Friday, October 31, 2008

Dad and Me Together


He is getting old, my dad is. He is now on the down-side of 82, tires easily and hurts alot.

And now . . . he has Lewy Body Dementia.

I'd always worried it would be his weak heart that would take him away from me before I was ready to let him go. Are we ever REALLY ready to let the people we love . . . go? Now I am worried that this new disease will take "who he is' from me before his bad heart takes his last breath from him.

So before he forgets the important things in his life, like me :) I post this for him. That he might know, that he might truly realize, how important he has been, is, and will be to me.

My daddy.

In our lives, my daddy and I have lived this poem and as we approach it's last stanza, I like to be reminded: that tho' we might be apart for awhile, in the end, we'll always be together.

My Dad and Me Together

I often think of days gone by
Back when I was a lass.
Of how I often loved to be
A taggin' 'round with Dad.
Dad taught me by example
Things that time and space can't sever.
And many a happy time we've had,
Dad and me together.

I remember once, 'twas long ago,
While walkin' down the lane,
The birds were singing here and there,
Each one his own refrain.
Dad taught me that old adage
About the truth -- birds of a feather,
And I kept thinkin' as we went,
Yes, Dad and me together.

The years passed by, and changes came --
A family of my own.
But many a time we went again
To that old country home.
Dad's steps were slow and shorter now,
But still it seemed he'd rather,
And soon we'd be a walkin' 'round,
Dad and me together.

Dad's gone now; he's left us here
Lonely, sad at heart.
We always knew the time would come,
Some day we'd have to part.
But if I, like Dad, can sail life's sea
Through rough and stormy weather,
There'll come a time we'll always be
Dad and me together.

Author Unknown

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Surprise!


Tomatoes and hydroponics. Sure they go together. Strawberries and hydroponics, too. But roses and hydroponics? I wouldn't have guessed! Let me back up and explain what I am talking about.

Last May, I ordered a bareroot hybrid tea rose from Jackson and Perkins, the name of which is 'Welcome Home'. It originally was ordered as a gift for someone. Yellow happens to be my favorite color of rose, too!

It arrived in June, I put it in a bucket of water planning to send it on to it's intended final destination in a couple of days. Well, while "on the way to my shoes" I got busy and did not get it prepped to send. And it sat in the bucket of water. Although it sat right where I frequently walked, it was as if I didn't see it. My dad emptied the bucket and refilled it with fresh water every once in awhile but it remained in usually green, slimy water, neglected. I didn't really want it but didn't know what to do with it (my friends don't like roses).

Until . . .

The day before yesterday.

As I exited the back door on the way to my swimming pool, a spot of yellow caught my eye. Wonder of all wonders, that ROSE IN THE OLD BUCKET was blooming! The bush had leafed out nicely and produced three blooms! Granted they are smaller than what they should be, I was startled that it grew and produced leaves much less flowers of any size!

That tenacious rosebush is an inspiration to me! If it can suffer extreme neglect and harsh growing conditions and still bloom, cannot I do the same when my life mirrors that of the rose in the bucket?

I am going to plant that rose.

In a place of honor and where it can be seen daily, by everyone. Right by my front door. No longer will it languish by the back door.

In all my years of growing plants, never would I have guessed roses can be grown in water. Curious, I looked up roses and hydroponics on the internet and apparently, there are people doing it as you may see by the references in the following links:

Growing Beautiful Roses

An Innovative Mix: Roses, Hydroponics, and Computers

I find it fascinating that it can be done and I'd previously had no clue! Though the special meaning for me lies in the fact that mine has given me a lesson in survival, inspired me and radiates optimism.

It is more than a 'Welcome Home' rose, it is a rose of hope . . . a survivor.
Just like me.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lessons from Shells

While in Florida during April, I went walking along the beach during the morning looking for something to photograph. It wasn't extremely early in the morning so most of the shells along the shoreline had been picked over by ones who had arisen earlier (the early bird gets the worm). But there were enough to look at, nothing spectacular but interesting nonetheless. As I picked up shells and examined them determining which ones I wished to keep, I began to notice something.

First, there were far fewer "perfect, goreous, unbroken" shells.

