HLSR (Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo) BBQ Cook-off, missing Eric…

This has been a really challenging week for me.  Softball games, tournaments, golf lessons, teacher meetings, fixing broken cars, dance contest season…and so much more happening each day without sharing with my husband and kids father Eric.  Another Valentines has now passed without my love.  And now another BBQ season without him.  I’m not just missing Eric.  I am missing his entertaining stories of the crazies out at the BBQ.  I am missing memories of my kids spending time with their father out at the BBQ.  I’m missing dancing a slow dance with Eric in one of the big party tents.  I miss hearing him say let’s go out together Thursday night…just me and you.  I miss sharing these nights alone with my parents (double dating).  I miss standing with my Mom in a tent and him asking me, “Can I get you a diet coke or alcoholic drink?”  I miss him standing a few feet from me admirning my “cool” dance moves.  I miss people watching at the BBQ with him.  I miss laughing holding his hand walking down the aisles of the parties.  I miss all of that.  And more.  I miss especially knowing that after a late night volunteering shift, he would crawl into bed and curl up next to me.  I miss spooning with him.  I miss the smell of BBQ smoke all over him, his dirty socks and filthy jeans – needing to be washed after working all day setting up equipment at the BBQ.  I miss hearing my kids laughter at the stories their father would tell them of the antics going on out at the BBQ.  I miss my kids seeing their father as a volunteer “hero”.  I miss them looking up to him and knowing he would be coming home soon to eat dinner with us after spending the day working a BBQ equiptment shift.   All of these “missings” are just a drop in the bucket.  Only another week and month of traditions I have to get through…and find new memories and activities to fill our hearts and minds with.  But, in the end there exists a huge void.  I walk around like a lost little dog in the forest….wondering okay…so what do I do now.  When, all my mind wants to do is crater to the ground, cry and feel sorry for myself and my kids.  I want to scream and beg for him to come back and would do anything to smell his filthy dirty socks.

It seems each day presents a new reminder of Eric missing in my life, our lives – my kids lives.  It’s the start of Houston’s traditional Houston Livestock show and Rodeo Cook off.  I’m missing Eric’s presence and all the fun we shared during this week (and month of Rodeo).  The BBQ kicks off the big Rodeo celebrated in Houston every year.  Eric (my husband of 18 years) was a committee man for the HLSR BBQ Equiptment team. This year would have been his 20th year!  Wow.  Makes me so sad he is not here to be part of that.  Every year during this time there was a hustle and bustle going on in our house.  He had to take days off work to work around his volunteering schedule.  He would be missing from the dinner table several nights due to meetings where pre-committee stuff went on, picking up the new badge and shirt and apron, vest.  I will never forget when this all started.  The first year we were married, Eric had applied 2 years previously to be accepted on the BBQ equipment team.  Apparently getting on the team was one of these “who you know…” type of things.  He was pretty let down when he didn’t get accepted those first 2 years.  But, the year he did (finally!) get accepted he was so excited!  I was excited for him.  He was excited also because my father was on the same committee and it was just a fun event for him to volunteer with other men and women that enjoyed serving the community.  My father was a bit of a shoe in the door for him and that part made my Dad proud.  It was also the same year we had our first born child, Lexie.  She was not even a month old when he headed out on a Saturday to “paint” the parking lot.  There was so much preparation in setting up the parking lot…all the big tents, heaters, fans, lighting…on and on!  It was a lot of laborious work.  I remember that first year he served like yesterday.  One because I was home alone with our first born.  I had feelings of loneliness, sadness and missing out on the fun he was having out at the BBQ.  He would come in very late some nights during this week.  5 am tear down and midnight shifts until all parties left the parking lot.  But, my husband was amazing…because he always wanted me to be a part of it.  He sensed my lonliness, and suggested we get a sitter to watch Lexie.  He was going to take me into the best tents on one of the nights he was working.  And so I was hesitant leaving Lexie alone not even a month old!  But, my Mom volunteered and kept her for that night.  Eric rode me around in the golf carts (only the BBQ committee men could access them), he took me into the “best of the best” tents and parties.  We would eat the most delicious BBQ, rib eye steak, baked potatoes and casseroles.  We would drink wine and really anything our heart desired.  It was always a fun night together.  Here is a picture of us one of those nights, I love this picture because it reminds me of how much I love (and miss) his face touching mine…

