Author: JoAnn

The Vacancy… by JoAnn

Driving home this evening, I went my normal way through a scenic back road. As usual, I noticed several vacant houses. Houses that used to be homes. In the 30 years I have been in and out of this small town, I have seen many homes become empty houses. It always saddens me.

This being a farming community, new homes are not built very often. Most are older, humble homes built anywhere from the early 1900s to the 70s. It’s rare to find a home newer than that in this town. Much to my dislike, many of the older homes seem to die when their elderly owners pass on. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing an empty house slowly caving in because no life is left inside. The family that built it and lived there was the heartbeat that kept it going. Today I passed three houses on one road that are quickly becoming unlivable because they are vacant and not being cared for.

I remember a time when it would have been a dream come true to have my own home. A house that I could love and care for. I know hundreds of people in my town alone have the same dream. What a shame they cannot save one of these houses instead of it slowly rotting away from neglect. Call me crazy, but if I had an empty house and no one to live there, I would rather give it away for FREE than hang on to it as it dies. If I had no use for the property, it would be given to a young couple that needed a break. Or an older retired couple that had never owned their own home before. I would freely give it in good faith and love every minute of doing so!

SO many people in the United States are homeless or home insecure. They worry from month to month if they will have a roof over their heads. I know of at least three parents with young children who cannot find reasonably priced rentals. What a shame the houses I saw today could not have been offered to those families. Instead, they remain vacant and slowly rot.

I have known the blessing of having a home of my own. I am blessed in my senior years with a place where I enjoy and feel safe. Almost everyone deserves that. Other than standing on my soap box for a few minutes online, I don’t know what else to do to make a difference. I don’t have the money to buy up these vacant houses and give them away. But what a vision that would be. Maybe if more people notice it the way I have, something will get done about it. I’ll keep hoping. Until then, I’ll continue to count the vacancy signs.

Little Sponges… by JoAnn

When I was in my early thirties, I had three young daughters to raise in a new town where I knew no one. I was a stay-at-home mom and spent most of my time at home. When I decided to take my girls to church, I was also excited for myself. While they were in their designated classes, I would be in my own. Most of my conversations were with my children or over the telephone. The idea of actually having conversations with someone closer to my age had only been a dream for several years. I looked forward to making new friends in church and growing deeper in my Christian walk.

Things didn’t quite work out the way I had imagined. It seemed the moment I walked into our new church, I was “volunteered” to do what I did best, take care of children. I was the new member, so I didn’t feel I could say no. But I was disappointed, to say the least. I was starving for interaction with someone older than the age of seven. It had also been some time since I had sat in a church pew and refreshed my faith with stimulating sermons, music, and prayer. I was even missing the lessons in Sunday school class that regular churchgoers often find boring. I needed a place where I could fit in with other adults. I told myself that maybe this was my calling for now and dove into the adventure of teaching youngsters.

The first class I had was a Wednesday night class for preschoolers. I not only wanted to do lessons that they would enjoy and have fun with, but I also wanted them to learn a valuable lesson about Jesus, just as I had done at their age when I was taken to church by my favorite aunt. I was certainly comfortable with the age group. Knowing from my own experience as a mom that these little ones were like sponges.

I devised a new lesson each week using a set of bible story cards I had at home. For example, I did the story of Jesus calming the storm and walking on water. I printed out copies of a picture for each child to color and glue different media on for effect. First, I would sit the kids down and tell them the story. They would become very quiet as they listened to me, their little faces letting me know that they were absorbing every word I shared. I was amazed at this at their age. It was true; small children are little sponges. They absorb everything they see and hear.

I had a lot of fun while I taught that little class, but I began to burn out after a while. This just wasn’t what I needed. I didn’t want to be selfish, but I had to fill the empty tank I was carrying around. It was my turn to be a sponge, and so I was. I began attending service on Wednesday nights instead of teaching or caring for children. I particularly loved the Wednesday night sermon because there was no singing or socializing like on Sunday mornings. It was more of a long bible study. A lesson for us adults. I loved it! I needed it! It was filling my empty tank, just as church should do.