Second, the shells that were pretty on the outside were almost always plain and uninteresting" on the inside.

Third, the shells that were plain and uninteresting on the outside were pretty and interesting on the inside. By that time, I'd picked up enough to fill the pocket of my shorts.

Laying them out, I photographed some of them and in their silence they taught me a lesson. The shells are like people. There are those that that are beautiful on the the outside but once you look at their inside, you may very well find there isn't anything attractive or worth looking at on the inside. Now, true, there are a few, very few, that are beautiful inside and outside and they may have nothing broken about them. But those are few. As almost all shells have some imperfection or something broken about them, we as people are that way as well. Most of the time, if a person thinks they have it all together, they probably do not. We are all broken or hurting in some way.

The plain shells. I discovered that if I took the time to pick up the shell and turn it over, I'd find something worth noting on the inside. The shell might be pretty, have interesting structure, be colorful or unusual. But to see it, I had to take the time to stop rather than just pick it up on the fly, pick it up and examine it. I had to look for the attributes that at first were hidden (unless it was upside down).

Such as it is with people. Most people we meet are of the average kind. Most are nondescript. Most are not considered to be part of the "beautiful" people set. BUT, if each of us would take the time to examine those people, get to know them, we might discover something worth knowing about that person. We just might find something beautiful on their inside versus their outside.

I keep that handful of shells on my bedside table to remind myself of those lessons learned in nature that morning. To look beyond the exterior.

My life is richer because of that walk. I take time to discover what is inside a person and how my life might be made better by that discovery. Most of my best friends are those shells that are exquisite on the inside. Those are the "shells" I keep.

Something learned from my years of growing and aging. Maybe aging isn't such a bad thing after all (tell that to my wrinkles :)

So, maybe I have much that is interesting to share with you. Maybe you can discover something in me that can make your life richer for the living of it. You never know.

I am headed to Cape Cod soon. I wonder what the shells there will tell me? Whatever they say, I hope the their words and the time at the shore will bring healing.

Next time you find yourself with the opportunity to visit the ocean, pick up a few shells. They might teach you. Listen, you might hear more than just the sound of the ocean in them.

You might hear lessons for life.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Motley Crue, A Motley Crew, and A Gospel Choir?

Okay. What do Motley Crue, A Motley Crew and a Gospel Choir all have in common? Portfest in Newport!

Last night was the second and last day of Newport's annual summer festival called Portfest. It is a two day festival with approximately two weeks of local activities i.e. talent show, fishing tournament, 5K race, etc. leading up to the big weekend (not including the wearing of the official t-shirt which begins about six weeks or so before and is "required" wearing on Fridays around town). It seems like everyone in town has some connection to the preparations for the big event.

Friday was a long day and I was not able to make it out to any of the festivities but Saturday night I made my way out for the BIG show with some friends. While there, I made a few observations.

First, I might mention Vince Neil, lead singer for Motley Crue, was the headliner for the concert. Now when our Chamber of Commerce director announced this at our annual banquet, I found myself asking "Who in the world is Vince Neil?" It didn't matter enough to me to investigate . . . until I saw his photo on the posters . . . and found out he was with the metal band Motley Crue. To say his photo was ultra hot would be a gross understatement. I might mention here I've never heard one of their songs either. But hey, looking that good, who cares?! It also bears mentioning that most of the acts that do these festival circuits have seen their heyday and so when they show up here, they look nothing like the photo on the posters. I now realize these photos are from days gone by. So with no recognizable music and nothing to LOOK at, I tried to nap until the fireworks. But that was an effort in futility. For even though we'd moved almost a football field back from the speakers, I still felt like I was attached to a defibrillator. Every cell in my body was reorganized. Moral of the story? Sit TWO football fields away from the speakers, don't believe those guys look ANYTHING like the photos on the posters and oh, rock stars do not age gracefully, especially ones with lives like this one.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vince_Neil

Second. It is indeed a motley crew that shows up for Portfest. My life takes me out into our community on a daily basis where I know and see a good many different people. But I'm telling you, I've no idea where this motley crew comes from each year for Portfest! When the napping thing wasn't panning out, I decided to people watch. Veeerrrrryyyyy interesting . . . where DO they get those clothes? Does he realize mullets are 'out'? How can she walk in those wedges on this turf? Can they not see their clothes are waaaaaaaaaay too small? Does her mother know she is with him? When was the last time he took a bath and do guys wear shirts anymore? You would not believe the interesting humanity congregating at our little festival. Yep, quite a motley crew of our own. As these thoughts went through my head and I recognized no songs, I realized . . . I am very much middle-aged. By the way, where did Brawny Boy go to? Is he wearing a shirt?

