Soft Spring Days

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“I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen.”  ~Anne Lamott

There is something so soft about a spring morning. It is a feeling unlike those felt in any other season. Renewal, hope, new beginnings, new life.

Soft sights of the colors of early flowers and new grass and trees putting on new leaves. The sun regains its warmth and brightness and brilliance.

Soft sounds of birds chirping, hummingbirds whirring, gentle breezes rustling the new leaves. Bees buzzing. An owl greeting the day with his haunting, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

Soft sensations when those gentle breezes touch bare arms and legs for the first time in months. Turning a pale face toward that soft spring sun and marveling in its warmth. Bare feet joyous at the feel of green grass.

Soft smells of earth newly turned by hopeful farmers and new mulch in the yard. The scent of lilacs and wisteria floating on those soft, warm breezes.

Feeling the heart rate slow. Smelling the smells. Experiencing the sensations. Taking in the sights. Fully appreciating the softness of spring. This is hope and happiness and thanksgiving.

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The Rollings Curse

 

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It’s my Mama’s fault. It is a Rollings family trait, in fact. Or maybe a Rollings curse.

I can not escape it, and it drives me crazy — especially given the fact that I married a midwestern farm boy who cares not one thing about maintaining ground that doesn’t make him money. And he is not Southern, therefore, he doesn’t care what people driving by think of him and his overgrown yards.

When I pull into my driveway and see grass that needs mowing or beds that need mulching or weeds that need pulling, it immediately puts me in a bad mood. And, to paraphrase one of my favorite “Steel Magnolias” quotes, I’ve been in a very bad mood for 20 years — since the day we bought and built on this almost-impossible-to-maintain land. Honestly, I’m ready to move to a condo. But that would be a whole new argument with the midwesterner who thinks he has to live in the middle of nowhere and have no neighbors within seeing distance.

A little over 20 years ago, we bought this old 20-acre farm/home place. It really is a beautiful spot out in the wilds of northern Orange County, North Carolina. But it has been a battle and a series of divorce threats since the day we moved here.

Three of the 20 acres are for the house, and the rest is for — stealing North Carolina writer Celia Rivenbark’s phrase — “Duh Hubby’s” business. Those three acres near the house need to be mowed and weeded and halfway taken care of by someone. And that someone is, for the most part, me.

I work long hours at my day job. I do freelance writing and a radio show as side gigs. I volunteer with an animal rescue. It’s hard to find time to keep up a perfect yard. Especially when said yard is surrounded by huge old oak trees that make growing real grass almost impossible, and given the fact that I have little help. But I am genetically wired to want nice yards.

Duh Hubby is not thusly wired in any way, shape or form. He won’t do anything that requires getting off or slowing down the mower. Honestly — he mows around fallen tree limbs. And don’t get me started about him thinking it’s OK to leave downed tree limbs in the yard to begin with!

I’ve hired help a few times, but when I do, that cheap-ass midwesterner I live with throws a fit because landscapers charge more than $30 to work all day in someone else’s yard. Don’t get me started on this subject, either.

Anyway, when I got home today — at about 5:30, with a thousand things on my mind and to-do list — I could not stand the way the place looked. So, I told the aforementioned midwesterner to go get the mower and gas it up for me. He will, usually, act as crew chief, but that’s about the extent of his lawn care efforts.

After mowing the highest and nearest-to-the-house grass, I pulled weeds and put down some mulch. All while the son-of-a …… man I married …. sat in the house watching Netflix.

The longer I worked, the angrier I got. At one point, I was yanking weeds by the handful, and calling said man every evil name I could think of. Also while cursing myself for being bullied into not using Roundup because everyone on social media says it kills the bees and we should all protect the bees. Lord knows, I don’t want to harm pollinators.

I did, though, as always, think about my Mama’s last days on this earth and both smile and feel sad at the same time. Today is April 10. Mama died on April 23, 2005. She had had lymphoma for some time, but was doing OK with it. Until she just had to work in her yards, and, at age 80, use the weed eater. She contracted bronchitis from the dust and what-not kicked up by the tool, and that caused the lymphoma to go crazy. While in the emergency room, the night before she died, a nurse asked Mama a few questions. At some point, Mama told the nurse she had been working in the yard and using the weed eater. The nurse shook her head and said, “My goodness, why in the world were you weed eating? That’s why God made Roundup!” I will always and forever remember that little exchange.

