For Mack, It Was ALWAYS Sunny

When Mack departed for Spain, she placed for safe keeping a pair of enormous pink sunglasses on the lime green bookcase just inside the door of her bedroom in St. Louis. These shades had been a favorite pair since middle school, but Mack determined that they lacked “dignity.” The lenses were square-ish and over-sized, and the frames were made of crappy, lightweight plastic. “I think I may have gotten these cheapos from the Dollar Tree after school in, like, eighth grade,” she said, as we were organizing her belongings to fit into the large purple suitcase that would transport her stuff on her adventure abroad. “I’m gonna take my classy shades, instead,” she giggled. “These baby’s here were like seven bucks!” “I’ll be lookin’ like a phosisticated ‘merican with these, don’t you think?” Mack then modeled a pair of green and brown, tortoise-shell shades with the attitude of a pop diva, and then she flipped them carelessly into her carry-on bag.

I left those pink sunglasses where Mack had left them until about a month ago, when I was organizing the bedroom to host Savannah. When I started to move them from the shelf to a nook on the desk across the room, I inspected them for some time. I could picture those silly sunglasses taking up Mack’s entire freckled face, and I remembered how much these and so many other pairs of cheap sunglasses were a part of her outward appearance and personality. From the time she was just a little bitty kiddo, she was always sporting a crazy pair of “stunna shades,” as she called them. As I stood there holding those awful pink sunglasses and daydreaming about my smiley girl wearing them, it occurred to me that not only had sunglasses been Mack’s signature accessory, but sunglasses were also a fitting metaphor for her sunny disposition as well. Mack wore her crazy and cheap collection of sunglasses rain or shine, indoors and outdoors. Although I had never really noticed it before, I realize now that sunglasses were an important prop for her. They portrayed her inner light and happiness as much as they shielded her sweet brown eyes from the sun.

Thinking about those sunglasses in Mack’s room that day, I determined to write about her fabulous self and her fabulous shades. Before sitting down to write, I went looking for accompanying photographs. I quickly found such a plethora of perfect photos, humorously illustrating Mack and her favorite accessory, that I decided a photo essay was the perfect approach. The following photographs do far better justice than I can do with words, so I will let my Macko do the “talking” for this one. Through the pictures she posed for behind various and wonderful pairs of her beloved shades, I think you will quickly see, that for Mack, it was always sunny!

I think these ridiculous pink and perfectly round shades were Mack’s first pair of sunglasses. For many months, she wore them everywhere…preschool, the bathtub, to bed, and to the cabin in Wisconsin. (And don’t ask me about that poncho; I have NO earthy idea!)…

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Yes, Mack really did ride her first bike in the house with her helmet AND her shades…

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Obviously, you have to be stunning in “stunna” shades during parades at minor league ball parks during celebrations for your summer basketball team…

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Shades were, apparently, necessary for the indoor high school graduation of her sister…

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Mack on the right and “sister” Maggie on the left were too cool for middle school…

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The picture here does not quite do justice to the wild shade of blue of this pair of shades but, clearly, Mack and Sierra were too cool for high school…

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Here is one pic in which Mack REALLY needed those shades, because she is with Savannah in sunny and hot Sevilla, Spain, during a family trip in 2011…

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Mack rocked the sunglasses all through college. The red shades (in the photo with “Yackie” aka Jackie) were freebies from a street music festival we attended in downtown St. Louis…

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And, finally…

The cheap “undignified” shades Mack left behind in St. Louis… 

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And the “classy” shades that traveled to Spain…

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Mack-Lazy Days

While growing up, Mack was an extremely active kid, and she sacrificed an enormous amount of her personal time and freedom participating in competitive sports. She enthusiastically and willingly made that sacrifice, but it made her a very practiced and determined lover of her infrequent lazy days. Mack took her limited free time very seriously. She redefined what it meant to relax, she took literally her declarations to “do nuttin,’” and she really did know how to let it all hang out. Mack earned her leisure time and, mostly, I was content to let her waste away much of her quiet down time. But it is absolutely true that sometimes the greatness of her sloth terrified me.

Let me paint a typical scene in Mack’s room on one of her famous Mack-lazy days: The curtains are drawn, and the room is dark. Mack is wearing baggy sweatpants (likely without underwear), and she is flat on her back on a bed crowded with clothes, her book bag, a sweaty basketball jersey, and maybe even a pair of her favorite cheap flip-flops. There is a dog stretched out next to her. On a pillow, which she is partly sharing with the dog, her head is propped up just enough so that she can chew and swallow without choking and can see the screen of her laptop, which sits across her pelvis. Warhead sour candies and Miss Vickie’s jalapeño chips or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are scattered about, and an open 32-oz bottle of blue Gatorade is balanced precariously at her waist. Her lips are blue, and there are crumbs on her face and her fingers. She is watching Fresh Prince of Bel Air, or Sponge Bob, or Parks and Recreation. She is chewing and chortling and texting with two or three friends. When I interrupt Mack’s blissful laziness to ask a question or to say hello, she answers with a belch or a grunt; and then she cheerfully shoos me out the door by waving her hand in my face.Mack eating chips

I was outwardly horrified by these Mack-lazy scenes that I witnessed so frequently over the years, but I secretly wished that I was capable of achieving such nirvana in my own life. For sure, Mack knew how to power lounge like nobody’s business. It was as if she was making up for all of the leisure time she sacrificed along the way. It was like she supposed that in order to be productive in life one also has to know what it feels like to accomplish absolutely nothing at all.