The concert finally finished (not a moment too soon) and during the lull, I leaned back and looked up at the stars. The stars are very visible where I live as it is rural and there is very little light pollution. The temperature at 9:30 pm was 89 degrees, there was a good breeze and no humidity and miraculously, no bugs thanks to the fogging crew. The air felt like satin against your skin. It was Perfect with a capital P. There were couples taking advantage of the night and the stars (apparently Motley Crue music puts some people into a romantic mood) as we waited for the fireworks to begin which did none too soon because I didn't want to watch the couple's fireworks :) The wind wreaked a bit of havoc with the fireworks but it was still a good production with the best finale I've seen yet at Portfest.

Third. I almost forgot. The gospel choir. Interestingly, only in the South would you follow up a Vince Neil/Motley Crue concert with fireworks set to music from a gospel choir! Only in the South.

All in all, Portfest was a great time. Five years ago at my first Portfest, having just moved here, I knew one person. Now, not only was it fun to head out there with a group of my friends but I knew dozens of the festival goers around me (the 'normal' ones :) . Good friends, good junk food, perfect night, Brawny Boy behaved and also wore a shirt. What more could you ask for on a summer's night?

Next year? You're welcome to come with me . . .

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Taps


"A man must know his destiny… if he does not recognize it, then he is lost. By this I mean, once, twice, or at the very most, three times, fate will reach out and tap a man on the shoulder… if he has the imagination, he will turn around and fate will point out to him what fork in the road he should take, if he has the guts, he will take it." George Patton

It is Memorial Day.

It is also eleven days from the 64th anniversary of D-Day of which I am reading about in Jeff Shaara's "The Steel Wave".

When I was born, the twentieth marking of that day had not yet even come. It has now been what seems like so long ago. But with any war, it is never long enough for us to forget. Not long enough to forget the sacrifices of the men and women in that World War or the Great War or the Civil War or the American Revolutionary War or the many other wars in which lives were lost in the cause of freedom, freedom for ourselves or for others.

Days such as this one, Independence Day or Veteran's Day have such meaning for me, affecting me deeply. Not just because I am passionate about my country's birth or it's preservation but because one of this country's heroes lives with me: my dad.

My daddy, now 82, is a World War II veteran. He was with the 78th Lightning Division, 309th Infantry, "E" (Easy) Company fighting in Germany and Belgium, the Huertgen Forest, Battle of the Bulge, the Bridge at Remagen. He was 18 years old. After slogging it out for two years in the trenches, suffering through cold, enduring days on end of fear and pain, he came home with a purple heart and a bronze star. Not the same man who left two years before but a man still, a changed man. A man proud of the service he gave his country and for which he still pays a price today.

Until 1986, after a serious incident with his health which was a result of treatment for his war injury, my dad did not like to speak about the war. As children, my siblings and I would play with the remnants of his uniform and the medals which were kept in the garage along with his military photo. The times represented by those mementos were never referred to until 40 years later. Then, it was as if a dam burst, creating a need to talk about what happened during his military service and he has since shared with us as his family, and school children where we live, the reality of war. The good, the bad and the ugly.

The stories of his experiences are varied. There are stories of bars and fights (of the drunken kind) in England, English families adopting the soldiers, stories of being scared spitless and of bravery, of ordinary people in war-torn countries who did not believe in what their evil leaders were doing, of German children not knowing the difference between their neighbors and the enemy and seeing them as they were . . . just people to love and admire no matter the uniform, of U.S. soldiers having hearts of gold and reaching out to those same children to make their day a little more sunny when their home was being blown to bits. He knows of looking into the eyes of his enemy who was just doing his duty, knowing he had someone somewhere that he was special to, yet my daddy knowing he had to do his duty, too. He remembers seeing the mask of death worn on the faces of soldiers on both sides. His stories are of how his heart broke knowing that there were innocent people, children, killed in the shelling, shelling not only by the Allies but by their own German army. His stories are of some lighthearted moments with both his fellow enlisted soldiers and officers. Ask him about his tailoring and barbering skills :) Of soldiers who were good and bad, on BOTH sides.