Even while smiling and getting teary-eyed over memories of Mama’s last hours, while also cursing and pulling weeds and wondering how in the world I’m going to live without Roundup today, I also blamed Mama — and her siblings — for making me so OCD. All eight of Bob and Annie Rollings’s young’uns believed having a nice yard and keeping the house clean were a must.

Many times, I heard, “You may not have much, but you can keep what you’ve got clean.” And, during my early 20s, when I was living in what had been my Pa-Bob’s house, I got busy and let the grass get a little high. My Uncle Furman — Mama’s oldest brother — visited just to say, “It’s looking right snaky around here.” So, of course, I got out and mowed the yards — working past dark to make sure things would look good the next morning when Furman rode by on his way to town. It’s a Rollings thing. It’s a curse.

I’m not sure how much longer I will be able to keep the massive mess around my house in check, but I do know I’ll try as long as, to quote Mama, “there’s a breath of life in me.” If I don’t divorce that midwesterner and move to a condo first, of course.

 

A Reminder to Get to Work

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It has been a while — a long while — since I posted on this blog. I started it to force myself to write for fun, but I have once again been remiss in that effort.

A Facebook friend reminded me today, though, that I need to write for fun, and for the entertainment of others. Her extremely kind words gave me incentive. She told me how much she enjoyed reading the last post on this blog — which was over a year ago! She also told me how she enjoyed my personal columns when I was at the newspaper.

I am constantly amazed that people remember things I wrote in The Courier-Times. It has been nearly eight years since I left the paper. To say it makes me feel good to know people remember my ramblings is an understatement. It is downright humbling, to be honest.

The lady who nudged me today is a good writer herself. She’s a few years older than me, and has some sweet, some salty, some always savory little nuggets of life and love and loss and wisdom and humor to share. I have told her a couple times that she’s a much better writer than she thinks, and I’ve encouraged her to write her life story — in her own way — so that the rest of us can enjoy it.

Ultimately, that is what it’s all about. Sharing your talent so that others can smile or shed a sweet tear or empathize or identify. Each of us has a talent for something. It may be drawing or painting or singing or dancing or writing or speaking or making jewelry or creating crafts. Or just the ability to tell a good joke or say the right words at the right time. Whatever it is, we need to make time to use that talent for the benefit of others and ourselves. We all need to do, on a regular basis, what feeds our souls. And if it helps others at the same time, that is a huge bonus.

Time on this earth is limited. At my age, I’m beginning to really realize how very limited our time is, and I am truly trying to make the most of the time I have left. I do that by pausing to marvel at a vivid sunset, and by listening to the birds sing on an early spring morning, and relishing every second I spend with the people I love, and reading or listening to good books every moment I can and just sitting outside in the sunshine or on the couch with my pooch snuggled beside me. And I do it by writing. But, I need to do it more by writing and sharing that talent with others. I’ve been reminded that I can do this, and my resolve has been rekindled.

So, I will thank Mrs. Prilmer Jane for nudging me to get back at it, and get to work.

Directionally Challenged

My friend and former editor, Neal Rattican, used to say, “Boatwright, things happen to you just so you can write about them.”

This morning, during a tortuous hour, I heard Neal’s voice. That usually helps me laugh at whatever situation I’m in, and begin “writing” the story in my head. Today, though, I was too flustered to think about anything except figuring out where I was and how to get somewhere else.

For a week, my ankle that was operated on in June has acted up. I was afraid I’d done something that would result in a lifetime of pain and instability or another surgery. (I’m pretty sure, faced with the two choices, I’d go with the pain.)

Anyway, on Monday, I contacted my surgeon’s office and asked to see him this week, instead of waiting until my next scheduled follow-up on February 21. I left a message after trying to navigate Duke’s never-ending cycle of, “if you’re about to die, hang up and call 911. If you think you might live, press this number, then call this one, then press this one……” By the time you get to the point of leaving a message, you could be dead — of old age.

After leaving the voicemail, I thought, “Eureka! I’ll also send a message via the online “Duke MyChart.” There was no call back, but I did get a message on MyChart a couple hours later, saying the surgeon would see me on Wednesday.

