Author: JoAnn

Blank Page… by JoAnn

As I sit here staring at my blank computer screen, trying to come up with another missive for all of you, I’m dumbfuddled. My mind is racing with memories galore and words that rhyme like a tornado of letters in my brain. So many letters that I cannot piece together to form sentences. Sentences that will hopefully bring a smile to your face, a chuckle from your belly, or a kind compliment to pass your lips. I so enjoy knowing that my readers get something from my writing, that my stories and poems mean something special to someone other than me.

My father-in-law Tommy Hale first asked me to write a short story for his web page about six years ago. I remember feeling excited at the thought of finally putting some of my thoughts down on paper. It was something that I had always wanted to do. You know, one of those things you have lingering in the back of your brain for years but never get up the gumption to do? Like picking up a guitar and learning to play or taking a watercolor class and learning to paint (wink to Tommy). Writing was mine.

When I was a child and first learned to read, I remember being so excited over books and all they held between their pages that I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. So I decided to sit down and make my own book. I did the illustrations in crayon, numbered each page, added the story in pencil, and took each page and punched holes for yarn to hold it all together. I was so proud of my book! I told my parents I wanted to grow up and write children’s books someday. That sweet memory still lies inside my heart, coveted like a golden trophy.

Here I am, all these years later, and I’m writing by typing on a computer keyboard instead of paper. I never imagined that as a child. Sometimes I have missed the crispness of a new pack of paper and my favorite pen to write down my thoughts and memories. But these arthritic hands of mine are thankful for this keyboard. Most of the time, I can type as fast as the words come to my mind. My handwriting would get sloppy when I used a pen and paper. My fingers couldn’t keep up with my racing thoughts. Good thing I took all those typing classes in high school.

This missive is #199 of the ones I have had the privilege of sending to “Dad” for his approval. When I get the thumbs up that he will post it to his page, I feel a sense of pride. I am elated if he tells me he enjoyed it and thought it was well written. Only he and I know how much I have improved over the years in my writing. Those words of encouragement mean the world to me. I have learned so much about myself and him through this journey. Our relationship has grown by leaps and bounds through this mission, and I am incredibly thankful. He is a pillar in our family.

So yet another missive is in the books, or my computer’s folder, and it’s on to writing #200. I feel as though I should celebrate #200. It was a huge challenge to me in the beginning, and there were times that I did not enjoy writing. With the experience, I have learned to really appreciate it, and it leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment with each missive I finish. I think Dad knew that would happen all along. I’m happy I didn’t give up.

Smells Familiar… by JoAnn

Today I went through the drive-thru at our local McDonald’s. The last time I was there, my receipt had a survey on it. If I went online, filled out the survey, and wrote down the code on my receipt, I could get a free large drink of my choice. It was only good for 30 days, and today was the last day. I love a good bargain, especially if it’s free, so I decided on McD’s for lunch.

I don’t often eat at the golden arches. It used to be one of my favorite fast-food stops in my younger years. By younger, I mean my 30s. Before that time, I could not afford fast food. It was a real treat to indulge only a few times a year. When my children came along, I knew a home-cooked meal was better for them. So I did as my mama did and made our meals at home. But when we moved to Tennessee, and I gave birth to baby #3 and had extra money, I discovered the drive-thru on a busy day was very convenient. Finally, I knew what all the hubbub was about. No wonder McDonald’s was so wildly successful. My kid’s loved it, I loved it, it tasted great, and this mama got a break a couple of times a week.

Fast forward about 15 years, and all of us were figuring out that fast food wasn’t as great as we thought. I, for one, learned that the caloric value in the food was definitely not good for my waistline, and even my children had tired of it. The food made us all sluggish. We went from fast food twice a week to maybe once a month. After watching and reading a lot of negative opinions concerning the golden arch’s menu, I came to the conclusion that the food was more like plastic than actual food. After seeing the french fries and cheeseburger left untouched for months on end and seeing NO change whatsoever in color and no mold growth, I began referring to McDonald’s as the place with plastic food.

So why on earth did I go there today? Why did I have a receipt from being there a month ago? Because I am human, which means I am weak at times. Yes, I occasionally give in to things that I know are bad for me! Today I wanted that FREE diet Coke and a $2 cheeseburger. I convinced myself I was getting such a bargain that it was okay to indulge just this one time. Did today mean the bun and cheese on that burger were now actual food and would now mold if I left it in my car for months? No, it did not.

After the bad deed was done, and the cheeseburger and Diet Coke were happy in my stomach, I felt many emotions. One, that was good! Yes, both were delicious. It satisfied my craving, hunger, and thirst in a delightful manner. Two, the feeling of stupidity. I know this so-called food is unhealthy and that I shouldn’t have eaten it. Three, I was a victim of being too sentimental.

