October 24, 1980 was the day he was born. I had been admitted to the hospital the previous evening due to severe nausea and susequent dehydration. My due date was the 27th, so like any mother nearing the end of her pregnancy, I was delighted at the possibility of an earlier arrival! But because I had been so sick for several days, I was very weak. Thankfully, my labor was short, and he was born just before midnight. Interestingly enough, since we called my mother shortly after his birth to let her know she had a new grandson, she insisted for the remainder of her life that Cullen was born on the 25th!
David was the big brother, 21 months older, and he welcomed Cullen into our home! They loved one another fiercely from the very start and were as thick as theives growing up! The differences in their personalities were readily apparent. David was forever the talker and the more outgoing of the two; Cullen was quieter, a thinker who was content to point and grunt, refusing even to walk until he was almost three, leaving us to interpret his needs and wants.
High school years accentuated those personality differences even more. When David got his driver’s license, I was delighted he could drive himself and Cullen to the high school every morning! Little did I know of the battles that would ensue every day over their departure time. The social butterfly wanted to leave at 6:45 while Cullen wanted to arrive no earlier than two minutes till eight! Mornings were less than optimal times for relationship building in our home!
Raising boys four boys was quite the adventure! For an only child like myself, it was pretty overwhelming at times! I mean you do question your parenting skills when at age four Cullen asked, “Are you sure you are raising us right?”
“Well, I am doing the very best I can; no one came with a printed instruction manual, so some things are just trial by fire,” I explained.
Since Cullen’s birthday was just prior to October 31st, David was anxiously anticipating dressing up and going from house to house to get candy on Halloween night. Having just gotten home from the hospital myself, I left Cullen with my mother while I took David to a few of our neighbor’s homes to trick or treat. I will never forget sweet Mrs. Mitchell saying, “Oh Susan, David is just precious….and when is your baby due?”
“Oh!” I said, “he was due on the 27th, but he was a few days early! He is at home with my mother.”
I am sure she wanted to crawl under the steps leading up to her porch! I learned that day NEVER to comment on any phase of a woman’s pregnancy…either past or present!
Cullen had to wait a couple of years before he could dress up on Halloween like his brother, but here is our little pirate!
Speaking of birthdays, we had some great birthday parties! We had one when Cullen had chickenpox! And since the show had to go on, we invited friends who’d either already had chickenpox or who had it simultaneously! Train cakes baked by me and decorated by Harold were the rage! On his thirty-second birthday, Madison wanted to have a surprise party for Cullen at our home. I was working full time, so I suggested we have it on Saturday. “But his birthday is on Wednesday!” she exclaimed. I thought to myself, “Yes, I know it is on Wednesday; I happened to be there at that blessed event!” And so Wednesday it was! We had a great time celebrating him and I am so thankful Madison suggested having a party. We had not done that in many years, and as it turned out, it was the last birthday we would ever celebrate with him.
Since I was able to stay at home with our boys, I did a lot of cross stiching, sewing, and smocking. They had a few matching outfits with cross-stiched initials. And they loved playing on their swingset in our backyard in Homewood!
Harold built a pretty elaborate treehouse for them in that backyard as well. One day, when they were still rather young, they somehow figured out a way to climb onto the roof of our house! No, I was not a negligent mother, but I had rather ingenious children! Once they got up there, the story I was told was since Cullen had on his Superman pajamas, David convinced him that he could jump from the roof to the nearest tree branch and then from there, climb into the tree house. With David cheering him on, Cullen jumped with outstretched arms and just missed the branch, landing flat on the front of his body and knocking the breath out of him! It was then that I heard screams in the backyard! Superman was not supposed to be unable to fly; he had his cape on and everything!
He ALWAYS loved his food! I think that is the reason he decided to be a chef. As a baby, when I fed him a bite of baby food, spinach, beets, carrots….he loved it all, he swallowed it and immediately placed his thumb in his mouth! As I filled the spoon and brought it to his mouth again, he took his thumb out with a florish and inhaled the next bite, always returning his thumb to his mouth! Eating was oh so terribly messy, but always so enjoyable for him!
Growing up, Cullen always liked to look neat, and put together. David, not so much. One of David’s teachers in elementary school asked, “Does David wear his shirt-tail out as an act of defiance, or does it just come untucked?”