His office is off Page Road in Durham — about a 40 minute drive. The appointment was at 10 a.m. today. I left at 9.

OK, so I have no sense of direction. I can get lost in my own house. Honestly, I once got lost in the Dan Allen parking deck at NC State.

Anyway, to get to Page Road, I usually take Hwy. 501 to Durham, cross I-85, pass Northgate Mall, head toward the Durham Bulls’ park and the DPAC, then jump on the Durham Freeway to I-40. That’s the way I know and have gone for 30 years. But, my husband, who has GPS embedded in his brain, goes another way, and tells me I should do the same because it’s easier and faster. He continues on 501 toward New Hope, getting on the freeway near Hillsborough Street.

The freeway exit there is exquisitely confusing to me. It’s one of those 108-A,B,C things, and for some reason, I just can’t remember the correct one.

So, 99.5 percent of the time, I go in the wrong direction on the freeway. And it runs out really quickly going that way. And there’s no easy on-off-and-back-on.

Today, for some ungodly reason, I decided to go Paul’s way. Disaster ensued. After going almost back to Hillsborough, I turned around and took a road I don’t think I’ve ever been on. And ended up on the Duke University campus. Yes, I did. I’ve been on campus many times before, but not when it was 9:35 and I had an appointment across town at 10 and no idea how to get there.

Desperate, I asked my phone for help. My Siri is an Australian man. I love the accent.

When Siri offered a route, it was through twists and turns that would put me at the doctor’s office about 10:15, but I decided he knew best at the moment. When I got to a point where I was pretty sure I could take a turn Siri didn’t approve of, and get to the interstate sooner, I did.

Siri threw up his hands, and said I’d gone walkabout and was on my own.

All this time, I’d been frantically trying to reach the surgeon’s office. I did not want to lose this appointment. Of course, I got caught in the endless hell of the Duke phone system again. I finally chose “dial one if you’re a physician wishing to speak to our practice,” and got a real human.

When I heard that human speak, I lost it and told the poor woman I had no sense of direction, needed a Xanax but didn’t have one, felt bad about tricking the phone system so I could talk to a person, really wanted to keep this appointment and, and …… She was nice, but said she didn’t have a clue how to direct me in. She gave me — yup — another Duke number to call, promising it would connect me to my surgeon’s practice.

I pulled over in a church parking lot. It was now 9:57. Swallowing my sobs, I looked at the road names and dialed the number. And got a message to punch such and such number for such and such. I started hyperventilating and crying again, and frantically searched my purse for a random Xanax that might be hiding somewhere.

I sobbed into the phone. I’m not totally sure, but I think I mentioned having no sense of direction and really wanting to keep the appointment and needing to talk to a person and that I was going to do my best to get there before next Tuesday.

After deep breaths, I again asked Siri for help. He had forgiven me! In his lovely accent, he said go right, then 1.3 miles, then turn onto NC 55. I almost died of happiness on the spot. I knew that I knew — on my own — how to get to I-40 from 55.

Finally! I-40! It was 10:05. I calculated — barring a highway shut-down or Armageddon — I’d be at the office by 10:15 at the latest.

Reaching the check-in desk at 10:18, I explained breathlessly that I got lost, was late, tried to call, but kept getting voicemail, and hoped I could still see the doctor. The nice lady punched my name in her computer, and said, “We don’t have you down for today.”

All I could think to say was, “But it’s on my Duke MyChart! I’ll pull it up on my phone and show you.”

I was thinking, “Oh, hell no! I WILL see that surgeon. I’ll stage a sit-in and live in this office until I’m seen.”

Then my phone rang, and it was someone who’d heard my desperate voicemail. She told me to tell the lady behind the desk it was OK, and to check me in.

I sat for half an hour, then got X-rays, then waited another half hour, then saw a resident. Finally, about noon, I saw my surgeon, who is not exactly Mr. Personality.

And he pissed me off. Royally. The resident poked, prodded, looked at the X-rays, twisted my ankle back and forth, and did all the “push on my hand” stuff. The boy of about 12 then, very sweetly, told me it was probably arthritis in the joint, as a result of the many years the ligament had been messed up.