How is a fast food place sentimental? Well, for me, there are quite a few reasons. I thought about those reasons while waiting in line at the drive-thru. I caught a whiff of how it smelled inside the McDonald’s—the smell of the burgers and french fries cooking, to be exact. No place else in the world smells the same; I guarantee it. They hook people with that smell. Once it’s programmed into your brain, you will want their burger and fries every time you smell it.

That smell also reminds me of spending time with my kids and their dad. When he and I were dating, we only sometimes had the money to eat at a sit-down restaurant. So we would go to the cheapest place in town, which was the golden arches. We always ordered the same things. Two filets of fish, fries, and vanilla shakes. Sometimes he would get a quarter-pounder if he was famished. It became a romantic little thing that was our thing. It makes me happy and filled with love for him when I think of it now. Later, after getting married and having kids, I have many memories of taking my children to McD’s for their famous Happy Meal and letting them play on the playground that every McDonald’s had back then. Somewhere along the way, the playgrounds have been phased out after being christened germ factories for kids. My kids loved going there after school or on a road trip, getting their favorite treats, and going up and down the huge slides. I am glad they got to enjoy that. But I hope they no longer crave the food there.

One whiff of that kitchen, and I was transported to all those memories. Can you believe it? I can. I know that smell has been proven as the number one sense to trigger memories in all of us. It is definitely #1 for me. The right smell can take me back 40+ years in a flash. Still determining if the smell of McD’s is such a great one, though. Geez.

We can’t pick and choose what memory will be triggered by smell. Music we can. But you never know what smell might pass your sniffer at any given moment. I will need to stop breathing whenever I pass the golden arches again and avoid their drive-thru at all costs. And if I need a clean public bathroom, I must wear a mask. Because every good mother knows, McD’s has the cleanest public restrooms.

Look Up… by JoAnn

When I was a little girl, I, like all children, loved to play outside. I loved looking up into the high trees on a breezy day. Watching the sunshine shimmer through the branches as the wind blew them in a gentle dance. I adored looking up towards the sun and feeling its warmth kiss my cheeks.

In my teen years, those things were no longer important to me. Long gone were the days of being lazy, lying in the sun on the cool green grass. Days were filled with schoolwork and jobs. And, of course, boys. More time was spent indoors under fluorescent lighting, either at school or at my office job. Even on a day trip to the beach, I never looked up. As long as the sun was shining, I was there for one reason and one reason only. To get a tan!! I’d oil myself up with Hawaiian Tropic sun tanning oil and not leave until my skin was at least three shades darker.

Fast forward ten years, and I am a wife and mother to 3 little girls. We moved 800+ miles away from the bustling city of Tidewater, Virginia, to a rural little town in Tennessee with a population of barely 2,000 at that time. For the first time since I was a child, I began to look up again.

My youngest was only a baby at the time, and I found myself driving her around the back roads of my town to put her to sleep for her daily nap. It was a peaceful time for the both of us. I began to notice the beauty of the sky again, regardless of whether it was bright blue or dark from a looming storm. I noticed the cloud formations and the hawks that live abundantly here in our town. I loved watching them fly and play in the wind on a breezy day.

But the most beautiful thing I had ever seen when I began looking up again were the sunsets. The gorgeous sunsets! For the first time in my life, I was actually paying attention to the sun setting. And the ones here in our Northwest Tennessee area are spectacular. I have two words to describe them, pink and lavender. Those are the prominent colors in every magnificent sunset we have here. I almost feel as though I am committing a sin if I don’t take the time to look up and take in the beautiful sunset.

I truly believe, or know, that God brought me to this little town not to shock me as I thought but to calm me. To put me in a quiet place where I would not only look up and see His handiwork but also hear His voice in my heart again. It worked. Thirty-plus years later, and I am still catching the sunsets. If I ever find myself forgetting to look up like before, I know what I need to do. It only takes a moment out of your day to pay attention to what’s around you in nature. I never want to forget to look up again.

When was the last time you enjoyed a sunset?

Small Talk… by JoAnn

Many people say they don’t care for small talk and that it’s fake and a waste of time. What does it mean if I actually enjoy small talk? And the others that seem to like a small talk conversation with me? Are we dull individuals? I don’t think so.

I believe in small talk because I have used it all my life to break the ice or show someone I care what kind of day they are having. I have not once begun a conversation for any reason other than friendliness or caring. That may make me weird. I don’t know. But the people I choose to talk to seem to enjoy my small talk and almost always add their own.