“That’s an easy question.” I replied. “David is in constant motion; his shirt-tail simply comes untucked. On the other hand, if you notice Cullen’s being untucked, that clearly is defiance!” As they grew older, Cullen became the beatnik, and David became the neatnik!
Throughout their lives, our summer vacation was most often spent at the beach. We went to the Gulf coast often, but also frequented Hilton Head and Folly Beach on the Atlantic coast. They are vastly different beaches and each has features they loved. Cullen was an avid boogie board fan, and he enjoyed the Atlantic coast with the flat beach and hard packed sand. He also loved surfing!
He and David enjoyed the east coast very much, choosing to live and work in Charleston. During one of the major hurricanes to hit Charleston, I had been unable to reach Cullen for a number of days. While this was concerning, I thought perhaps there were outages due to no cell reception, etc. When I finally reached David, I asked if he knew where his brother was. His answer, “The last time I heard from him, he borrowed a wet suit and went surfing at Folly Beach!”
“WHAT? That is incredulous! Who in their right mind would do such a crazy thing?”
“My brother,” David replied. “Besides, during hurricanes is when you get the best waves!”
Yes, I am thankful for the 32 years Cullen was with us; the daredevil things he did stuck fear in this mother’s heart! There were angels working a lot of overtime protecting him from harm!
One year while we (the boys and I) were on the Gulf coast with out neighbor and her two girls, Cullen dressed up in one of Ali’s bathing suits, complete with tennis balls for “boobs.” It was a great picture; one I threatened to use as blackmail on several occasions!
One summer we went to a dude ranch, Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch in Parshall, Colorado. Philip was only six at the time and Harold and I decided to take him white water rafting on the Colorado River. On that particular trip, we knew we would not encounter any of the more difficult rapids, and Philip would enjoy the experience. However, because Cullen, David and Jesse had enjoyed other white water experiences in their lives, they donned wet suits, were driven a few miles up river from the ranch, and floated down the Colorado River. They were so cold by the time they made it back to the ranch, they fought over which two were going to be first to get into the two hot showers in our cabin. When we returned from our white water rafting trip about three o’clock that afternoon, all three of them were in the same bed with as much cover as they could find on top of them! They all said it was the coldest they have ever been in their entire lives!
Cullen loved to play the guitar! On “family night” at the ranch, he played and David and I sang a song I wrote about our dude ranch experience to a tune he knew on his guitar!
He had a serious side as well. When he sang in the Birmingham Boys Choir, there was a young man who had sustained a tragic sports accident which greatly affected his ability to do all the things the other boys could do. This young man’s mother often told me how kind Cullen was to her son; how he stayed behind the others to help him with tasks he could no longer do, or which took him longer than it did the other boys. Cullen had a compassionate, tender heart.
Perhaps one of my favorite Cullen stories happened when he was about six years old. In 1986, we kept our first foster baby. One day, as I was changing his diaper, Cullen said, “What is wrong with his penis?”
“Nothing!” I said. “Why?”
“It doesn’t look like mine!”
“Oh, he is not circumcized, and you are!”
“What is that?”
“When you were a tiny baby, a doctor cut a little piece of skin that caused your penis to look different.”
“You mean you had that done to me!!!”
“Well, yes. We wanted all of our boys to look alike!”
“That must have hurt really bad!”
“Probably so, but it happened a long time ago, and you are all over that now!”
Somehow I knew this conversation was going to come up again when I least expected it. So I called Harold at work to alert him to the fact that Cullen and I had had this discussion. Call it a mother’s intuition if you like, but sure enough, that very afternoon, Cullen met Harold at the door and his eyes were as big as saucers.
“Daddy! Did you know that me and you, and David are all ORGANIZED, but Michael and momma ate NOT ORGANIZED?”
And I will always remember my darling husband’s answer, “Cullen, honey, your momma is not organized in more ways than one!”
Circumcized and organized do have a similar sound!
So many memories, so many stories. On what would have been his 39th birthday, I chose to remember many of the times we shared. It has been six and a half years of doing life without him; in some ways it seems like an eternity, and in others, like yesterday. He is so missed and so loved today and always.