And his stories are of having seen his buddies blown to pieces as they stood beside him, knowing it could have been him, and of treating those that were injured with either medical care and/or comfort as they lay dying or waiting for a medic.

It is about those people, we think today. The ones who didn't make it back. But for the grace of God, my father might not have made it back and he has never, not once, forgotten that. And so today he, too, is remembering his friends who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Unfortunately, the loss did not end there and it never will, as long as there are people left to disagree on the face of this earth. But also, never will the remembering end. No matter the war, no matter the place . . . we will remember . . . and we will be grateful.

Today, Daddy, I am thankful for what you have done for your country and am relieved that today I honor you and need not lay a wreath upon the soil underneath which you lay. But when that time does come . . . I will remember. Proudly.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Teaching, Learning, Touching Lives

It was yesterday. The morning after one of the most hellish nights of my life (of which I am amassing quite an astonishing number). On tap for the day? Substitute teaching. Not kindergarten. High school biology. More teenagers. There was no way to back out, so I bucked up. They had requested a strong, good sub, one who could command respect the moment upon walking into the room. When a request like that comes in it strikes fear into the hearts of a sub for there must be an ominous reason for the teacher to request such.

The agenda: an exam for the first two period classes, an in-class assignment for the last period class. The school operates on a block schedule of four periods per day. The first was my prep period.

I introduced myself to the kids who did not know me. Many of them do i.e. "Hey, you’re Suke’s mom!" or "Aren’t you Reggie’s mom (my son’s nickname)?" It began with the usual moaning and groaning about an exam, the teacher including material not appearing on the study notes, the test being too hard, yada yada yada. So far, so good. Made sure the seating chart had been adhered to, took roll, gave the instructions for the test and the kids dug in.

Although some kids took longer with their exam, the long block period provided more than enough time to finish it and then allowed for time left over. As they finished, they could read, write (not text), or relax. Cautiously, I made a decision to allow the kids to talk quietly amongst themselves.

Surprisingly, many of the kids approached me to talk or asked me questions from the groups they were in, apparently curious about me. By the end of the period, the kids were engaged in conversation with me and the topics had run the gamut. We discussed the value of education, setting priorities, drugs, alcohol, violence, the media, my background, their backgrounds, their opinions, relationships, their language, some of their police records, their dreams, their mistakes. These were the discussions that took place throughout the day.

The second class proceeded as had the first and when the exam was completed some of the students came to my desk to talk to me individually or we talked as a group.

During the last half of that class, a student I’d had in the horticulture class last school year was passing the classroom , saw me and stopped to say hello. I’ve always affectionately called him "Holey" because of the number of piercings he has. He loves it. He was one of those students that gets into your heart and doesn’t leave it. We talked for awhile about his life, school, his future, he is a senior. This student has not had a stellar academic career but if anyone takes the time to know him, they see he has an amazing heart and incredible potential but he doesn’t apply himself. Upon finishing, he gave me a hug, turned to the assembled group and said "Ms. Stephanie is the only person who can read me the riot act and do it in such a sweet voice that I don’t even know that I’ve been reemed out because I’ve listened to every word she said."
Another student which I’d not met before began talking with me. When I learned his name, I began to put two and two together and figured out that he was the young man involved in a situation with the police that I’d just heard about moments before from a phone conversation. I also realized he was the friend my son had spoken of previously. This young man had a penchant for foolishness. He loved to put videos on UTube showing him and others doing dangerous, gross, sickening stunts. One of them resulted in a run-in with the law a few months ago. He discussed how all of that made him feel. He was embarrassed at what he used to do, ashamed of the police situation and has now turned over a new leaf. He is extremely creative with video technology, production and has a great imagination. To use it all productively, he is now going to do some videoing for me for a non-profit which I head up and take care of the computer work for me. His excitement at my interest in his ability and the trust he felt from me warmed my heart.

