Dream of Heaven

I had an amazing dream night before last. It was the anniversary of my mom’s passing, and that date is usually full of reflection about her, yet this year I seem to have turned a corner.  I didn’t post about her on social media, and, though I reflected on the date, it’s probably the first time that I didn’t get emotional.  I’ve been under a considerable amount of stress, so I chalked my lack of emotion up to being distracted about several issues I’m dealing with.

The dream was a sweet one.  Mom, who looked about 30, was playing with a three-year-Old Charlee in a stream of water from the hose.  They were both wearing white cotton slips as they played on a green lawn.  They were laughing and playing, splashing in the stream, and running from each other, delightfully pretending to avoid getting wet.  The dream was short, and ended with Mom running into the house, screen door slamming.

It’s a miracle I remembered the dream—I seldom do—but the next morning, it made me smile as I recalled the joy of it.  Then I realized that Charlee hadn’t even been a thought when Mom passed.  It’s one of my saddest regreets—that she missed out on meeting my grands, her great-grandchildren.  Why had I dreamed about Mom and Charlee, a child she had never met?  I pondered the question as I got ready for school.

Somewhere in the getting-ready process I had a revelation.  If Heaven is infinite, why do I doubt Mom meeting Charlee (or her four other great-grands)?  And if time is infinite, why could they not know each other at any stage of life they’ve lived?  If all barriers are gone, it makes perfect sense that a three-year-old Charlee could be splashing with her 30-year-old great-grandmother.  And, if that’s so, I could be splashing with my great grandmother and my great-great-great granddaughter someday as well!

I don’t know when I’ve had a more enlightening moment.  I’ve never thought in these terms before, but in the middle of a completely stressful week, God sent me a dream that has given me a glimpse of Heaven.

Mom, it’s been 15 years.  I miss you more than I could ever have imagined, but I’m looking forward to laughing and playing like kids with all the grands and greats. Until then, I’ll keep an open mind.  Thank you, Father, for a sweet little dream that is as big as all Heaven.  Colossians 3:2-4

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Advice to a Young Man On His Wedding Day

“I love you,” and “you’re beautiful” are two things you should say to her every single day. You can also add, “I’m thankful God sent you to me,” and “you are the better part of me.” And when she cooks, “This is delicious!”

I hope you don’t have to say it too much, but remember that “I’m sorry” goes a long way in mending hurt feelings. Never be too much of the big man to say those words.

When you walk into a room together, keep your hand at the small of her back. It’s a little thing, but it tells the world that you are happy she is yours and that you are happy for everyone to know it.

Never criticize her in front of others! Never flirt with others—not even “just for the fun of it.”

Talk late into the night about your plans for your future. Don’t ever stop making plans!

Celebrate! Birthdays, anniversaries, promotions—whatever—celebrate. Life is wonderful! Celebrate it!

Go for a walk in the moonlight. Hold her hand. Kiss under the mistletoe.

When there are heartbreaks and disappointments, let them become the part of your history that made you stronger together. Don’t try to face sorrows or difficulties on your own.

Make sure your wife’s car is safe. Check the tires, the oil, and make sure you keep gas in her tank. She will get the message: you are protecting her.

When your wife is sick, take good care of her. Get her a blanket. Hold her hair while she throws up. Hold her hand.

Give your wife time with her friends. She will in turn give you your time for hunting and guy stuff.

Let your children know that there is no one like their mother. Show them how much you love her. It’s one of the best gifts you can give your children. Love their mother!

It’s important to remember how much you love your wife. Believe me, there will be times when you forget (or want to!), but find yourself a quiet spot and remember, with your heart, how you felt about her when you knew for sure you were in love. That memory will sustain you and strengthen you. Always see her as your young, beautiful bride.

Put God at the center of your marriage. Let your wife know that she can trust you because your trust is in the Father. Take your family to church. Let your children see you read your Bible. Practice what you teach them.

I hope that you two are happily married for 70 years—at least! May God bless you with happiness, love, trust, and an abiding faith.

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Chivaree!

Do you ever awaken with a word on your mind?  Probably no one else in the world does this, but it happens to me pretty often.  This morning I woke up “hearing” the word chivaree.  I hadn’t heard the word in years, and thought it strange that it would just “appear” on the movie screen of my brain out of the blue. 

