My daughter Christine recently celebrated her 37th birthday. She is my only blue-eyed baby. She took after her daddy in both blue eyes and height. He was six foot five, and she was a good five foot eleven. Myself being a shorty, I have always admired her long legs. I admire many things about my beautiful Christine.
Of my three daughters, she is the only one born in the dead of winter. We lived in a very humble trailer home. It belonged to my husband’s uncle and was a 1970s model. They placed it on my husband’s grandfather and step-grandmother’s farm property. We lived in the boonies, as I liked to call it. It was a peaceful, homey place to be raising two little girls.
One problem with a trailer from that period was it was like living in a tin can. Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The week we brought Christine home from the hospital, it was a record-breaking cold spell. And as usual, the old electric furnace was giving us trouble. Her first night home, it went completely out. I panicked. How would I keep my newborn and 19-month-old babies warm all night in that little trailer? Thankfully, their “PePaw” sent over a kerosene heater for us to use. I knew nothing about kerosene heaters, but as soon as I felt that warm flame, I was sold. I placed Christine in the baby bassinet and put it near the kerosene heater in the kitchen.
If you are cringing after reading that last sentence, you should be! Please remember that I had just given birth via a cesarean section, and it was our first night back home. I was not thinking clearly. Hindsight is 20/20 and I should have never put the bassinet so close to that kerosene heater or in the same room!
Like all new mothers do, I woke up to check on the baby. At only a few days old, Christine was stretching her little head up over the top of that bassinet. Her little face was beet red. She was way too hot. I quickly came to my senses and moved the bassinet into our bedroom. How stupid I had been.
All the “what ifs” were taking their turn in my brain. What if the bassinet had caught fire? What if the fumes had gotten to my baby? No matter how tired or in pain I was, I had no excuse.
That was the beginning of my many mistakes as Christine’s mother. I made mistakes with each of her two sisters as well. All mothers do. But it doesn’t take away the guilt a mother feels every time she remembers.
Somewhere, packed away in a box, is a photograph of newborn Christine, raising her little head over the side of the bassinet, like a small turtle stretching toward the sun. People didn’t believe me that a newborn could do such a thing. So I took a picture. She didn’t stop there in amazing us with what she could do. She was just one of those kids that caught onto everything early and continues thriving today.
As I sit writing this, thinking fondly of my Christine, it is just as cold in my apartment as it was 37 years ago in that trailer. And like every other time that I sit in the cold I am reminded of that first night home with my blue-eyed baby, I thank God for keeping her safe the night I made a very unsafe choice for her. It could have been a tragedy for all of us, but the Lord kept all of us secure, and for the past 37 years, we have had the blessing of loving and knowing our Christine. Happy birthday, sweetheart!
The other day, as I was celebrating the birthday of an old friend, and reflecting on my recent 80th birthday, I was thinking about my life at the start of each decade, and it was an interesting journey.
As I mentally walked through my life, I could see my development and the changes I made. I was also aware of the struggles I was experiencing at the start of each decade, and I could see how they affected me and how I resolved them.
The most startling observation I made was that my life really started being a positive experience after I met my wife in 1992. Up to that point, it seemed to be a fruitless struggle just to get from one day to the other. Margaret Mitchell famously said, “Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.”
I am living proof of the veracity of that statement. When I met my wife at the start of my 5th decade on this planet, everything changed, and my life ceased having so much turmoil. I can say that not for one moment of my life, since our relationship started, have I not felt loved by her. From the very beginning she made me feel special, and that was something I wasn’t used to. I think I was unaware of how much depth a caring person could add to my life.
So, here I sit, starting my 8th decade and browsing around in the many rooms of my mind, peeping in to see what was happening during time long past, finding joy in some, and sadness in others, hoping I have been a positive influence on those I met along the way, knowing that you are in one of those “happy” rooms.
Possibly, there are people that think of me negatively, but that comes with life. I have tried to keep that to a bare minimum. I believe there are only a few, but you can never be sure of how someone perceives your actions. As Summer stares at us, letting us know that hot, sunny days, and hurricanes are here, we can now get out and socialize with our friends and neighbors, take trips that were set aside during the pandemic, and just enjoy life. As Helen Keller so wisely said, “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, then alone in the light”.
⌘ Rumi (Persian poet born 1207) said, “Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” I believe that and I want to use it in my life. Some say that gratefulness can increase our sense of happiness, decrease our perception of pain and depression, and increase our appreciation of the accomplishments of others.
I never realized that gratitude could be so impactful in my life. Surely, it wonders in and out of all our lives, but it is fleeting and never stays long. It now appears that it should be a part of our being and influence us daily. So, I have developed a plan to ensure that it stays with me: write or make mental notes (bad idea) of the things I am grateful for, and nothing should be too small to be on that list. I also think I should start writing thank-you notes for kindness’ shown to me by others. I know, it seems like a lot of effort, but on closer examination it’s not, and I would feel better knowing that I expressed my gratefulness in ways other than words, which can flow so effortlessly.