The third class wasn’t exactly thrilled about their assignment but I convinced them they were better off than the other two classes which had had an exam. The complaining ceased quickly :) Their assignment was completed in very short order (except for one student) and again I decided to allow them to talk amongst themselves.

Again, we discussed the stories of their lives, topics of which were sad such as the death of Donnie and why he committed suicide (which we now know and it is horrible) or exciting such as their plans for the future or thoughtful such as the challenges they face everyday and what their response to them should be.

The day was perfect. Not a single student acted up, misspoke, or gave me a single bit of trouble. Not even a suggestion of it. I couldn’t figure out why they had made such a specific request for the type of sub? Why the concern? These kids were phenomenal.

As the last bell rang, my teenage son "Reggie" came to find me and asked how my day went. For you see, he KNEW the kids that were in my classes. He was grinning, thinking "I’ll bet they ran you ragged and gave you a really bad time. Oh, this is going to be GOOD!". When I shared with him the happenings of my day and the interactions I’d had with specific students, he was dumbfounded. He made me repeat the names of the kids I’d referred to, telling me I was mistaken as to their identity. His final response was "Wow. That is not like those kids at all. Their behavior is ALWAYS bad and they live to eat substitute teachers up, making them miserable." I laughed and told him he must not really know the sophomores because none of them were like that!

The end of the day. So much learning had taken place. But not only the learning of biology. I learned much from my students. Maybe they learned a small something from me. More importantly, I think, was the sharing that took place. Sharing of ideas, feelings, opinions, stories, hugs . . . and hearts. Kids will talk, if we would just listen. Their stories are too many to share here but know this, you would love to hear them :) . All of them: sad, funny, thoughtful.
God, I love those kids. The rascally ones, notably :) I needed to be there, in that place, at that time, yesterday, with those kids because they taught me something valuable: there is hope. There is hope for these kids no matter what they have done or where they have come from because it is about where they can go from this point on if they choose. There is hope for this town. There is hope for the future.

On the way out to the car, with my son still grinning in disbelief at the kids and his mom, my heart is filled with love of which I told him. I felt encouraged. For these kids had shown me what I need to know . . . there is hope, hope for my own two sons.

And as for the type of substitute teachers they need for these kids? Maybe they just need one with a heart . . . and ears.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Too Soon Extinguished

Sweet, humorous, kind-hearted, respectful. Those are words one would use to describe him. Now there is another to add to the list: gone.

This morning, my son John called me from the road as he was returning from his spring break trip to Florida. The last few days, I must admit, were a bit nerve-wracking for me since I’d not heard from him except for a late-night missed call Thursday night with no message left.

Anxiety-causing.

This morning, my son John called to let me know that his classmate, Donnie, from Newport had taken his own life. Sweet, humorous, kind-hearted, respectful Donnie. Now gone.

To describe the shock is not possible. To fathom his family’s grief is not possible. To pray that it will never be my child and no other family will have to go through such grief IS possible and I’ve prayed that all day long.

It also brought to mind the blog of a young 15 year old friend of mine. She wrote it recently and in it she wrote she felt she no longer wanted to live. I spoke to her of my concern for her which had been growing over the last three months. She acknowledged she has such feelings and is depressed. Fortunately, she also made them known to her parents who had noticed a change in her as well and are going to get her some help. I wanted to let her know I am here for her.

Anytime.

Reach out to the young people around you. Get to know them. Sometimes they need someone in addition to their parents to be there for them.

I’ve no details about what happened this morning and I may never have any. Too many times in such situations, no one ever discovers the why, as if there is ever any good "why" as to such sadness.

But I do know this: today a young man’s life was extinguished all too early and we are left heartbroken. We need to love on the young people around us, they may need it. And you, nor they, may even know it.

Be there.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Passing of a Well-Loved Pet


The last few days have been difficult ones. Saying good-bye to a loved-one whether it is a person or a pet is painful to say the least.

I want to thank my friends that have sent kind words and those that have been here for me these past few days. I needed such support. It has meant a great deal during a sad, trying time.