OK. Well. OK. I could handle that. Sort of.

And then the surgeon — who’s older than me — came in, poked, prodded, and said, “The ligament healed just fine. We get older. Things hurt. Walk three miles three times a week.”

I just looked at the sonofa … um…. man. I knew if I opened my mouth, my father would come out, and things would get ugly.

So I left, and went straight to Barnes & Noble, knowing that only a latte and books would help.

When I got home, feeling calmer after “therapy,” I checked my phone’s Health app, and saw that I’d already walked 1.2 miles. So, I donned sneakers and winced and huffed and puffed my way to 2.7 while listening to an audiobook.

Then, Chief, I came inside, grabbed an adult beverage, and wrote.

Wasted Some Valuable Reading Time

readingThe first week of 2018 is a wrap, and I’m feeling pretty good about myself. So far, despite being sick and the North Carolina weather being positively arctic, I’m doing OK on my goals of eating healthier and reading more. This blog post is keeping me true to writing twice a week.

 

This weekend, I finished reading one book and listening to another. The listen was torture. Pure torture. Even though the book was written by one of my former favorite authors.

For years, I loved Dorothea Benton Frank’s South Carolina Lowcountry novels. As someone said years ago, she could make her readers smell the salt and feel the ocean lapping at their feet. About five years ago, though, Dottie started losing it. And I stopped reading her books.

I just couldn’t handle the downward spiral of one of my literary heroines. I once had lunch with the woman, after all! And she was as funny and witty and snarky as the characters in her books.

But, her writing lost all that, and I decided to never read another of her books. It’s kind of like not going to the funeral home if the casket is open. I wanted to remember her at her best.

My baby sister, however, forced me to take another look at Dottie, with her latest book, Same Beach, Next Year. same beachI had heard it wasn’t the greatest, and decided I definitely didn’t want to risk reading it. But Patsy bought it, read it, could not believe how bad it was, and hounded me for months about reading it so we could talk about how bad it was. I kept putting her off. Then, a couple weeks before Christmas, Patsy’s eldest, my niece McKenzie, came to visit, and brought the dang book.

She handed it to me, and said, “Mom said for you to read this so y’all can talk about it.”

Still, I resisted. Patsy kept hounding me, and I kept telling her I didn’t want to do it. As usual, though, The Baby won, and I started reading the dang book.

It took me a while. I’d read a bit, then have to stop and try to pretend what I’d just read never happened. Then, knowing my sister would not give me peace until I finished it, I’d go back to the dad gum thing.

I finally downloaded the audio version from my library, and, while doing other things, listened. That was no easier than actually reading, but at least it allowed me to avoid feeling like I was completely wasting my time.

The book is about two couples. The male part of one couple and the female part of the other were a thing in their younger days. After marriage and kids and careers, the two and their spouses reconnect and begin sharing a beach house for a couple weeks each summer. After much meandering, the two spouses — named, of all things, Adam and Eve — who knew each other as youngsters innocently fall asleep on a couch together. Their respective husband and wife, of course, think there’s hanky panky going on, and both couples split up.

Adam’s wife even goes to Greece — her mother’s homeland — to sort things out. For a time, Eve begins acting like a little hussy and maybe chases Adam a bit. Or does she? The story goes one way one paragraph and a completely different way in the next paragraph, so it’s hard to tell what anyone’s doing.

What ensues is a mixed-up timeline and a series of back-and-forth questions about whether the offending spouses were really unfaithful, and just what constitutes being unfaithful and …. I’m sorry, I can’t even write about it without gagging.

The book is awful. Just awful. I will say this, though. After all this doubt and suspicion and even the wronged husband and wife bordering on having their own little fling in Greece, Adam suddenly needs a liver transplant. And guess who the only match is? Yes, Eve’s husband.

So, bam! Eve’s husband and Adam’s wife fly home from Greece together, so Eve’s husband can give Adam half his liver, and everyone makes up.

The book then flash-forwards, as it does several times, to a day when everyone is back at the beach and having a grand ole time.

It may sound like a halfway decent storyline, but trust me, it isn’t. It meanders and goes off course several times and gets ridiculous and is constantly cliche.

