Sunday, November 27, 2011

Just Another Day

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and soon we’ll be saying the same about Christmas. Everyone I know bemoans the fact that it all comes and goes so fast. Why do we care?

While sitting around after our Thanksgiving feast, trying to fight off the effects of the natural sedative some believe turkey contains, my grown children began talking about their growing up years – in this very house. One of them said, “We loved Thanksgiving, but the best part was – it meant that Christmas was not far away. Still, it seemed to take forever! We thought it would never come.”   

“And there were all those threats,” said another. “Mother would say, ‘Don’t forget; Santa is watching you.’ We were afraid to do anything!”

“We were blackmailed into going to bed early, eating all the food on our plate and not fighting with each other. If one of us even thought about misbehaving, all Mother or Daddy had to say was, ‘Remember, Santa is watching.’ We were model children during the weeks between the two major holidays.”

“With all the shopping and baking and decorating, our excitement was hard to contain! It was great fun hanging ornaments on the tree and helping with the dozens of cookies Mother always made. We loved spending a whole day in the kitchen shaking red and green sugar on some and placing chocolate pieces on others. And getting to eat a few along the way was nice, too.”

“When Christmas Eve finally came, it was like a long-awaited dream. We were almost overcome with excitement,” the eldest daughter remarked. "Soon after breakfast, we’d get all dressed up and go visit relatives,” she said. “Yeah,” her sister chimed, “we visited both grandparents; we saw aunts and uncles and cousins that we didn’t see the rest of the year, then we’d visit some old neighbors that were special to us. Everywhere we went, people gave us goodies and Mother and Daddy were sure we’d be sick on Christmas morning.”

“When we got home, the neighborhood was glowing!"

 “Everyone participated in the lighting of luminary candles. Remember how awesome it was? It was magical – every home on every street was aglow! And it was even more beautiful if it happened to snow!”

“Then at midnight, we’d all pile back into the car and go to our church for a candlelight service! None of us will ever forget the final few minutes of that service. We were each given a small white candle. One candle was lit by the pastor and the rest were lit, one by one, from the candle of the person who sat next to you. When all of the candles were burning, the lights were turned off, and, with dozens of candles flickering in the darkness, we sang Silent Night. It was the most beautiful sight ever! I still get chills just thinking about it."

“When we got home, we were so tired; we had to go right in and get ready for bed, but not before hearing the threat one last time: ‘Santa is watching; he won’t come until you’re all asleep,’ we were warned.”

“After leaving milk and cookies for Santa, Mother planted kisses firmly on our foreheads and tucked us in – to fall asleep and dream of the treasures we’d find under the tree when we awoke.”

“What happened to those great years?” said one. “Why is Christmas not that exciting anymore?”

“We grew up!” Another answered. “Christmas is never the same after you’re grown.”

Nodding in agreement, everyone laughed and decided it was time for dessert.
So why do we care about the rapid passing of time? I suspect the child in us longs to be set free at Christmastime, but as adults, our lives are different. We have responsibilities – jobs or careers, or are homemakers. We have many things to think about. There is no time for child-like expectancy. Therefore... instead of savoring every minute of this beautiful season like we did as children, we find ourselves rushing to get everything done and looking forward to getting it behind us. And Christmas is never the same again!

But why do we continue to yearn for that long-ago enthusiasm?

Simple. Because anticipation is the soul of enjoyment! Without it, Christmas is just another day.

~Published in the Charleston Gazette's, Write Your Own Column, December 25, 2011~


Friday, November 18, 2011

Ever Hear of Bill Gates?

It’s never been easy for me to admit I can’t do something. Whatever I’m asked to do, I’ll almost always say, “Yes,” and then wonder why – especially if it's something I've never done before. This recently happened. And now, I’m vowing I’ll never do this particular thing again. Oh, I managed to pull it off, but when I was finished, I knew it wasn’t a first-rate job, therefore it will always haunt me – knowing I didn’t do it as well as it deserved to be done.

Many times in my life, I’ve been faced with this same situation. Makes for an interesting life – always trying to be what people expect you to be – or better.

I got married at the very young age of 17. To use a tired expression, I couldn’t boil water!  But my wise mother-in-law gave me a wonderful cook book. Fortunately, I was determined and not afraid to experiment in the kitchen; and since necessity is the mother of invention, I learned to cook. But before that came to pass, my husband ate a lot of things that weren’t “like mama used to make,” but he was a good sport and didn’t complain. It wasn’t too long before I was actually getting compliments from him.