But wait, maybe it’s not out of the blue after all.  I’ve been planning a 40th anniversary party for my husband and I for the past year or so.  I’m making decorations, putting finishing touches on the menu, gathering serving pieces, and tying up loose ends for what I hope will be a fun and memorable celebration.  Perhaps my preparations,which might certainly seem wedding-like, have caused me to conjure up old memories–old fears, if you will, from a time when I felt very threatened–by a chivaree!

Those of you who have never heard the term, or are too young to remember when they took place, a chivaree happens on the night of the wedding.  Friends, relatives, and various other folks come to your house, wait quietly outside until the lights have gone out, and then they start banging on pots and pans, blaring car horns, aiming spotlights at the windows, and yelling at the top of their lungs until you open the door, invite them in, and offer this rag-tag bunch of hooligans refreshments!  If you don’t, they might abduct you, leave you somewhere in the dark and let your spouse try to find you.  Or they might blindfold your sweetie, put him in a wheelbarrow, and truck him off into the woods, then make you go find him.  Fun times.

There are lots of “fun” pranks that go along with the tradition.  The pranksters sneak into the couple’s house before they return from the wedding, and have a high old time putting crackers in the couple’s bed, removing paper labels from all the cans in the pantry, and applying Saran wrap to all the toilets.  

The custom of chivaree has been around for at least a couple of hundred years, and seems to have its origins in the midwest and south.  It’s the community’s way of blessing the marriage and putting its seal of approval on the choice you’ve made in spouse.  It’s a welcome into the “family” of both blood kin and close neighbor.  The tradition has morphed over the years into what we have now–people sneaking out during the wedding reception to decorate the car with shaving cream, crepe paper, and tin cans attached to the bumper.

When hubby and I tied the knot in 1973, the tradition of chivaree was dying a slow death in these Ozark foothills, but was still a very real possibility for the unsuspecting newlywed.  And though I have never taken part in one, my hubby fondly reminisces about his part in such atrocities.  It’s hard for me to believe that my quiet, soft-spoken, shy husband would ever have taken part in these raucous adventures, but it turns out he was a very active participant in the hooliganism. He speaks fondly about the time he helped put the groom’s car’s back wheels up on blocks the night of the wedding. A not-so-nice surprise for when the loud noise prompted the couple to try to make a get-away!

Which brings me to the reason I was terrified of that word.  The first few months we were married, my husband introduced me to a friend of the family, Johnny Newberry.  Johnny was a very different sort–a bit odd, but lovable.  Johnny had quite a unique appearance–large blue eyes that seemed to bulge from the sockets; a huge smile with wide-spaced teeth; very little hair, and a distinctive, high-pitched laugh.  He always wore a plaid shirt and blue overalls, and walked with a pronounced hitch.  When we were introduced, the first thing Johnny gleefully told me was, “We’ve got to get you a chivaree planned!” to which hubby responded, “Oh, no, Johnny; it’s much too late.  We’ve already been married several months.”  It was then Johnny informed us that a chivaree can take place for up to two years after a couple is married!  

I had no clue what a chivaree was–had never heard the term!  But when hubby and I were alone and he explained to me what to expect, I let him know on no uncertain terms that I was not having that under any circumstances!  He just shook his head sadly and said, “There’s not a thing I can do about it.” Every time I saw Johnny Newberry, he grinned that big grin of his and said the word that made my blood run cold:  Chivaree.

I lived in fear of the dreaded chivaree, but finally the two years passed, and Johnny became my beloved friend, and there never was a chivaree for us.  I had all but forgotten even the term until this morning when I awakened to those frightening syllables whispering through my subconscious until they became fully formed as a very real thought, and a very real memory of something I dreaded with all my heart.

I’m smiling as I write this, because I realize that there never really were any plans for a chivaree.  Johnny was enjoying a silly joke at my expense.  It was his way of welcoming me into his family of friends and neighbors.  As the years passed, hubby and I spent many an evening at Johnny’s table, playing dominoes with he and his sweet mother.  We were sure to be beaten, and sure to be rewarded with Johnny’s laughter as he cleared away the dominoes.  Johnny and his mama are both in heaven now.  I’ll bet when Johnny got there, the good Lord gave him a proper chivaree.