How often do we say, “I love you”, or “thank you”, without putting in the effort to really showing it? I’ll be the first to raise my hand. We recently spent four nights with my cousin Harold & his wife Willis back in my hometown. I’m gonna sit down and write them a letter, expressing our gratitude for their kindness. Sure, we expressed our gratitude before we left, but I need to take the extra step of writing it down and sending it to them. No, I don’t think an email suffices, that’s so easily done, requiring very little effort. I’m gonna write a note to those fine people, put a stamp on it and put it in the mail. Then, they will know that we really mean it! Or maybe they know anyway and I’m just being paranoid 😊. I’m counting on what Rumi said about wearing gratitude like a cloak.
⌘ I recently ran across an old pair of my eyeglasses that were worn by me about five years ago. They differ totally from what I wear, being gold rimmed versus black rims today. I gently placed them on my face and could tell they were close to the strength of my current glasses, so I wore them to see if anyone would detect the change. A couple of days went by and no one noticed. I’m a little confused, these look nothing like what I normally wear and they’re a little old-fashioned (circa 2009), yet no one has noticed. Slowly, it’s sinking in that all the extra time and money used in selecting just the right frames is not money well spent. All the wasted time in front of the optometrist’s mirror, trying on countless frames, and wondering which one looks the best. Kinda wish I hadn’t done that now. After nine days into the experiment, someone finally noticed, and I was so relieved.
So, what lesson have I learned from this brief experiment? Well, that other people aren’t as aware of what I wear as I think, and maybe I’m not as important as I want to be? There’s a good possibility that if someone used that experiment on me, I would fail as well. I’ll probably never try that again, it’s so disappointing to find out that few of us notice such things. I’m refusing to travel down the road where only fools and horses survive.
Mary Oliver said, “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Turns out, I’m not the only one that needs to pay attention 😊.
⌘ My wife and I sold our beautiful home and moved into a retirement community on April 24th, and we are slowly getting used to our new place. It is much smaller than we are used to, but it is a necessary change. We always knew this day would come, and as we approached the age of 80, we knew it was the right thing to do. Our goal was to be in an environment where our children wouldn’t have to look after us as old age soaked into our creaky old bones and our health declined. That’s where we are now, in a place that allows us to go from Independent Living (our cottage) to Assisted Living (they help you do things), then on to Health Care (they do everything), or the Mental Unit (dementia). They furnish us one meal daily, usually dinner in the dining room, and send someone to clean our cottage every two weeks. Everyone here appears to be at least 70 and a lot of them are using walkers & wheelchairs. We are fighting the idea that will happen to us, but no one knows what lies in store, so we just take it one day at a time. The one thing you discover is that old folks are nice, we have yet to meet anyone that’s not. I think it’s because at our age, most of our friends have transitioned to the other side and we need replacements 😊. We have met some extraordinary people, and that has made our transition to the retirement community much easier.
So, what’s it like to make your final move, the one you make before “buying the farm”? Well, it’s kinda sad, but inevitable. We’re hoping for at least ten more years of good health, but you never know. We make daily exercise plans to keep everything working, try to eat right and get enough sleep, and see how it all turns out. We can still make trips to visit those we love, and travel for entertainment, but we can see far enough down that road to see the sign that says, “Dead End”. Hopefully, that’s when our family picks up the slack and comes to visit us 😊. As Frank Bruni said, “It’s all about aging, writ vivid and large.”
A few weeks ago, while we were back home visiting, we stopped, as we always do, at the cemetery my mother and father are in, as well as a lot of my family. They are in a crypt about 10 feet up, and as I stood there talking to them, I made the comment as I prepared to leave that I would probably join them before too much longer. As I walked away with tears in my eyes, I heard mom’s voice saying, “You’ve got longer than you think!” Boy, do I hope she’s right!
֎ “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” …Collette
I used that quote in a “WoW” that I wrote way back in August of 2007 entitled, “A Place to Be Alone”. That was true then, and it remains true to this very day. I am guilty of not recognizing the wonderful life I enjoy, or if I do so in prayer, as soon as I’m finished, I immediately sweep it from my mind and move on to other matters. I am reminded of an interview a TV reporter had with Senator John McCain about his terminal brain cancer. I surmised from Senator McCain’s interview that he had experienced a wonderful life, had no regrets, and was ready to accept death and meet his maker in the afterlife. I sorta assume that most of us expect life will be filled with fun things to do, especially after working hard on a daily basis and missing very few days at work. Sadly, as we grow older we find that life is full of highs and lows and that sometimes the lows can be life threatening. And, as we all have experienced, it doesn’t have to be something that happens to us, but to those we love deeply. Watching all the tragedy that the evening news produces on a daily basis makes me sad, but when tragedy strikes home, the sadness transitions to heartbreak. Like you, when tragedy strikes, I constantly strive to keep a positive outlook. That fails me when I fall asleep at night, when all my worst fears run rampant like a spooked herd of cattle in the 50’s westerns of long ago. I am relieved to get out of bed the next morning so I can put those fears behind and start a, new, positive day. That’s when I want the tranquility of heart that resides there when I am awake. Hank Green said, “I deal with stress in two ways because there are two kinds of stress. There’s stress that you can take care of, and there’s stress that you can’t. The first one, I take care of it as fast as possible, because putting it off always makes it worse. Things that I can’t fix? I think about the fact that I can’t fix them. I think about why I can’t fix them and I come to terms with the fact that this is a problem that I’m not going to overcome and that the world is not a wish granting factory.” I agree with old Hank, and I want to thank him for clarifying how stress should be handled.