And then there were children. Five of them: two boys and three girls. Husband bought me a sewing machine. I didn’t even ask for it. Guess he thought we’d save money if I did some sewing. But my only experience with the craft was a semester of Home Economics in high school where we made only a pot holder and an apron. But once again, rather than say, “I can’t,” I learned by doing.

After many failed attempts, tears of frustration and hundreds of stitches removed because they were sewn in the wrong places, I finally began producing wearable play clothes for my children. Some of the little summer sundresses were really cute and I was proud to say, “I made it,” when someone commented on one. I even turned out a shirt for my husband once... although I’m pretty sure he never wore it. That was one of my problems: once I learned something, I became obsessed!

When I learned to crochet, I started where most people do – with afghans. Then it was doilies, tablecloths, placemats, bedspreads, sweaters for my girls, and crocheted covers for everything from Kleenex boxes to hand lotion bottles. (Did I mention obsessed?) And I actually crocheted a coat for my daughter, which she enjoyed very much.

Ever hear of Bill Gates?  Well, thanks to him and some other very smart people, I had another challenge thrown my way. However, I must explain that my husband’s very first computer had a Dos operating system. He and my son enjoyed it, but I had no interest. It seemed overwhelming to me. But things have a way of changing and it becomes necessary to keep up, so not long after Bill Gates began singing the praises of Windows, my husband jumped on the bandwagon and bought a new computer. Surprisingly, he was a little intimidated by it. He’d been used to putting commands into the Dos system – being in control, you might say – so the new Windows system that seemed to have a mind of its own was a little daunting.

But not for me!

I’d just had gallbladder surgery and wasn’t supposed to do much, which gave me a perfect opportunity to play around with the new computer while my husband was at work and the kids were at school, or working. Once again, I had no fear. I clicked on literally everything. I just had to see what everything did and why. When I ran into trouble, I’d call one of my sons. One worked with Windows at his job and the other had already purchased his own computer with Windows. So I had some back-up. I’d say, “You’ve just got to help me get this straightened out before your dad gets home! He’ll kill me for trashing his new computer!”

My boys laughed, but always came through for me.  In fact, I learned things from them in those early days that I’ve never forgotten.

By the time my husband finally got over feeling intimidated, I was sending and receiving e-mail every day and tackling the Word program. But unlike me, he went about learning the new system very methodically—buying books, reading and studying. Before long, he was quite knowledgeable about Windows and I was learning from him. He’s now our family’s computer expert.

I suppose I should try to be more like him: learning first, and then doing – instead of the other way around. It’s just so hard for me to say,”I can’t.”

I really can’t!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Magic Highway

There was an eeriness about it today – the country road I feel compelled to write about each time I travel it. With nary a car traveling in the direction I was, and only a couple passing on the other side, I nearly had the five to six mile stretch all to myself. This is unusual.

This thoroughfare I’ve come to love was quite different on this mid-November afternoon than it was a month ago. White birch trees stood tall, their outstretched branches devoid of the magnificently colored leaves of only a few weeks ago. Their stately posture projected the attitude that they were braced for Mother Nature’s first assault, whether frost or snowfall.

The area I call "my tunnel" was darker than the rest of the highway even with the trees bare because many large evergreens cast ample shadows across it – as they stood guard while their taller neighbors were already resting for the winter.

The last time I wrote about this highway, I told you it was magical. It’s true! I sense it every time. It’s impossible to drive the route and be stressed or unhappy. Whether I travel this road in the springtime when trees are budding and everything is brand new, or in summer, when vegetation is lush and green – creating a darker tunnel than any other season, in autumn, when the foliage is so breathtakingly beautiful that one drives more slowly just to take it all in, or in the deep of winter when a blanket of snow covers the whole thing with freshness and tranquility, I always return home relaxed and happy. 

I can’t explain it. But it makes my heart sing!  


If you'd like to read my other stories about this same road, check here and here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Changed World

A family member phoned last night, rather late, and said he was coming by to drop off some things. My first impulse was to unlock the door and continue reading my engrossing book, but on second thought, I decided that wasn’t a good idea.

What if a stranger decided to walk in?

When I was growing up; we never locked our doors. In the summertime, at night, we used the little latch on the screen door and left the big door open all night. We had to. It was hot and we had no air conditioning. Besides, there was nothing to fear. We lived in a small town where everyone knew everyone else and we took care of each other.