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Fred Flintstone, Charming Vinnie, and Row 13

You never really know how crazy you are until you’re face to face with your biggest fear.  For me that fear is flying.  Let me correct myself: It’s not really the flying that scares me, but it’s the getting off the ground that just gives me the heebie jeebies!   All that power and speed, blasting me into the sky just gives me a real–well, sinking feeling.  I am definitely not okay when taking off in an airplane.

On our recent trip to California, my good friend, Becky and I had seats aboard flights where it’s first come, first served, sit where you want.  Of course, we were always the last on board, and to my horror, it looked as if we weren’t going to get to sit together on the first leg of our flight, which was Little Rock to Phoenix.  A wonderful lady who must’ve seen the panic on my face from ten rows back, asked if we’d like to have her seat, and she graciously moved to a middle seat just to accommodate us (bless her!).  We got situated, Becky said a prayer, held my hand, and my heart began to palpitate.  My eyes filled with tears, and I could see it in Becky’s face:  What have I gotten myself into, bringing this crazy woman on an airplane?  

The plane then takes off down the runway, and to lighten things up a bit, Becky says, “I always feel like I should be running along like Fred Flintstone, helping the plane take off.”  Of course, I couldn’t help but laugh with that mental image in my head!  Once in the air, I began to relax, but then there’s that horrifying other part of the trip:  The dreaded landing.  How can we possibly stop if we’re going so darn FAST???

Needless to say, I could’ve kissed the ground in Phoenix, but then the realization hit me:  We still have another take-off and landing to go before we’re in San Diego!  Okay, more prayer, more hand-holding, everything should be okay.   See how I keep using “okay”?  That’s all I can hope for is to be “okay.”  This flying thing is totally out of my control, and if I can stop hyperventilating, that’s just what I’ll be–okay.

We get on the plane, and once again, we’re toward the end of the boarding line, so of course, there’s no two seats together . . . except there–a ways back, sits a beaming elderly man, and low and behold, the two seats behind him are available!  He even welcomes us as we sit.

Becky’s sitting next to him, and she introduces herself.  He tells her how beautiful she is, then he asks me what I do, and I tell him I’m a teacher, and–I swear I’m not making this up–he says, “I wish there were teachers as pretty as you back when I went to school!”  He tells us his name is Vinnie, and that he started the Midway Airport in Chicago many years ago, and that he is headed to San Diego to attend his granddaughter’s wedding.  He and Becky carry on a spirited conversation all the way to San Diego, with charming Vinnie actually getting her card and promising to purchase Santas from her for Christmas giving.

As we’re about to land, Charming Vinnie said the most horrific thing.

He said, “Gosh, I’m glad you girls sat down here.  Nobody sat by me all the way from Wisconsin.  I guess they just didn’t want to be in Row 13!”  Row 13!!!!!!!   I looked up, and right above me, yep, there it was, just beside the AC vent and the light–the dreaded number 13!

Becky didn’t know this, and no one else on the plane realized it either, but I let out a scream (in my head) that would have rivaled the one uttered by Vivian Leigh in the movie Psycho when she was being stabbed in the shower.  Needless to say, I left my fingernails in the armrests of row 13 that flight.  But we landed safely after sailing down the runway, yet again, at impossible speeds. But I’m fine now.  I really am.  I’m gonna be OKAY.

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Of ipads, Redcats, Galloping Technology and The Class of ’72

I just got back from a wonderful four days of workshops at Hot Springs Technical Institute, so I wanted to get this down while it’s still a fresh perspective for me! I’m working with an outdated processor here, so I have to dump the memory pretty quickly or something in there chews up all the information, scrambles it around like a jigsaw puzzle, then eventually, like in a day or three, it’s gone forever.

I am the proud owner of a new ipad 2, and it is truly an amazing tool. At the introductory workshop, our happy group were all trying to hit the wi-fi at the same time; needless to say, some of us were “left behind.”  “That’s technology!” the young, overly happy instructor chirped (or should I say tweeted?).  Anyway, we all just nodded, sighed, and tried once again to connect.

Another presenter for one of the myriad offerings at this year’s HSTI was attempting to log into one of the sites she was demonstrating for mind mapping.  Of course with all the computer use in the building at the time, the Internet was running like molasses in January.  She shrugged and said, “That’s technology.”  Sympathetic nods from the audience.  We were eventually off and running to all the sites she demonstrated and things went pretty smoothly from that point forward, but in the next workshop, the demonstrator was working with a Smart Board, and it wouldn’t quite pick up her input. Her Redcat didn’t do the trick on amplification either.  “That’s technology for you,” was her comment, and the entire class laughed politely, understandingly, and we went on our merry way, learning in spite of the glitches.