֎ Recently, my wife and I took my oldest granddaughter (Robin) and her family out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants (Piccadilly’s), a cafeteria we frequent often. We enjoy the vast selection of food they offer and the fact that all their food is made onsite, including their delicious selection of desserts. Robin was in from Tennessee to visit her dad (my son Rusty) and enjoy the many local entertainment venues in our area (Bush Gardens, Water Country, Harbor Fest, etc.). I have 3 adorable Great Grandchildren by Robin and David (ages 14, 12 & 3), and it’s always a pleasure to be around them. As I sat at the table, chewing away on my delicious food, listening to the chatter of a vibrant, energetic young family, a wonderful wave of contentment swept over me. I would like to think that when I was a young man with a young family, I had the same effect on my grandparents. I spent many hours in my grandparent’s presence as a youngster, and always visited them when I became an adult. I returned home each year from hundreds of miles away just to accomplish that task. They always seemed delighted to see us, but I never sensed that they enjoyed the energy we brought. When my granddaughter and her family headed back home, after a week or so, the energy they left behind stayed with us for a while and we rode that wave as long as possible. “Vitality shows not only in the ability to persist, but the ability to start over.” ………F. Scott Fitzgerald
֎ As most of you know, my son passed away on June 16th and then my brother’s wife (Patty) passed away on Monday, July 2nd. Somehow, I still get out of bed each morning, raise the window shade, and watch the sunlight bounce off the floor and surround the many teddy bears in our bedroom, seemingly, bringing them all to life. I slowly shuffle down the hallway to the coffee pot and push the button that starts my daily brew. I continue to do the things that I have done every day for years, but they don’t seem to bring the excitement that each new day brought before. I live with the hope that as time passes the sorrow will become less and that one day, when I think of them, the hurt will be gone and all the good memories will come flooding back. There are times when I think that God has taken a wrecking ball to my life. Lately, for every minute I’ve laughed, I’ve cried a dozen or more. A storm seems to be following me searching for thunder. Until a lot of time passes, I will be plodding along, looking for the gems of happiness that each day usually presents to us all. A lot of good, caring people still surround me and will insure that I don’t go too far down the “black hole” of depression. I always thought that “black holes” were things way out in space. What I have discovered is that they exist right here on earth and any of us can get sucked in if we’re not careful.
֎ “Goodnight Miss Calabash, wherever you are” …. Jimmy Durante
I used to watch the Jimmy Durante Show back in the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s and he always signed off wishing Miss Calabash a goodnight. To the best of my knowledge he never told his viewers who she was and why she was important to him. I think all of us have a Miss Calabash in our lives, someone that’s important to us, and no one else knows why. I believe, that for Jimmy, it was someone that was special when he was a young man and they had grown apart and lost tract of each other, or maybe she passed over to the other side and he was letting her know that he was thinking of her. Yes, I’m guessing we all have a Miss Calabash in our history, maybe more than one.
֎ I was listening to an audiobook a while back by Julie Andrews (Home: A Memoir of My Early Years), and she was describing being taught to sing as a young girl. Her mother listened to Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and many other classical composers. I listen to Jackson, Paisley and Jones (Alan, Brad & George) and that doesn’t seem nearly as impressive. There are times that I believe that I have missed out on so much by not listening to the music of great composers and reading books written by world renown authors. But, then again, I am a man of simple taste, feasting on fried chicken, hamburgers and French fries. That spills over into my taste for music and books- John Grisham & Nicholas Sparks come to mind. I do admire people that read the finest of books and listen to classical music, and I consider them to be more intellectual. But I somehow doubt they read more than I do or listen to more music. I guess it’s sorta like comparing a high school athlete to a professional athlete. They’re playing the same game but the pro plays at a much higher level. I’m of the opinion that it matters little what songs bounce around in your head, or what books you read, as long as they satisfy that inner need to be entertained or learn something new. Andre’ Gide said, “I am no good except when alone. In a group it’s not so much the others that bore and annoy me; it’s myself.”
֎ My wife and I took her oldest son and his wife out to dinner the other day to celebrate his 50th birthday. The meal was delicious (steak for me) and the conversation abundantly fun. It is always entertaining to watch the interaction of my wife with her two sons. They are decidedly different personalities and you would never guess they were raised by the same parents. The oldest son is more outgoing and easily engaged in conversation, while the youngest is quiet and reserved. I have found that I always enjoy the company of both. It has always been clear to me that good conversation is better than any movie I’ll ever watch, or any show that’s playing on the TV. I spend time on the phone and texting, but I much prefer sitting down next to someone and having a face-to-face conversation. As we travel thru life and get older, we lose people we love for many reasons. We should never regret that we didn’t spend enough time in their presence. J.K. Rowling’s said it very plainly, “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Let’s all pledge to start making better choices 😊.