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Maybe it was just me, but I always felt like a trophy wife on those nights.  Like everyone he introduced me to…and he wanted me to meet everyone he had talked about…he made sure I met them.  And they would always say, “we are so glad to finally meet the woman your husband talks non stop about…”  I always felt so special.  He toured me around to the best parties, the biggest bbq pits and made sure to find anyway to get me into any tent I was even curious about.  Well, the fun didn’t end there!  Every Saturday during the day during BBQ cook off was “Kids day”.  No adult stuff going on…just hot dogs, burgers, mechanical bull riding, clowns and face painting.  So, Eric always made sure we planned to bring the entire family out on Saturdays to enjoy all of this with his kids.  The kids loved it.  Looked forward to the fun every year.  It wasn’t until they got a little older they realized most of the perks they were taking advantage of – was not for everyone or just anyone.  They finally realized the special thing their Dad was doing…volunteeirng.  And it was because he volunteered we could all enjoy this fun event as a family.  I think when they were little and realized this they thought their Dad was a little like God…Really high ranking…because to them the memories and fun they had was just out of this world.  They loved walking around seeing all the food, BBQ pits…treats and they also felt special to be a part of it.  Here’s a really cute picture when the kids were tiny.  They were soooo little.  But, such a fun day.  Eric was a proud Dad and I felt like a special wife to share all of this with him.

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One recent year, Kailie (our middle child) was taking photography.  Eric mentioned to her she should bring her camera to try to capture some great photos for a contest she had entered outside of school.  So, she brought along her camera.  And she captured the most amazing picture of a full pig on a smoker.  It sounds really crazy!  But, it was just one of those amazing moments…amazing memories.  I’ll never forget she was trying to get a good view of the pig….her father said “Kailie lift the lid of the smoker….” and she responded “But, Dad I can’t we will get in trouble….” and he replied “No you won’t these guys will probably open it for you – I set their heaters up, let’s ask.”  And she asked and when they saw Eric they asked her not only if she wanted the lid opened for her, but also if she wanted to try some of the pork.  She stared at Eric….and he looked at her with only these eyes Eric could make (as if to say, what are you thinking – of course we want pork!).  And so after she took this amazing picture we sat and enjoyed fresh smoked pork at a picnic table on a beautiful Saturday afternoon – family day.  It was a really fun day, the kids were laughing the entire time that their Dad was able to get them fresh pig off a big bbq pit.  I was feeling special, special that my husband was part of something bigger than himself.  I felt honored to be with a man who gave his free time (which he had little of those days) to do so much laborious volunteer work…for a great cause.   So, today as I sit here, alone….on Saturday “Family day at the BBQ”.  I feel a huge hole in my heart.  It’s a hole that I’m not sure will ever close up.  The memories we had were amazing and special and grand while Eric served as a committee man.  But, I feel sad and jealous that those days are over for us.  We no longer have a free special way in – to enjoy  fancy dinners out on the Adult nights….or enjoy the sights and smells and free entrances to the family fun on Saturday.  Instead we are here without Eric and there are a lot of tears.  Empty memories and a deep loneliness.  The excitement for my kids as far as being part of BBQ is gone.  There BBQ “God” is gone…and with that it does bring intense sadness that even with the best spoken words I can not describe the pain.  And my heart feels heavy wondering, how will I ever provide enough for my kids without their father as part role model.  Helping his daughter take a photo, try a new kind of food, fix a tire, change the oil…show his son how to shave, talk to him about whey his body is changing.  So many “missings” come with BBQ back in town…with HLSR back in full swing.  Eric’s missing presence brings full reminder of our loss.

Yet, as I reflect….I am grateful for the memories we did have and will always carry each one of them, all the dinners, dancing in fancy tents and face paintings and bull riding with my kids….and Eric.  I pray his modeling and opportunities with their father was enough.  I know it’s not.  It never will be.  But, my prayer is my kids and I find new opportunities that allow us to find acceptance with his missing presence.  He is always in my heart, always in my mind and follows me in my soul.  Forever grateful for the people that allowed my husband so many years of Volunteering for the HLSR BBQ.  As it provided our family with forever memories.  We were indeeed fortunate to have these amazing experiences together, once as a family of “5”.

Here’s Kailie’s the grand “Pig on the pit” photo.

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Eric’s quirky smile…captured by a good friend at one of his favorite tents.

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