Imagine leaving your doors unlocked now. Mine are usually locked. Even in the day time. My grown children have their own keys. I wish we didn’t live in such an untrustworthy world.

As a child, I walked quite a distance to school, sometimes alone. In those days, no one ever thought of a child from an ordinary family, like mine, being kidnapped or harmed in any way. In a small town, like the one I lived in, everyone looked out for all of the children – not just their own. It was a much safer world then.

My friend and I used to spend Saturday afternoons at the movies eating popcorn, watching a movie, sometimes more than once, and interacting with other friends from school, who spent their Saturdays the same. It was great – something to look forward to every week. We'll never forget those Saturdays of our youth!

Nowadays, mothers deliver their children to and from school and accompany them everywhere they go. There are some who still ride school buses, but when they step off the bus in the evening, their mothers wait nearby to take them home.

Some of my most enjoyable times occurred on the way home from school in the afternoon. I shudder at the thought of all the fun things I would have missed if my mother had picked me up!

There was a soda fountain in our town reminiscent of the one on “Happy Days”. My friends and I stopped there on our way home most evenings for a coke, a milkshake, or just enjoyment. Lots of good things happened there: I sometimes met a new friend or engaged in a flirtation with a boy from school. And when I was in high school, many Saturday night dates were made sitting at the old soda fountain – or at least my phone number written on a napkin for someone who wanted to phone later.

Yes, it’s a changed world. I suppose my parents thought the same thing when I was growing up. If there’s anything we can count on, it’s change. But no matter how things vary, the era we grew up in – to us – will always be the best!



Thursday, November 3, 2011

Can Ya' Say Yea?

Every family member carries with him at least one or two memories from the past that make him smile, just thinking about them. These may be funny antics done by young children or even something an adult did or said inadvertently – or intentionally – that was comical or embarrassing. These precious memories are what make us feel warm all over and why we are drawn close to our family. They are the very essence of “family ties.”

Today I was thinking about something amusing that my granddaughter used to say and do. Even at only four or five years old, she loved the American rock band, Bon Jovi. Any time several family members were together and Bon Jovi appeared on the TV, Danielle jumped up and down, clapped her hands and yelled, “Bon Jovi!” Then she’d go around the room speaking to one person at a time in this fashion: “Bon Jovi! Can ya’ say, ‘Yea,’ Maw-Maw?” And each person had to say, “Yea,” and clap his/her hands together before she’d move on to the next person. “Bon Jovi! Can ya’ say, ‘Yea,’ Uncle Lee?”  

“Bon Jovi! Can ya’ say, ‘Yea,” Grandpa?” And so forth. It didn’t matter how many were in the room. She challenged everyone to say, “Yea.” This happened literally every time she saw either the band Bon Jovi or lead singer, Jon Bon Jovi appear on TV or heard them on the radio.

Danielle is now in her mid-twenties and that expression remains our family’s catch-phrase for most everything pleasant. Any time something good happens, at least one of us never fails to clap his hands and say, “Can ya’ say, ‘Yea?’”

I think it’s one of life’s sweetest pleasures that an innocent child can inject something so enjoyable into a family that it lasts forever.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Life Is But A Vapor

Ah, November first. A sunny 61°. Beautiful day!

A little sadness creeps in because my beloved October is gone for another year. Why does it seem to pass more quickly than the other eleven months?

But today is a special day – my husband’s birthday. We’ll have a special dinner, and later, our children and grandchildren will visit, presents in hand, and we’ll enjoy cake and ice cream and a lot of fun together. This is the way it goes in our family. There are many of us. Each birthday and special holiday, we gather at our house, eat and enjoy each other’s company. We are blessed.

We couldn’t have guessed when we eloped on that long ago day in early September – a little more than children ourselves – that one day we’d be the parents of five children, and grandparents of seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. We couldn’t imagine ever being old; we had parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles older than we were. Old age was far away!

How could we know when we said, “until death do us part,” that time would pass so quickly – like a dream – and one day those older parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles would be gone and we’d be the senior generation – next in line to deal with our mortality.

James 4:14 says: Life is but a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. We must try to enjoy each day, appreciate every moment, be thankful for our blessings and, most important, distribute all the love we can. Our love should radiate like the sun, warming everything it touches!

Just like my beloved October, life passes much too quickly. Let us savor each golden day. Every precious moment!