I love my Baby Sis, but I may never forgive her for this one. And I loved Dottie Frank, but this really is the last time I try reading one of her books.

 

 

New Year, New Goals (Not Resolutions!)

 

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Today is January 1, 2018. Wow. It seems like last week I was celebrating the beginning of 1975 and pawing the ground to graduate high school. In early 2017, I turned 60, and now celebrate waking up without too many aches and pains. I hope and pray that in this new year — not through resolutions — but through setting and working toward goals, I can alleviate some of those aches and pains, and prevent others. I also hope to be more faithful to this blog, and to my favorite hobbies — writing and reading.

2017 was a year of aches and pains. Just before the beginning of 2017, I first saw an orthopedic surgeon about an ankle that had bothered me for years. It got so bad, I was afraid to go down steps, and the offending joint gave way on me walking down one of the long hallways at Duke Cancer Center during a visit for my husband’s checkup. So, I decided it was best to have it looked at.

Several exams, x-rays, MRIs, steroid shots, a physical therapy consult, and two surgical opinions later, I decided there was nothing to do but have the surgery to repair a bad ligament. I was scheduled for the surgery in early January, but put it off because I was afraid the recovery period might interfere with my long-awaited trip to England, scheduled for last April.

My lifelong best friend and I spent a week in the Mother Country, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks to orthotics and an ankle brace — and Tylenol during the day and wine in the evening — I got through the trip and tons of walking without incident. And, in hindsight, I am eternally grateful that I didn’t have the surgery in January. The recovery has shown me I would have had to cancel the trip.

On June 6, the deed was done. And I awoke from surgery with no idea what the next few months would bring. For five weeks, I was in a hard cast. For the first three weeks, I could not put weight on the blasted foot.

“Toes above nose” was my surgeon’s attempt at post-op humor. He cautioned me to keep it elevated as much as possible to reduce swelling and the possibility of a blood clot.

My dignity was soon a distant memory. Scooting on your butt, trying to figure out how to get up and down steps; using a knee-scooter for mobility; sponge-bathing for a month; washing my hair in the sink while on the blasted knee-scooter; being completely and totally dependent upon another human being. It was a shock to my system, my psyche, and yes, my dignity.

Finally, after the cast and a so-called “walking boot,” which I never figured out how to walk in, I was able in late July to try my first steps without aid. The first time I  put weight on that foot, I thought I would pass out on the spot.

In August, I was able to wean myself from the scooter and begin slowly, painfully walking. In October, I felt brave and mobile enough to make a trip to Illinois to visit the grand babies. My husband left me far behind in the airport. When a nun in a wheelchair passed me at O’Hare, I knew I was the proverbial slowpoke.

But, over the past two months, things have steadily improved. There is still pain, and I’m still not setting any land speed records. But, when we visited the grand babies for Christmas, I navigated the airports pretty well. I can carefully do stairs now. Most days, there is just a twinge here and there if I move the wrong way or stay on my feet too long.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or petty. I know there are much worse things that can go wrong with the human body. 2017 has also been a year of cancer. For much of the year, my daughter-in-law’s father battled nasty, awful complications following bladder cancer surgery. He is still battling. My husband’s brother spent months fighting throat cancer, and is just now beginning to get a bit of his life back. One of my hometown icons died in December after a courageous fight against the monstrous C. And the list goes on.

Yes I know it could be much worse. And I am beyond grateful that it wasn’t, isn’t. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been maddening and aggravating and frustrating and painful, though.

My prayer is that 2018 will be better — for all of us who have suffered health problems lately. For those fighting cancer, I pray for strength and comfort and resilience, and support and, most of all, for healing and hope. For those who have lost loved ones to cancer or any other cause, I pray for comfort and strength, and sweet memories. For anyone who is battling an illness or injury or loss of any kind, I pray the same things.

I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions because I’ve never kept them, and I know few people who ever have. So, I’m not going to make resolutions for 2018. I am, however, going to try to do better on some things — mostly things that will improve my health and hopefully keep me mobile and feeling halfway decent longer in life.