As I teach my classes each day at the high school and at the college level, I find myself repeating the chant I heard several times the past few days:  “Oh, well, that’s technology!” when things go awry–which they nearly always seem to do.  I use the mantra as a learning device for the students.  “What’s the only thing you can be sure of when you’re dealing with technology?”  and the students respond, “If it can go wrong, it probably will!”  Or I ask when something doesn’t work as it should:  “Is this likely to happen in the real world, or is this a problem isolated to our lab?”  The response:  “It will happen in the real world!”

With technology galloping like a wild horse into the future as it has for the past decade, there’s no telling where we’ll be ten years down the road!  The only thing I can assure you of is this: Technology is moving way too quickly for most mere mortals to keep up; sadly, we’ll have technology that will never work to its capacity or with the ease we want, because we’re not willing to wait until adjustments are made and perfection is achieved before we’re on to the next new thing.

We are like children in a sandbox, amazed and loving that first toy that’s put in front of us, but forgetting that toy when the next new one is offered. I’m wondering if the next generations will ever become expert at anything!

On a more positive note, we do tend to build on past learning and apply what we know to the next new thing. We have also become very good at adapting to new ideas.  We accept things with a shrug that would have been thought miraculous only a couple of decades ago!

When I was a senior in high school way back in 1972, our creative writing instructor asked us what technology would be like in the next 50 years. Someone said they thought we’d all have computers in our homes (yeah, right!) and have special phones that would allow us to see each other as we conversed.  The same student thought we’d all be doing our banking by computer.  I recall the whole class having a good laugh at that one!  How could the ability to see someone by phone or do your banking online be possible or even necessary?  Most of us agreed that we would definitely not want someone seeing us–the very thought!  What if we’d just gotten up and hadn’t ironed our wrinkled bell-bottoms? Or applied our blue eye shadow or sugar pink lipstick? Or made sure that handle-bar mustache was groomed appropriately? No, we definitely were against the seeing-someone-as-we-talked thingy.

Technology is astonishing.  And horrifying!  It is frightening to think what we’ll have to learn next year, let alone in the next decade.  Unless there is a mighty disaster in which technology is destroyed or disabled, our best defense (I think!) is to climb onto the back of that galloping horse, grip the mane tightly, open our minds to what is possible, and hold on for dear life! Educators are at the forefront of this sweating, panting, thunderous, unbridled stampede.

Copyright 6.17.2011, Patricia R. Roberson

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Disciplines of a Beautiful Woman

I awoke this morning with your voice in my ear, but before I could make a true memory of the dream, it dissolved into vagueness.  All I remembered was that I had heard your voice, and really, that was all I needed for this day.

My day was filled with thoughts of antique rose china, gingerbread, empty closets and exciting, far-flung mission fields.  My day was filled with you, my friend.

I’ve never, ever known anyone quite like you!  Your calm thoughtfulness was always a refuge for me; I knew I could call you any time with any problem and you’d go quiet on the other end, your mind racing, thinking of all the possibilities, and I knew to patiently wait–you were going to say something of real and true value if I could just endure that thoughtful silence!  I never knew anyone else who did that–who took the time to actually think–to actually respond with the most considered, kind, and sensible answer.  It was a gift, rare and beautiful, just as you were.

I remember complaining about my four-year-old being such a picky eater.  You laughed softly, then thoughtfully tousled his hair, as you pronounced, “He’s much like John the Baptist, who preferred very simple foods.”  Only you could turn a four-year-old’s obstinacy into a virtue!

Though I loved you dearly, you weren’t perfect.  You had a real “thing” for china, or for dishes in general, really.  And you were a relentless shopper when in pursuit of the perfect dishes!  I’ll never forget the shopping trip to celebrate your 50th birthday.  I pushed your wheelchair all around the mall, as we searched for your next set of china.  You simply had to have a new set!  You see, it was time to bless someone else with your present set!  It was the twenty-sixth (twenty-sixth!) set of dishes you had bestowed on various friends, neighbors, relatives, and possibly virtual strangers. How delighted you were when you called me a few days later with the news that you’d found the recipient of your set of antique china–a sweet little girl in your neighborhood who might not truly appreciate the gift for many years to come.  But you knew what you were doing, didn’t you?  You knew that one day that little girl would grow into a woman who would unpack those lovely dishes, and would smile when she remembered the beautiful woman who gave her such a wonderful gift.  And, knowing you, I’ll bet you told that little girl all about a man named Jesus.

