i can't believe evan is a senior. i really can't. although we met evan & his family when we all lived in tulsa, we've really had the chance to get to know him over our last six years in hot springs, after our families moved here together at roughly the same time. evan and his family were the first in hot springs to come over and oooh and aaah over our girls the moment we brought them home. actually, i think they might have been waiting in the driveway both times! they are not only good friends, but good neighbors - they live directly behind us. we've literally passed babies back and forth over our fence a few times! evan was in sixth grade when we all moved here. he and his little brother, drew, supplied everyone with constant comic relief - they were (and are) hilarious together. one night when we were still fairly new to this town, evan's dad and my husband went on a business trip. his mom, kelli, invited me to watch oklahoma play in a bowl game. believe it or not, not many people here in razorback country were having sooner watch parties, so we heated some queso, opened a bottle of wine, and made the best of it. if you know kelli, you know that she doesn't hear very well - a fact her boys sometimes took a little advantage of. i realized that night that evan and drew had grown quite comfortable around me, as sometime before half-time, they began having a.......um......well, a bodily noises contest - boy style. at one point, kelli was watching the game, unaware of the "contest". she glanced over to find evan and drew doubled over on the couch, laughing hysterically, and me on the chair fighting to keep my composure! she smiled and said, "i'm sure i don't even want to know, right?" i just nodded my head. later that year, kelli drove the boys and i to little rock. kelli's bad ear is her right one, so when she's driving, she really can't hear anything, especially anything that's happening in the back of the s.u.v. where the boys were. evan and drew, two elementary school kids, proceeded to repeat larry the cable guy's routine verbatim from the blue collar comedy tour. i must admit, their delivery was spot-on and they really had me rolling. kelli kept looking over at me and saying, "are they behaving??" then, "boys! what are you all saying!!? you'd better behave yourselves!" making them (and me) laugh even harder. at one point she said with a big grin, "sometimes i think it might be a good thing i can't hear them!". we all laughed at that!
the very next year when evan was in 7th grade, something happened that would stop the laughter for a while. evan was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type II. benign tumors had developed on each acoustic nerve in his brain. this condition was familiar to the greenwoods, as kelli had received the same diagnosis a couple of years before, eventually resulting in her loss of hearing. a year later, when evan was an 8th grader, it became time to remove one of his tumors. to say that evan was brave during the time surrounding his surgery would be quite an understatement. he, an eighth grader, underwent brain surgery, and he did not complain. after this procedure that left him deaf in his left ear and nearly blind in his right eye, he did not complain. he didn't feel sorry for himself, and he didn't ask, "why me?". instead, he was practicing on the putting green one week later. what a testament to this kid's strength of character!
four years later, evan's determination to succeed despite the odds has definitely paid off. he recently accepted an academic/athletic scholarship and has earned a spot on the harding university golf team! it's been a blast watching evan grow from that funny sixth grade kid into an outstanding, mature young man. i cannot wait to see what the future holds for him. the ladukes are so proud of you, evan! you are quite an inspiration to us all, and you can still make us laugh!
as i walked around downtown with the gulleys, i felt like i was working a hollywood casting call for a prime time family sitcom. gorgeous mom - check. handsome dad - check. cute-as-a-button big brother - check. darling little sister - check. they are a beautiful and fun family! i first met the gulleys when we were in the process of moving to hot springs. i had only visited this town once when we made the final decision to move here. it wasn't until we were officially here that i realized this town has no target, and i almost wanted to turn tail and RUN. i mean, more walmart stores than you can shake a stick at, but no target. then one day i saw a billboard ad for a really cool looking furniture store called de madera, and it provided a little glimmer of hope. (now, i am by no means whatsoever suggesting that de madara and target are similar in any way. but if you know me, you are aware of my long-term love affair with target, and i was really missing a fun place to shop.) anyway, the first time i walked into de madera my head started spinning. jessica and griff gulley sat smiling at the front desk of their store, surrounded by the coolest furniture collection ... ever! i thought, "okay, i think i'm going to LIKE hot springs!" and immediately wanted everything in there. everything. my husband and i, however, didn't see eye to eye on this. luckily he did agree to purchase a few items for our new hot springs home, and they continue to be my favorite pieces. not only do the gulleys have great taste in home decor, they also (obviously) create beautiful children! little griffin's rusty hair & mischievous grin are an irresistible combo, and his love for his little sis melts me! he delivers gentle kisses to her cheek when he thinks no one is looking. how cute is that? precious ella smiles ALL the time - what a happy baby! (and no wonder, with such a sweet big brother!) she was one of the easiest children of her age i've ever worked with. (no offense, ruthie.) thank you gulley family! the shoot was so fun, in spite of the ridiculous heat. thanks for hanging in there!