I miss the little sponges I taught on those Wednesday nights so long ago. I often wonder how or where those kids are now. Do any of the lessons I gave stick with them? I’d like to think so.

The Light… by JoAnn

Almost two years ago, in early January, a fatal car crash happened in my small town. In the early morning, less than a mile from our high school, a woman and her mother-in-law were involved in a multi-car wreck. The mother-in-law, unfortunately, was killed. This sad news spread fast in our little town. The victims’ names sounded familiar, but I did not know them personally. Or so I thought.

About two months later, I was shocked to learn that the elderly lady who had died in that January car crash was my neighbor across the street. I had noticed that there were no vehicles in her driveway anymore. I knew she had a son and daughter-in-law who sometimes stayed with her. I had no idea they were the family impacted by that horrific accident.

I didn’t even know their names. But the lady who passed was the only neighbor on my street who had ever attempted to be friendly toward me. Whenever she saw me outside, walking to my mailbox or taking my trash can to the curb, she waved at me. Her daughter-in-law did the same a few times. In the five years I have lived on my street, they were the only ones to do so.

Suddenly, the story of that car wreck took on a whole new meaning. It was someone I knew. Someone who had been kind to me. My heart went out to the lady’s son and daughter-in-law. I could only imagine what they might be feeling after such a nightmare, how their hearts must be broken. I have never seen them return to the home. Perhaps it is too difficult for them to handle their mom no longer being there.

Every single item on the outside of the house is the same as she left it. There is even a Christmas wreath from the year that had just passed, still on the back door. Her chair, which she sat in on her carport, is still in the same position. I noticed an open curtain in the living room that made it possible to see a light on in her kitchen. Every night, when I closed my curtains, I would see the light still on above her kitchen sink. It was as though she was still there, as usual. It felt a little eerie to me but sweet at the same time.

When Spring came, I began to wonder who would take care of the yard. The lady who passed had worked many hours in her yard to take care of the flowers she had planted all over her property. It is a big yard, and she had the prettiest flowers on the street. I kept waiting to catch a glimpse of the son but never did. Finally, a couple of gardeners showed up and started mowing and caring for the yard. Her flowers were the first to bloom and once again filled her yard with color. It was sad to look at them now, remembering how much joy they must have brought her.

Every night, for a year and a half, I would look over to see the light on in her kitchen as I closed my curtains. Then one night, the light was out. Finally, after all this time, the light burned out. It felt sad. It felt like an ending of sorts.

It will never make sense to me how life just goes on after someone passes. The earth keeps spinning, and the sun rises and sets each day without missing a beat. When a loved one leaves this earth, it feels as though everything in our lives, even the world, should come to a halt and recognize what has just happened. Everyone should stop what they are doing for a respectful amount of time. But that doesn’t happen. Everything keeps moving as usual.

I am sure my neighbor’s flowers will again bloom when next Spring arrives, just where she planted them. They will be vibrant and full, just as she nourished them to be. If I could, I would thank her for leaving them for all of us to enjoy. Maybe this new year, someone will move into the house and make it home again. It would be so lovely to look over and see life and happiness there once again.

Complete… by JoAnn

When I wash my dishes, I fondly look out the window at my backyard and beyond. I have several trees in my yard, and I often see a variety of birds. This past summer, I had a Jackrabbit and a Cottontail bunny that appeared a few times. There is a squirrel that lives in one of the trees as well. All of these creatures make my day much brighter when they decide to visit, and I catch a glimpse.

Beyond my backyard are acres of a farmer’s field. The field was full of small trees and brush when I first moved into my apartment. After a few years, the owner decided to put the field to good use. They took many weeks to clear the field and prepare it for planting. Their first crop was soybean, followed by corn. This year, much to my surprise, cotton was grown. That was a shocker to me. I have lived in this area for 30 years, and cotton is a crop you don’t see much anymore. When we first moved here, cotton fields were a plenty, and the gins stayed busy during the season. But soybeans slowly took over. So it was quite the change to see cotton growing in my backyard.