Gingerbread:  I can’t disconnect you from gingerbread!  I loved the intricate houses you decorated with your girls, and the way you’d make all the pieces, then invite neighbors in and help them put theirs together.  What a great example of love in action you were–a “walking Bible” for anyone who came in contact with you.

I’ll never forget your empty closet.  Dean took me back to your room, opened the door, and invited me to have a look.  There were two blouses, a pair of pants, a jacket and a pair of sneakers on your side of the his-and-hers.  Astonishing.  You told me once that giving your clothes to charity was one of the disciplines of a beautiful woman.  I will never be able to live up to your example, but I admire you with all my heart for being able to live it.

The discipline you displayed was remarkable.  You chose not to be treated for the cancer that ravaged your body.  You chose to live that last year enjoying your husband and your children.  You pleaded with me to respect your choice, and I promised to do so, but it was not an easy promise to keep.  There were tears and sadness the day you died, but there was also joy and thankfulness. Thankfulness for that golden crown you received from the hand of the One you so humbly served.  I know you are feasting on the finest dishes Heaven has to offer!

It is said that if your friends number the fingers of one hand, you are indeed blessed.  I am indeed a blessed woman!  You, my friend, were my good conscience, always leading me, softly, in a way that anyone would appreciate: with love, forgiveness, acceptance, and encouragement.

I went to the mailbox this afternoon, and was amazed to find a Christmas letter from your oldest daughter, along with a beautiful family photo.  Her husband is the author of the letter, and his pride in the immaculate home she keeps and the wonderful meals she prepares practically jumps off the page. I think of you and your “Betty Crocker” ways, and I smile.  The smiling faces of your beautiful grandchildren break my heart a little, for your sake, but I know that through them, and through Rebecca’s three, you live on. I’m not surprised when I read that this little family will be off to spread the Good News along the Amazon next year. With you setting the example, they pretty much have to do astonishing things!

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Showers of Blessings

The Wonder of "Firsts"

Little Man teaches me a thing or two . . .

I got the news a few weeks ago, but I think it’s really just now sinking in.  I’m going to be a grandmother–again!  When our sweet daughter told us she was expecting our first grandchild, I laughed out loud–laughed, because she was so surprised, and because I was so delighted!  When our girl gave us the news about this second addition, somehow to me it just did not seem real.  I was just as delighted, but the whole idea just didn’t “gel” with me–didn’t seem real–until just the past few days.

We are so blessed to get to be with Little Man as much as we are!  I know the times when we have both little ones for an overnight will be rare and very special, but at the moment I’m wondering: Let’s see, a two-year-old and a newborn . . . are we really up to that babysitting gig?  That means two car seats to deal with, and you all know I taught my grandson a choice naughty word (his first!) over a clasp on a car seat!  How in the world will we manage two? And by the way, where in the world will we put two car seats? Our vintage Honda may have to be retired in favor of one of those horrid SUVs or maybe even a crossover (whatever that is!).

This is just the transportation problem; that’s just the very tip of the Grand Iceberg! What about feeding, bathing, changing, entertaining, and getting these little ones to bed? I’m worn out already, just writing about it! I’m envisioning an episode of the Keystone Cops, or a cartoon where someone is herding cats!

Although I know I’m ill-equipped for this new addition, I also know that when he or she makes their blessed appearance, I am going to be one happy Muzzie!  I came across a funny picture of Little Man today, and it reminded me how very precious and funny and absolutely priceless he is.  It’s his first experience with an umbrella in a light rain.  I could probably write a poem about it.  The boy was so thrilled to hold that big, colorful “tent” above his head!  He listened raptly as the raindrops tapped against it.  His joy was amazing, remarkable, and contagious. He reminds me every day of what an awesome, shining and new world we live in.  The New Addition will put his/her two cents’ worth in as well, and I can’t wait to hear his/her take on it!

Raindrops keep falling on my head . . . showers of blessings!