being around scarlett and georgia also made me thankful that i have girls, and that my girls will each know the joy of being a sister, and of having a sister. i was a bit of a tomboy growing up . okay, i was a HUGE tomboy growing up (refer to picture above). i had a fantastic childhood - i went hunting and fishing with my dad. i learned to shoot a gun at about the time i learned to ride a bike. i was first in line for tetherball & kickball on the playground. had a big brother and i wanted to be just like him. he taught me to throw a baseball and a football, and the biggest insult he could deliver was, "you just threw that like a girl!". growing up i always imagined that i'd have boys. it's not that i wanted boys instead of girls, it just seemed to fit in my plan. being a "boy mom" would have been easy for me - bring on the torn muddy jeans and slimy pet frogs. however, you know what they say about telling god your plans.
( i must have provided him with some serious comic relief over the years.) in november of 2005, the ring of the phone changed my vision of the future...and my life....forever. a sweet little voice on the other end of the line said, "shannon laduke?" "yes?" "my name is liz, i'm having a baby in december, and i want you to have her".... and the first thing that raced through my mind was.... HER? did she just say HER??? i'm going to have a GIRL? and after it sunk in, for some reason, it simply felt right. fast forward a few years, and we've been blessed with yet another precious baby girl. these days it's the land of tiaras & tutus, disney princesses & pink hairbows around here, and i'm loving every second. and i'm amazed daily as i watch my girls strengthen a bond that i'm convinced is unique to sisters.
speaking of a sisterly bond, scarlett & georgia have such a great one. and if you've met them, chances are you've heard their angelic singing voices. the first time i heard them, my family was on our boat on lake hamilton with some out-of-town friends. the gooch girls and their daddy rode up on a sea-doo and tied up to us. they hadn't been with us very long when their dad suggested a rendition of "sisters". i thought it was an impossible request, as they barely knew us at the time, and had never even met our friends. promptly proving me wrong, the girls hopped onto our swim-deck & belted out the lyrics, unabashed, accompanied by the motions. their incredible voices echoed throughout the ski cove. upon the grand finale, every single surrounding boat delivered resounding standing O's. scarlett and georgia simply grinned and bowed, and climbed together back into the boat. i know these two are destined for great things. they are such talented, fabulous, amazing kids. thank you, scarlett and georgia - you are always so much fun, and a perfect reminder to be thankful for girls, and sisters, and a little extra time!
i've had the honor of being a part of hot spring's junior auxiliary for a few years now. very generally, j.a. is an organization whose goal is to make garland county a better place for kids. one of the coolest events of the year is j.a. fun day, when 175 to 200 special education students attend an excitement-packed day at the may family's farm in malvern. the day begins with the boy scout's flag ceremony, and continues with horse back rides, a petting zoo, a fishing pond, tree swings, train rides, face painting & story telling with true native american flair.
one of my favorite moments is when the kids spill off the bright yellow buses in the morning sun, eyes and smiles wide, ready for a magical day. my friend harmony described her son's first fun day experience like this:
"My son, Shafer, is non-verbal and non-mobile and is in the second grade at First Step School. Spring 2008 was Shafer's first opportunity to attend JA Fun Day...
At JA Fun Day Shafer's class is treated to a fun filled day of activities and games geared toward them and their abilities. These kids, who all too often have to observe other children from the sidelines, are the center of attention and fully participatory in all the fun. It may sound simple to you, but for children with disablities, life is full of watching other kids enjoying themselves and participating in childhood activities.
JA Fun Day is a day that Shafer and his fellow students get to be "regular" kids, have a "regular" day and participate in "regular" activities - somthing that irregularly happens to kids like Shafer.
....For those that attend for the first time it is truly a day full of firsts. JA Fun Day 2008 was Shafer's first time to go fishing, first time to ride a horse, first time to take part in a relay race, and first time to ride in a kid-sized train! Most of all , JA Fun Day was the first day of nothing but fun for the children in attendence. You may never know how much this one day means for the participants, but I can tell you first hand that it is the most special day of the year for Shafer and his classmates."
Thanks for letting me borrow your words, Harm. No one could have said it better.