The cotton grew beautifully, and the farmers spent several days in a row picking it up last week. Their large harvesters started their hum at daylight and finished after dark. The field is now clean, and I can see as far as my eyes will allow. I adore the view this time of year when all the leaves are off the trees.

I have been placing collectibles on my windowsill for some time. I enjoy something pretty to look at along with my view. Most of the trinkets have memories attached, like a little ceramic container with a Robin bird painted on it that my daughter Robin gave me when I first moved into my apartment. I have a tiny glass bottle that contains sand from when my daughter Chelsea and my son-in-law Jake went on a cruise to the Caribbean. I also have an owl figurine wearing a chef’s hat and holding a spoonful bowl. There are a couple of pieces that I adore because they are simply vintage. I love vintage items for the history and memories that they hold. But no matter what I have added to my kitchen window sill, it seemed incomplete. It never looked quite as cute or made me as happy as I desired.

One day, when I was cleaning my living room and making room to display Christmas decorations, I picked up an old clay cross I had bought at a thrift store for a couple of dollars. I love crosses and have several displayed on my walls. But I needed nails to hang it and kept forgetting to buy some. So it had just been hanging out in my living room. I looked around, scoping out my apartment. What could I do with this cross? Maybe I should re-donate it. I read the scripture embossed on the front. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Ecclesiastes 3:11”. Golden wheat is embossed across the center as well. I really love this cross. I didn’t want to give it back. I looked up at my kitchen window sill. Maybe it would look okay among my other little treasures for the time being. I placed it in the center of all my lovelies. A smile came across my face like a ray of sunshine after rain. The old cross had found its home. The window sill that I never felt was complete was now perfect!

It’s funny how something so small can give me the biggest smile. I don’t quite understand how silly little objects can bring me such joy, but they do. I am certainly not alone in this. People have forever been collecting “things” that bring a smile to their faces. To me, that old cross, and the small items my children gave me, are just reminders of the things I dearly love in my life. Little things that make my life feel complete.

I will continue to downsize my home as I age, continuously rotating out the clutter. But the little reminders that make me smile, those things will stay forever.

Christmas Stockings… by JoAnn

Growing up, the highlight of every year was Christmas. The whole month of December meant parties, decorations, letters sent to Santa Claus, the anticipation of snow, and a much-needed vacation from school. It was the last month of the year, but the best month for so many reasons.

My sister and I would begin our holiday season with the arrival of the annual Sear’s toy catalog. The excitement when our mama would hand over the iconic catalog was worth the one-year wait. She would give each of us a pencil to circle our favorite toys. Of course, we understood that everything we marked would not be under the tree come Christmas morning. But we would dream of which things might. No matter what Santa brought us, we would be overjoyed. Some years would be lighter if money were tight, and some, we would have more under the tree. But I never remember it mattering either way. I only remember loving everything I received and how much fun my sister and me would have.

Another tradition was hanging up our Christmas stockings for Santa to fill with small gifts. It would usually be candy, an apple, an orange, and a few nuts still in the shell. It may seem silly to a kid today, but back in the 60s, those items weren’t available all year round to kids like us. They were treats. Sometimes, there may even be a small toy in our stocking or another small surprise like a necklace or a pack of Old Maid cards. Our mama was very good at gift-giving. She always picked out or told Santa about things we would really want. I don’t remember ever, not even once, being disappointed in anything I received for Christmas.

The very best Christmas stocking was always the forgotten stocking. When we would get so caught up in the opening and playing with our gifts that, we completely forgot about our stockings. Sometimes it would be later in the day, and it would suddenly dawn on us that we hadn’t checked them. Our mama got a kick out of seeing just how long it took us to remember we had stockings too. It would be like Christmas morning all over again.

It’s been many years since I had my own Christmas stocking. I did enjoy filling my three daughters’ stockings every year, though. I tried to make them very special, just as my mama had done mine. I’m pretty sure I succeeded with that task. Wonder what it would be like to wake up on Christmas morning at 60 years old and have a stocking filled by Santa Claus. I imagine I wouldn’t feel 60 at all.

Here’s hoping you have a stocking to check this year. Merry Christmas!

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