following in Gaffer’s footsteps, is a middle schooler who is playing the trombone in the high school band. He has taught himself songs on the piano and is interested in the guitar. Coached by his uncle and dad, the defensive coach, Kayden finished football with a super bowl win while Isis started school and played her first round of basketball, showing off her dribbling skills. Kane and Owen played on the same basketball team, making a great combo and shooting most of the baskets for the team. Sam and Serena are using the house plans created by Uncle David, and their addition will include six more rooms and a garage. Serena also runs a highly successful business of cake toppers out of their home, and at work, Sam became the first worker to throw a million cases and earned a photoshoot that had him and his brothers running for the hills.
Ben farms, raises rabbits and beef cattle, and is a supervisor at the Houston Walmart while Christin works at a daycare and volunteers at church, working with the 4-H Clover Kids. Cadence is a straight A student who plays piano and basketball, and the twins played soccer and basketball. Ember started preschool and has aspirations to be the next Dolly Parton, Granny says.
Dan recently left Walmart and is in the process of embarking on a new career and a new life with his girlfriend Lynn and her daughter Hailey.
Martin took a break from welding except for projects around the farm and spends his time playing videos and various sports as well as tormenting his nieces and nephews.
If I continued to tell you all of the activities and accomplishments of this prolific and precocious family, it would fill pages. Just this week, Mom told me a story about how someone remarked that there were sure a lot of kids in the Christmas play at Bado Church this year. Mom soon realized that out of the 31 kids participating, 15 of them were her grandchildren!
Thus, in the midst of a painful and challenging year and although we have a litany of protests regarding so many changes, we continue in the vein of those we’ve lost as we use our creativity and intelligence in productive ways.
This year brings a whole new world to our family and our holiday celebrations; as Greifshare recommends, we have to find a “new normal” now. We don’t know what that looks like yet, and the process is extremely challenging; however, we will do our best and carry forward. That means we will start some new traditions while continuing others. Regardless, we know we are blessed. We have our memories, and we have each other. We stand on the solid foundation of a strong legacy left by Grandpa Crawford, Dad, Uncle David and others that we lost and remember (like our great-grandparents Iva, Brick, and Joe, Myrtle and Claude, Homer and Bessie, Grandpa Bruce, Grandma Bonnie, Grandma Juanita and the generations before them). And, we are grateful for Grandma Helen’s continued role in the family. We stand on the solid foundation of our land and our faith and all of the gifts God has provided. Gifts like family, intelligence, creativity, strength, beauty, and love. Gifts like land, talents, work-ethic, farming, and knowledge. We cherish these and vow to use what we have been given to bless others. Legacy, tradition, and family, not money or material possessions. Family, tradition, and legacy, we embrace these during this season and in the New Year to come.
PS: No words were harmed in the writing of this letter. I wrote this in the time-honored tradition of Dad and his voracious use of large vocabulary words (at least I did my best!). Should you not know the meaning of a word I’ve used here, in the words of Dad, “Look it up in the dictionary.”
Blessings to you and yours this holiday season. We wish you laughter, love, tradition, fun, peace, and joy. Most of all, we wish you time together with those you love.
Written in loving memory of Dad and Uncle David.