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Being a “Big Girl”

My friend is going off on a grand adventure!  This Wednesday she leaves on a trip she has dreamed of, dared not dream of, made reservations for, cancelled the reservations, and then decided that yes, absolutely, she was going!  I’m so proud of her for taking this brave step.  She is going to have the time of her life, and I can’t wait to hear all about her trip when she gets back!

I’ve been encouraging her to go, that she’s really going to feel like a “big girl” when she dares to do what her heart wants to do, which is venture out into the world alone–all alone–for once.  I reminded her that it was like that evening she and I struck out for McCain Mall, a vast distance of 40 miles away, for the first time, just the two of us.  We were 18 and had never, ever ventured that far from home without adult supervision.

Turns out that trip was a marvelous adventure, and one neither of us has ever forgotten! At the time, the mall wasn’t even complete–only Dillard’s was up and running, but that was fine–it was a wonderland to us–complete with escalators to all three floors–and we explored and delighted in about every inch of it! We both remember what we bought that glorious evening– a bottle of Yardley’s Lemon Cologne, and a lime green photo album (which I still have).  I remember laughing a lot on that little outing, but the most amazing thing was the feeling of total liberation.  We really were “big girls” on that trip to the mall!  I had driven us there, we went where we wanted, and we went home when we got darn good and ready (probably by 9:00 p.m.). That fateful trip was in 1973, but to both of us it seems like yesterday.  We made a memory that day that hasn’t lost any of its sheen in these 37 years.

I had a similar experience a few years back when I went on a trip to Indianapolis.  I was free to roam the city by myself, go where I wanted to, and just be a “big girl” all on my own.  I felt a bit like Mary Tyler Moore as she stood in that Minneapolis square with her arms outspread, scaring the pigeons, finally flinging her hat into the air in total abandon.

So, my friend, I’m thrilled you too are going to Minneapolis, and I hope while you’re there you’ll wander off on your own, buy some lemon cologne, and maybe scare a pigeon or two when you throw your hat.  It’s fun being a big girl!

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Teacher Talk . . .

As earnestly as I’ve wished summer would simply go on forever, alas, we have arrived at the beginning of yet another school year! In a couple of days, those yellow school buses will be rolling in with their burdens of tightly wound, anxious little children, and to my amazement (I’ll admit it!), yes, they’ll be looking to me–(me?!)–for structure, professionalism, control, constraint, expertise, guidance, and whatever other tricks I can pull out of my school-teacher bag!  Am I ready?  Well, I’d better be, because tomorrow evening is open house!

There’s something pretty wonderful about beginning a new school year, but you never really get that it’s wonderful until there are actual students there to remind you what a privilege it really is to be a teacher.  Somehow the thrill of it all is squelched a little bit by the preparation–the building of those darn bulletin boards, the cleaning of endless desks, installation of new software, the setting out of books, the trial and error of new classroom procedures, the endless, exhausting in-service . . .

But then the kids arrive for open house, and many of them are your former students who have no reason to come to your room other than they just want to see you, and they’re looking for that reassuring hug, and a feeling of familiarity.  You both know that in  few weeks you’ll both be too busy for such things, so you take a moment now to laugh with them and to wish them well in this new territory–this new world you’re both just starting again.

Then there are the new faces.  You see a shy smile or hear a playful comment, and you start analyzing:  That’s going to be my class clown; she’s going to constantly have her hairbrush out . . . he’s very athletic, and he is my next student helper; I better keep an eye on that one! What’s marvelous is you don’t know which ones are going to worm their way into your heart, and you don’t know which ones are going to go on their way and do something absolutely wonderful, and you don’t know which ones (thank goodness) who are going to drive you crazy!

This teaching gig is pretty marvelous, if you really think about it.  It’s a craft.  It’s an art.  It’s a mission.  There is no finer calling.

Have a marvelous school year!

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It is what it is . . .

I think my childhood pretty much ended in 1963.  I was eight years old, and we were living in Redlands, California, which, at the time, was a beautiful little southern California city–an oasis next to a hot, dry, not-so-beautiful desert.

I went to sleep one night a normal kid with normal things on my mind (school, friends, ice cream, new shoes), and I woke up the next morning with an ambulance outside my house, and white-shirted ambulance drivers carrying my daddy out on a stretcher.