I think that excessive inertia (if that is even a thing), junk food eaten in bed, and mindless television was Mack’s not-so-secret recipe for refueling her soul on the lazy days so she could better face the busy days. Since Mack had way more busy days than lazy ones, I was content to let her practice her particular brand of recuperative medicine. And, who knows, maybe it was exactly those Mack-lazy days that made my girl ever content and ever cheerful, so well-balanced and calm, always patient and sweet. Maybe if we each practiced a little of Mack’s crazy-lazy medicine, we could all be as easy and gentle as she was.

Ain’t I Sweet?

Mack had this face and pose she would frequently strike for photographs that always made me crazy…at first. She would cock her head slightly, open her mouth to reveal the top row of her beautiful teeth, and place her hand dramatically upon her chin. It was an irreverent face. It was a quintessential form of Mack satire. I knew this, of course, but every time she did it, I was exasperated. I would ask her if she was even capable of being serious for just one damn second. She rarely bothered to answer my question, and I don’t blame her. We both knew that the answer was NO! So we would proceed with this familiar routine: Mack would hold the pose, I would act annoyed, and then she would change my mood from annoyance to delight. She would say softly and sweetly, and sometimes with a little cluck of her tongue:  “Ain’t I sweet?” And then I would smile or laugh and snap the picture that she wanted.

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Mack just had a way about her. She could turn my frown upside down in .02 seconds flat. She had the power to make people smile, wash away their anger or frustration, and interject levity at the very moment someone began taking themselves way too seriously. It was a charming gift. Mack understood that she possessed this special magic; and she used it freely, casting it about with a magic wand. With her faces and her silly retorts, she was being goofy and using her unique brand of humor to chase negative moods out the window. Yet I think the humor was just the instrument of her real magic: the ability to make people in her presence happy. Mack was all kinds of funny, and making people laugh was a pleasure for her. But deep down in her heart and in her soul, Mack was more than funny. She was kind and good and all kinds of sweet, too.

What?!! All this for ME?

Raising Mack took a great deal of energy, because she was such a mischievous toddler and an active kid; and it took all of my organizational skills and gas money to transport her to practices and games for the nine different sports she played over the course of sixteen years. But in other ways, she was so, so easy. She was happy and silly on the outside, and she was tranquil and wise on the inside. She rarely sassed or grumbled and never felt sorry for herself. She would frequently with amusement report on the preteen and teenager drama of her classmates, but she never engaged in any of it herself. She was even-keeled, humble and sweet. For a child however, one of her most surprising and admirable traits was her gratitude. She was one of the most appreciative children I’ve ever known.

With the exception of frequently exercising her talents as a professional lobbyist for new pets, Mack never begged for material objects, especially items we could not afford. She never needed the most expensive bike, or jeans or golf clubs. She was never compelled to keep up with her peers in the accumulation of stuff. Mack was content and thankful for what she had, and she always felt a little guilty if we splurged for something like a quality catcher’s mitt or a pair of her favorite Nike sneakers that were not on sale. She adored a few precious objects—like Spot the little stuffed dog, her old-fashioned Nintendo games, her Buffy the Vampire box set, and a miniature “Dr. Who” Tardus made by the hand of a college friend. But mostly, material objects were of little importance to her.

Yet from a very young age, Mack was a gracious receiver of gifts. She would enthusiastically unwrap them, beam brightly and offer genuine enjoyment and thankfulness. At birthdays and at Christmas she always wanted to assure me that I had chosen the perfect gifts and had wrapped them beautifully. For her, receiving a gift was about making her gift giver happy. Underneath that silly, little kid persona, Mack was in that way a wise old soul. Her effusive acceptance of gifts always made me smile, and I admired this subtle quality in her. She always exhibited surprise and excitement upon opening a gift; and frequently she teased about being unworthy of such abundance.

When Mack was selecting a college, she fell in love with Oberlin, an extraordinary little school with an extraordinary sticker price. She visited twice, was recruited by the basketball coach, made her application and crossed her fingers and toes for enough scholarship money to make it work. The scholarship was significant, but insufficient. It absolutely broke my heart and it put a pretty good crack in hers as well, but she accepted it with grace. Of course, in the end, that disappointment mattered not to Mack. She found a suitable second choice, an equally quirky and special liberal arts environment at Truman State University in northern Missouri. She did not dwell on what was not to be, instead she focused on what she had in front of her. I pined for Oberlin far longer than she did. Not only did Mack move on quickly from the dream of Oberlin, she also appreciated that even the far more affordable Truman was expensive. When she went off to college in the fall of 2012, we put our family on a tight budget so as to fund most of the expense along the way and to avoid oppressive student loans. Mack accepted this plan with enthusiasm, and her discipline to make it work was admirable. She dutifully followed her budget and never once complained. She always waited too long to ask for additional funds, she felt guilty when necessity required her to ask for money and she always exhibited sincere appreciation for all she received.

At times, I find myself wishing that Mack had been more demanding. Wishing that I had showered her with more of the things she might have enjoyed but for which she was too kind to ask. Wishing that I could have afforded to send her to Oberlin. Wishing that I would have spoiled her way more rotten than I did since, as it turned out, I had so little time to indulge her. But Mack did not sit around wishing for things that were not possible. She did not dwell on the past or worry about the future. She did what we all need to try harder to do: to live in the moment and to be content with what we have immediately in our midst and easily within our grasp.

What an amazing and sage kid she was. I knew it then. I know it better now. For Mack, the glass was always half full, not half empty. For Mack, the sky was partly sunny, not partly cloudy. For Mack, life was not about the quality or quantity of your material possessions. I am pretty certain that Mack would say to me now that her twenty years were, in her words, “all good.” And I’m pretty certain Mack would tell me now she had all she ever needed. I am trying hard to keep this in mind, and I am trying even harder to believe it.

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A Mackenzie text from college…

asking for money