I have already begun eating healthier. I want to — I need to — lose weight and get in better shape. Scooting around on my butt and trying to lift myself up off the floor taught me, Number One, that I am way too heavy. Number Two, it taught me that I have absolutely no upper body strength. And C of all, it taught me just how out of shape I am overall. I’m researching exercise, stretching, and strengthening for those of us who have reached a certain age and can no longer jump into Jazzercise on a whim and live through it. When the weather improves, I plan to buy and begin riding a bicycle. I loved that when I was a kid. The only thing that made me feel freer was riding a horse, but I know that’s probably not a good thing to try in my current, pitiful condition.

My absolute favorite things to do in life are both sedentary activities. I love to read and I love to write. And, I love to write about reading. But, thanks to audiobooks — both through Audible and (Praise the Lord and technology!) free library audiobooks — I can “read” while walking or riding a bike or doing stretches and other types of exercise.

Another of my goals for the year is to read at least a book a week. For the past few years, it has been more like one a month. With audiobooks, I’ve worked up to two most months — reading one and listening to one. But there are so many good books out there, and I’m not getting any younger.

So, I have gone around my elbow to get to my thumb here to say that I hope to use this blog as a way of sharing my triumphs and failures along the way. In regular, biweekly installments. Dear Readers, please feel free to hold me accountable!

I ended 2017 and began 2018 with a sinus infection. Luckily, I’ve been off work, so I had time to rest and try to take care of myself. And to read! I’m going to post a review of one book here, and hopefully post the next one in a few days. (I tried linking my Goodreads account to this blog, but couldn’t get it to work. Maybe becoming more tech-savvy should be another goal!)

I will leave it there for now, with wishes of good health, happiness, love, warmth, good books, good coffee, good wine . . . and an early summer with lots of cold beer.

 

 

All Souls Rise

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Agnes Stamper,  Valdese, South Carolina 1925 – 2017

 

Every time someone she knew died, Mama would say, “All souls rise when there’s a death.”

For years, as a child and young teen, I took it literally, and thought that, whenever someone died, the souls of all those who had gone before rose to greet the latest to join their ranks.

I imagined the sky full of wispy souls floating toward the heavens, holding out their hands to guide the newly departed to his or her final reward. And, of course, being a child of Betty Boatwright, I fully and firmly believed that the final reward was a place on the golden streets of heaven for those who had lived according to the Scripture.

As I got older, though, and lost people dear to me, I realized my mother was speaking metaphorically about rising souls. Whenever we hear of a death — particularly if it is that of someone we knew or were close to — it reminds us of others we’ve lost. And the spirits of those lost loved ones are suddenly with us. Memories come flooding back. Tears and laughter follow as we grieve anew for our own losses while we empathize with those whose loss is brand new.

Last night, I received word that my Aunt Agnes had died at the age of 92. She was my father’s younger sister. She was my mother’s friend, and was the same age as Mama. She was a pistol. Aunt Agnes lived a long life compared to my parents. Daddy died at age 78 and Mama at 80.

Length of life, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that much, I’ve come to realize. I’m not saying Aunt Agnes didn’t have a good life until the end. I think she did. But, She was in a nursing home for several years, and was on oxygen and in a wheelchair for some time. I know this because I kept up with her through Facebook posts by my cousin — Agnes’s daughter — and my cousin’s daughter.

My parents would not have wanted to live in a nursing home. Daddy made that abundantly clear many times over many years. Mama wasn’t as adamant as Daddy, but my siblings and I knew she wouldn’t want to be “in a home” if it was at all avoidable.

Both my parents went pretty quickly. Neither — thank God — was sick for a long time or disabled or suffering from dementia or any of the other myriad things that can go wrong in old age. For that, my siblings and I thank God and our lucky stars every day. We didn’t have to see our parents become helpless. Our parents didn’t have to depend on us to care for them. Again, thank God — for their sakes. My siblings and I would have done what was needed to care for our parents. But we all knew they would not want to — in their eyes — be a burden.

Bottom line is, they were able to do pretty much as they pleased up until their last few days. None of us could ask for a greater blessing than that.

As Mama always said — whenever there’s a death, all souls rise. Aunt Agnes’s death has reminded me of Daddy’s death in particular. He died on December 10, 2001. Agnes died on December 6, 2017. She will be buried on December 11. Daddy’s visitation was on December 11.