As Kiki awaited her freedom from her suffering this morning cradled in my arms, she purred, slowly blinking as she looked at me. I felt her trust in me. Tangible. I could see it in her eyes. The sense that instinctively she knew I sought to free her from her pain.

And so, just like in so many years . . . she loved. She purred, she pressed her cheek into my breast . . . and she loved. A silent thank you. For loving her enough to do this.

"Could I but give you comfort in my death,
How might I tell you what you meant to me?
All I did, both night and day, was love you,
Rulers of my kingdom and my heart.
Like gods, at last you claimed my painful breath,
Opening the door to mystery,
The final gift of all the gifts you gave me,
Taking what I could no longer give you
Even if I tried with all my heart."

Author Unknown

Peace, Kiki. You are loved and will be missed. Thank you for loving me back.


Catch ya on the fly, mom.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Service: A Life Lived In, A Life Given In

Late in the morning, I attended the funeral of the husband of P, good friend of mine. This man, I had known casually for the last 4 years. The last four years of his life being a mere shadow of the life he'd lived in his previous 70. But I didn't know that. Not until today. After attending his funeral service and hearing of the rest of his life, I can now understand more fully how difficult these last years were for both of them during his decline.

One by one, family and friends stood at the podium and gave testimony to a packed church of G's life, what he did, and how it affected them. The eulogies given by his four boys were stirring, moving, inspirational. Let me give you an example of what kind of man he was and the legacy he left to the rest of us.

At one time, he'd worked for the gas company, being on call 24/7 to help customers with repair issues. During the middle of one night, he'd received a telephone call from an elderly woman who needed help, her heat wasn't working. After he had gotten dressed, left home, did the repair and returned home, his son asked him if he was going to charge her for the service call. To which he replied, "No son. She thinks I still work for the gas company." You see, he no longer worked for the gas company but when she called his home, he still answered, still practiced service to others, he still showed up, even when it wasn't required of him. If anyone needed help, with anything, at any time or any place, G was there to help.

Selflessly.

He wore many hats: husband, father, firefighter, deacon, elder, painter, builder, utility worker, Navy veteran . . . but the best and most fitting hat that he wore was that of Hero. Because that is what he was to everyone who knew him. A hero.

He lived a life of service. He was a hero. Ask anyone who knew him. They'll tell you. I thought I'd somewhat known G but now realize . . . that I met him just today . . . and yes, he was a hero. He will be missed. His was a life lived in service . . . to his family, to his friends, to his community.

This afternoon, I witnessed an event reminding me of a life given in service.

For this afternoon, our community, this small town that I currently call home, did what it does well: cares for it's residents, it's own. We saluted those who are called to possibly give their lives in service.
You see, this afternoon, our community came out to give a hero's send-off to our local Army National Guardsmen, Delta Company 39th Infantry, who are being deployed to Iraq until sometime next year. So, as is so typical of this warm, welcoming, wonderful and caring community, we lined the four-mile route from the armory to the highway. Our residents came out in force: waving yellow ribbons if they weren't tied onto the fronts of businesses, waving flags if they were not on poles struck into the ground, raising signs with warm, well-wishes, waving arms, whistling, cheering, throwing kisses. The town's finest consisting of the local police and sheriff's departments led the way with motorcycle-riding veterans following right behind them, escorting the chartered buses carrying the soldiers through town. Behind the buses, traveled the families and loved-ones of the departing soldiers with messages of love and encouragement written all over their cars.

As the families and love-ones followed behind the troops, you began to notice that those inside the cars were doing the same thing that we were: crying. We cried. Cried, but tried to smile through the pain. Because we are proud of our soldiers. Because we, as a community, are more than simply that . . . we are family. Because no matter what side of the political fence each of us is on, when it comes to love and support of our troops, we are on only ONE side: their side.
Those men and women who left us today to serve overseas, far, far away from our small enclave here, are not only living a life of service, they may be called upon to GIVE their life in service.

Selflessly.

Join me in praying for their safety, in praying for the safety of ALL who serve in our armed forces. Pray for lives that will continue to be LIVED in service, no more to be GIVEN in service. For ultimately, we are all community. Not just here in our small corner of Arkansas, but worldwide.

So, at the end of this day, I realized that although many, many bad things are happening in our world today . . . there also happened something good.