Through my years of small talk experiences, I have noticed that the elder folks seem to enjoy it the most. They are the most receptive and the most anxious to continue the conversation. Many times I have been approached by a little old lady or old man, with them believing that I worked at the store in which they were shopping. This has happened to me so many times that I have lost count. Why do I look like an employee? I don’t believe it is how I’m dressed, but simply that I always have on a smile. I never leave home without it unless I am sick. It’s sad to think of a dear elder needing help and searching a store for a friendly face. I’ve often been told that I have one of those faces, and I take it as a compliment.

Now that I am fast approaching little old lady status, I am noticing that more young people enjoy my small talk. Maybe I finally have that “everyone’s grandmother” vibe going, and they feel safe with me. I always grab the opportunity whenever it is my duty to the younger generation. After all, with the world the way it is now, they all need a little grandmother-type love in their day.

Nothing makes me happier than to see a cashier at a busy store, dead on her feet from working all day, smiling because I offered her a compliment. To see her whole face change and light up when I tell her she’s doing a good job or that the store looks great. It’s really just offering a little appreciation, is all. It’s free, and we all have it to give away. Many times that cashier will chime in and tell me what kind of day she has had. Or that she is a single mother of 3 and this is her second job. All she needed was a little encouragement and perhaps a small pat on the back.

That is what small talk does for people. I enjoy it, and I plan to do it for as long as I can talk. Sometimes people are not interested, and that’s okay. My feelings are no longer hurt. I respect if they need silence in their lives for whatever reason. But if they seem open, they will get a few words from me. And I will plan to receive a few back in return, and if I’m lucky, a nice, friendly smile.

Dreaming In Watercolors… by JoAnn

I enjoy watching videos on YouTube. My faves are music videos from back in the old days, as my grandchildren call it. I also enjoy videos with individuals that post video blogs, aka vlogs. The vlog I enjoy most is about a family who has an adult autistic daughter. Their videos caught my attention back in 2020 during the pandemic. My 8-year-old grandson is on the spectrum of Autism, and I have often wondered what life will be like for him as an adult. So while I was a prisoner inside my home like everyone else during the pandemic, I decided to turn to YouTube.

The young woman I follow is in her mid-thirties and is named Jessica. She was born with a huge chunk of her brain completely missing. It never formed in the womb. She was diagnosed as blind in infancy. That led to a diagnosis of the brain malformation. To look at her, she seemed like a typical, healthy baby. But one day, her grandmother noticed that she seemed to struggle with her vision. And so, tests after tests were done. It wasn’t until she was older and in school that she was also diagnosed with Autism. It’s not that she can’t understand or learn that gets in Jessica’s way. She is highly intelligent and functioning. Her biggest hurdle is controlling her emotions. She has a lot of anxiety, and unfortunately, many things trigger that.

I was amazed by one video when they discussed that Jessica has a bad day if she had bad dreams the night before. I guess because she is blind, I never even considered that she could dream. It made me question exactly how does she dream? She is legally blind, wears no glasses, and can only see a very small amount of color and light in one eye. The other eye is 100% visionless. Every time the family mentions in a video that Jessica had a bad dream, I find myself very curious. Does she only hear voices or sounds in her dreams? Or does she see light and colors too? I could certainly understand that being frightening.
It’s hard for my brain to figure it out because I have never experienced such a thing. I’m not so sure that even Jessica’s family can understand. They have only learned how to soothe her when she is upset. What a painful task that must be to see their helpless loved one in mental agony.

Jessica has many talents, and one is painting. She comes from an artistic family, with both her mom and grandmother being painters. She can’t paint faces or objects, for she has never seen one. But she does like the feel of putting the paint onto the canvas with a brush. Her favorite color is blue because that is the one she can see a glimpse of. Why blue? Only God knows.

I like to think that when Jessica wakes up in the morning and declares she is in a good mood, her dreams were peaceful the night before. Perhaps she dreams with the loving voices of her mother all around, her favorite music, and her favorite activity, collecting playing cards. Cards that she loves to smell, tap on her nose, and deal so she can hear the sound they make. Perhaps Jessica dreams in watercolors. Tranquil and soothing. That is my wish for her.

It is absolutely amazing to watch this young woman. She has adjusted remarkably to every problem she was given at birth. The main reason she has flourished is, without a doubt, the loving family she lives with. Everyone, including all grandparents, aunts, and uncles, have been involved in Jessica’s life in its entirety. They are a wonderful family, and I enjoy keeping up with all of their lives through YouTube. The vlog’s name is AUTISTIC INTERPRETATIONS if you are interested.

Thanks for reading!!!

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