Agnes and Mama were friends. I hope they’re having a fantastic reunion in heaven right now. I also hope Agnes and Daddy, and their other siblings, Otis, Donald, Daisy Bell, Cleona, and Pete, are together again. And that they’re reunited with their parents, Daisy and Gar.

In that way, I hope all souls really do rise.

 

Everybody’s Honey

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My heart is heavy right now, because one of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever known is battling cancer. And losing. He has said his days on earth are short. I pray for his comfort and release from suffering. My prayers are also with Honey’s wife, Martha, their family, and all of Jefferson, South Carolina.
I wrote the following several years ago, as a personal column in The Courier-Times newspaper. For years, a copy of the column hung on the wall at Honey’s service station in my hometown. That is my most treasured honor as a writer.
He’s Everybody’s Honey
 
“I read last week’s Pageland Progressive-Journal last night. My hometown paper comes out each Tuesday and I usually get it the following Monday.
 
Anyway, as usual, I checked the obituaries for familiar names. And saw that Helen Rollins died. Helen was a very nice lady. The widow of Johnny Rollins, whom most folks in Jefferson called Lockjaw. I don’t remember why he was called Lockjaw, he just was.
 
He drove a truck for years, then ended up running the liquor store. I had moved away from home by that time and don’t know quite how that happened, but it did.
 
Lockjaw’s brother Albert, whom all folks in Jefferson call Honey, owns a service station on the sound end of Main Street. Honey’s older now and I think one of his sons pretty much runs the station. But Honey’s is a sure enough Jefferson, S.C. institution.
 
I know for a fact, because I’ve done it a million times, that you can drive up to the pump, remain in your cozy car, and have your gas pumped, your oil checked, your windshield washed, and catch up on all the latest gossip without ever moving a muscle. Now most of the guys in town, including my brother Robin and nephew Richard, tend to sit around on the drink boxes after work and get into some serious gossip, but the women usually just sit in the car and enjoy being waited on.
 
Since I moved away from Jefferson, whenever I’m back in town, I have to go to Honey’s. It just makes the world feel right, you know? While the gas pump is at work, Honey will squat on the concrete by the car window and talk. About everything and everybody. Not mean gossip or anything, just friendly chat about folks we both know. In five minutes, I can find out everything I want or need to know about life in my hometown. And leave feeling good about myself, since Honey always makes a point to ask about my life, tell some story about when I was “knee high to a grasshopper” and went to the station with my parents, or compliment me on what a nice grown up I’ve turned into.
 
Another thing about doing business at Honey’s – if you need anything from inside the station like “cold dranks” or a quart of oil or any some such, then you just tell Honey and he runs back inside, gets it, places your item or items on the back of the truck, in the trunk of the car, on the back seat or wherever you designate.
 
Jefferson is on the main drag to Myrtle Beach. Before the state put the bypass in, Main Street, which is a section of Highway 151, stayed busy from Easter to Labor Day with beach traffic. And on race weekends at Darlington, forget it. In fact, when my brother Bud was on town council years ago, he was instrumental in getting Jefferson’s first – and to date only – stoplight installed at the intersection of 265 and 151 so locals could get into town without waiting a half hour.
 
The Post Office is located on one corner, the Baptist church on the other and Pete Lee’s station used to be on the other side of the road, along with Miss Jessie Middleton’s house. Pete’s turned into a Pantry years ago and is now owned by a Middle Eastern guy. Daddy, rest his soul, was the first to run the stoplight after Bud and the rest of the council got it installed. Daddy referred to the Middle Eastern guy’s place of bidness as “The Indian Store.”
 
And while I’m on the subject of Daddy, Lockjaw’s son, Richard, whom we all called Dick Dack, is my age. He worked at Honey’s when we were in high school and, while pumping gas for Daddy once, forgot to put the cap back on the tank. Sometime later, when Daddy discovered it, he cussed about how “Tick Tack, Ding Dong, whatever his name is, left my damn gas cap off.”
 
But I got off track here. I was talking about Honey’s and was about to tell that, in summer, he got a bunch of beach traffic customers. And we locals just loved to see the expressions on the faces of “feriners” whenever we drove up to the pumps and yelled something like, “Hey Honey, can you bring me six Pepsis, four Moonpies and a quart of Havolin 30-weight?” And he’d leave the pump running in a tourist’s car, go scrambling into the station, run back with our wares, and tell us he’d put it on our ticket.
 