I was scared, but not really surprised by the events of that morning.  I’d had a nightmare that night that someone was holding my daddy down and pouring concrete down his throat. In the dream, he was struggling, but could make no sounds.  It was scary and I remember waking up, realizing it was only a dream, then going back to sleep.  The events of that morning, though frightening, seemed to fit with the dream I’d had.  I wasn’t surprised at all when they hauled Daddy off to the hospital.

I realized just how bad things were when I had to stay with the next-door-neighbor lady.  She bought me a Shirley Temple grooming set, complete with brush, comb, and a little bottle (I’m guessing it was for that goopy waving gel we used to use).  I knew things were really WRONG when I got that present.  After all, a kid doesn’t get a Shirley Temple grooming set unless something really bad has happened.

After a few days of Mom being gone to the hospital, my brother and sister broke the news to me that Daddy had had a stroke. Stroke was a new word for me.  I remember saying it aloud, letting the word roll off my tongue; even trying it in a sentence. I tried to tell my good friend Carmen my dad had had a stroke. She looked at me, her face all scrunched, and asked, “A stroke? What’s that?”  We both just sat there, because I had no idea myself.

Several days passed before Daddy was released from the hospital.  He couldn’t walk (the whole left side of his body was weak and nearly useless) and he couldn’t speak.  It became apparent to my mom right away that we’d have to go home to Arkansas where we could get some help from family.  You see, my mom had very little education, and since Daddy was no longer able to work, she knew it would be next to impossible for her to make a living for a family of five.

Weeks passed, and Daddy slowly began to make progress.  He learned to stand, sit, and even walk a bit, though it was clear walking was going to be a challenge.  Also quite a challenge was his speech.  His speech, along with familiar gestures, helped us to understand him.  He clearly was determined to get back to Arkansas and family.

We boarded a train that June evening headed for Beebe, Arkansas.  My sister had gotten a job there in Redlands, so we left without her.  My heart was in my throat waving goodbye to her, and I can only guess how my mother felt.  I remember her walking down the aisle of the train as we pulled out of the station, watching Bonnie frantically waiving to us, until the distance separating us made it impossible to see her.  A silent tear trickled down her cheek, but she said nothing. She finally took her seat, wiped her face, and sighed.

We arrived in Beebe three days later, hungry, dirty, and road-weary.  My first thought when I saw the little town shimmering in the summer heat was “this can’t be it!”  On the street beside the depot, there was a Trailways bus station, The Palace Theater, a grocery store with a sign out front that read, “Weatherford’s Grocery,” and a place called “Popcorn Pete’s,” which seemed to be some sort of clothing store.  Next to Pete’s was a run-down building with a sign that announced “Pool Hall.” My first impression was not a good one, and things got gloomier as the day progressed!  I really thought I’d come to the end of the world!

My uncle (Mom’s brother-in-law) picked us up in an old Ford. The small talk on the way to his house included something about the president, and how he was a “Cath-o-lick.”  He also asked questions about “Californy.”  “Did you see any movie stars out there?” he asked.  Mom, who had worked at a bar and grill, answered that yes, she had, and gave the short list: Mickey Rooney, Little Oscar, the Marlboro Man.  Uncle just smiled and nodded, rightly impressed.

When we arrived at Aunt and Uncle’s I realized with a start that these people were actually much worse off than we had been in California!  A single bulb dangled from the ceiling, and an old worn-out car seat served as a sofa!  The house smelled of old bacon grease, but was otherwise fairly tidy.

That night, a huge thunderstorm blew in.  I had never experienced a thunderstorm before, and it was a doozy! Lightning, hail, and huge explosions of thunder shook the little house. Though early June, it was already hot and unthinkably humid, and in those days, a fan was our only comfort.  Along with all the other difficulties, a swarm of angry mosquitoes had made their way into the house, and were enjoying a midnight snack courtesy of one eight-year-old–me! To say the least, it was not a good night.

The next morning I was shocked to learn that there was no bathroom here at Aunt and Uncle’s house!  Auntie pointed me to a trail that led off into the high weeds.

After that chore was accomplished, it was time for breakfast. Auntie went out to the back yard, chased down a chicken, and wrung that hen’s poor neck as I watched, stunned.  She then busied herself by plucking and cutting the chicken.  Next thing I knew, she had that unfortunate bird in a deep iron frying pan, sizzling in the fat.  I had never had fried chicken for breakfast, and I’ll have to admit, I have never had fresher chicken before or since!

–to be continued!

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