At some point – and my memory is a little fuzzy on the details here but the general gist of the story is intact – there was a carload of beach-bound women sitting at the pump and two or three local women happened to drive up during the time. The local women all yelled something to Honey and he ran to do their bidding while also waiting on the beach folks. After about the third yell, one of the tourists just had to ask, “Is that man EVERYBODY’S Honey?”
 
And the answer, of course, was and is, “Yep, he’s our Honey.” Just one of the many precious things about being borned and raised in Jefferson, South Carolina.”
 
 

Thankful

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On this Thanksgiving Day, as I look forward to seeing my baby sister and her family, and eating her delicious food, I am thankful that I have family to share this day with. I am also thankful for the many blessings I have received.

I am thankful for the small town I grew up in. And for the people of that town who still welcome and love me, even though I’ve lived “off from home” for the past 30-some years.   And for lifelong friends who have been there for me through the good, the bad, and the just plain weird.

And for the place I’ve adopted as home and the friends who have accepted me into their inner circle and loved me as if I’d always been there.

And for parents who loved me enough to teach me that life is hard, but that I could — and would be able to — handle it.

And for siblings who shared that hometown and those parents and those lessons, and who made, and continue to make, my life rich beyond measure. And for the nieces and nephews those siblings gave me, who have made my life so much brighter and better.

And for the marriage that brought me, not just a life partner, but also a stepson and daughter-in-law and grandchildren who daily make my life fuller and brighter and happier and richer and … just so much more … than I could ever have imagined.

And for the three big career changes that have afforded me an up-close look at humanity from several different vantage points. And especially for the last career change, that has allowed me to work with, get to know, and love so many wonderful young people.

And for the country I live in, and all the privileges and freedoms and blessings that come with being an American.

And for the times my prayers were answered with what I thought was a “no,” but later proved to be the “yes” that was needed.

I am thankful.

 

Should I Be Worried?

I know that getting older means little slips of memory now and then, but I’m beginning to big-time worry myself.

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A while back, I was doing my dreaded weekly Walmart shopping and saw shampoo and conditioner on the list I keep in the “notes” on my iPhone. So, I bought a gigunda Walmart special value bottle of each hair care product.

When I got home, I immediately started “puttin’ up the groceries,” to quote my late mother. When I got to the bathroom and opened the cabinet, I found a brand new gigunda Walmart special bottle of shampoo. And two gigunda Walmart special bottles of conditioner.

If I can remember that I have a stash, I shouldn’t have to purchase shampoo or conditioner until about July 2020.

This isn’t the only instance of my forgetful over-stocking of shelves.

My husband — bless his heart — is a Midwesterner. That means he has to have either gravy or creamed corn on everything he eats. I am not a cook, so he either gets gravy from a McCormick packet or canned creamy corn. Again — bless his heart — the man puts creamy corn on baked potatoes.

Myself, I like a generous dollop of butter and another generous dollop of sour cream on my baked ‘tater. Salt, pepper, and chives finish off the toppings. But, I’ve come to accept the fact that the person I live with prefers a yellow, gooey mess on his spud.

Anyway, a while back, I was again shopping, this time at the Hurdle Mills Market in, yes, Hurdle Mills, NC, and picked up a couple nice ribeyes for a Saturday night supper. I also grabbed a couple potatoes, salad fixins, and a bottle of Rock of Ages Red Mountain Red wine. On the way to the cash register, I thought, “Do I have any creamy corn?”

I did a mental inventory of my kitchen cupboard, and saw no creamy corn anywhere. So, I picked up a can. And got home to find three cans already on the shelf.

Tonight, I heated the hubby some Bob Evans mac and cheese and turkey kielbasa. Since I’m really, truly trying to lose weight, my own supper was veggies and Lean Cuisine spaghetti and meat balls.

One simply can’t eat spaghetti of any kind without parmesan cheese. So, I looked in the fridge for grated parmesan. And found three containers.

If Armageddon strikes, and the population of the U.S. east coast needs a shelter complete with random heat-and-eat food, my house is it.

Write that down, before I forget it.