Things I Learned On My Road Trip

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On my weeklong trek to New England with my cousin, Kate, I had the wondrous opportunity to see parts of the United States I had never seen before, and to visit a place I had not been in decades. I also had eight days to get to know my cousin even better – I thought I knew her pretty well before – and to benefit from her words of wisdom, quick wit, and stories that, at one moment brought me close to tears, and at the next, sent me doubling over in deep belly laughter. As I write these thoughts on our first day home, I consider all that I saw and learned, and find myself a wee bit different from the girl who headed out of Kate’s driveway in North Carolina eight days ago.

These are some of the things I learned.

There are many mountain ranges in the Eastern United States. Each one is beautiful and majestic, and each one is different. There are the Green Mountains, the White Mountains, the Allegheny Mountains, the Adirondack Mountains, The Shenandoah Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Great Smoky Mountains. Did I leave out a mountain range we saw from a distance, traveled over, or skirted around? If I did, I apologize. It isn’t intentional. As we traveled, I couldn’t help but marvel at these old, old mountains, and try to imagine how they were formed millions of years ago, about the forces that pushed them upward toward the sky, and how the years have weathered them and taken away their jagged edges. They are all now covered in green trees, which do their part in cleansing Earth’s air as well as doing a great job in the life cycle on the planet we call home.

You can’t completely trust OnStar. And we got lost more than once, even with the technology of GPS and a pleasant female computerized voice directing us which way we should go. Thank goodness for old-fashioned road maps and a handy atlas. Thanks to all of these, we are home now and not still wandering around some cornfield in Pennsylvania or around a finger lake in New York.

Speaking of cornfields – there are enough in Pennsylvania and Virginia to fill my need to see a cornfield for a lifetime. What do they do with all that corn? Is this the source of the ethanol that our cars burn along with gasoline in our cars? They certainly were beautiful, and went on for miles and miles, but I couldn’t help but wonder, why so many?!

The Amish people were lovely. I need to do more research on them. They certainly dress the part and drive horse drawn buggies. Their farms are beautiful and picturesque. I couldn’t get over, however, that they seemed to have a fabulous tourist enterprise going for them: buggy rides, quilt shops, bakeries (yes! The cinnamon pretzels were to die for!), and petting areas where people can buy food to feed goats and chickens. I don’t question the Amish simple life, and I long for such a life of my own, but it did seem awfully commercialized to me. Hmmm. Like I said, I need to do some more reading about this to satisfy my curious mind.

It’s not so easy going back in time. I visited the college where I graduated, and realized that it is no longer a college, but a university. As I walked through the campus, I recognized a few of the buildings and one pond, as well as a shady area where a friend and I used to sit and talk between classes. Nostalgia is a funny thing, and it caught me by surprise as I sat on a bench and bawled my eyes out, remembering the three years that I spent in school there. The past whispered to me with remembrances of those special days, and I was dumbfounded with how so much time could pass. I am now white-haired, and my working career is coming to a close in a few short years, but I am still the same young woman who had her whole life stretching out in front of her only yesterday. How can time play so many tricks on me? It doesn’t seem quite right.

There are a few friends in one’s life who only grow dearer with the passing of time. I had the treat of a lifetime to visit with one of these friends on my trip. We calculated that we had not seen each other in approximately thirty years, but when she and her husband picked me up at my hotel to go to their house for dinner, it was as if no time had passed. When I stepped into her home, it was so familiar to me that my breath caught in my heartbeat for a moment. Her kitchen table where we used to drink tea and talk were gone due to her kitchen remodel some years back, but the feeling hadn’t been updated or remodeled. I have no words to explain what it was like talking to her and visiting again after so many years.

And lastly, I learned that my cousin, Kate, and I are excellent travel companions. I couldn’t have asked for a more fabulous adventure as the one I shared with her. Even when we had tense moments in our travel, we breezed through them together without harsh words, or even negative thoughts about the other. In our conversations while traveling down country roads and interstate highways, and while enjoying a meal together or resting after a long day in a hotel room, her wisdom about life and living inspired me and made me think and reconsider some things about myself.

It was a great trip! We are now curious about where our next one will lead us.

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Playing in the Key of C

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When I was taking piano lessons as a child, one of my exercises was playing scales. Of course, C was the easiest to play – all white keys. It got a little more complicated as the scales of F and G were added, one with a flat and the other with a sharp. Then, they got harder and harder as more sharps and flats were added, and constant practice was needed to teach my fingers where they should go.

Among the simple little pieces my piano teacher gave me were hymns. Of course, I began with the ones in the key of C, and mastered them pretty quickly. “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” was one of the easier ones. Another was “Jesus is Tenderly Calling.” I moved on to hymns with one flat or one sharp. Since I learned to read music the traditional way, I read both the treble and bass clef, and didn’t know about chords or chord progressions until years later when I took organ lessons. My brain was forced to look at both clefs and relay the message to each of my hands about which notes to play.

I remember my teacher showing me each new hymn and making me study the music before I ever put my fingers on the keyboard. She would tell me to think in that particular key. For instance, if the hymn was in the key of G, she had me look for all of the F sharps in the song and picture in my mind my fingers going to the black key. I learned to concentrate on the key of the music before I ever attempted to play it. I would then play a few scales in the key of G to warm up.

The difference between flats and sharps never bothered me. I have friends who are amateur or hobby musicians like I am who tell me that they can’t play flats, or they can’t play sharps. They hand pick the hymns as those that fit their particular criteria. Because of the way my piano teacher taught me, I was never daunted by the difference.

I did freak out, however, when the hymn had more than two flats or sharps. But by using the approach I was taught, I was able to play, if not master, most of the hymns I wanted to learn.

Isn’t life a lot like playing in the key of C when things are going smoothly in our lives? We find that we travel effortlessly along the white keys of life. We don’t even have to consider, worry about, or work to avoid the black keys. But as life becomes more complicated, and challenges pop up in our musical score adding sharps and flats along our way, our fingers have to work a little harder and train themselves to maneuver in order to make sweet music. We discover that sometimes we need to stop and study what is going on in our lives, and anticipate the change in the pathway. Through prayer, contemplation, and meditation, we are able to set our hearts and souls for the change in path.

These days, my music page of life has turned from a song in the key of C to one in another key. Things aren’t quite as predictable as they have been for the past couple of years. I am facing new challenges, unknown melodies, and probably some sharps and flats in my life. I need to set my mind to think in a new key, and prepare myself for some time on the black keys.

It may not be easy, but I’m hopeful the result will be some beautiful music.

Four Quotes to Live By

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I heard the following quote somewhere along my way and wrote it down on a scratch piece of paper I found while cleaning off my desk recently. The source is not clear, but it is attributed to John Lennon, Paulo Coelho, an old Indian proverb, and the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I recall that it was the movie where I heard it and wrote it down. I think about this when things aren’t going my way. It is:

“Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay – it’s not the end.”

Another quote that I try to live by is this one, coined by me in a moment of clarity while talking about the uncertainties in my life:

“Relax, and let life happen.”

And the third one – one I wrote a story about in my recently published book, Sunshine Leads the Way, is:

“There is no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just life.”

This was spoken by Doc Holliday as he lay dying, to Wyatt Earp in the movie, Tombstone.

As I begin the last week of a job I have had and loved for almost two years, these three quotes keep rattling around in my head. Leaving was not my decision, but that of the institution of higher education where I am employed. Higher ups decided that a part-time librarian was no longer needed, that a degree in library science was not necessary for the position. My job ends, and a newly restructured position will be announced soon. What it will be is still unknown.

This brings me to another quote that my friend, George, uttered – his own words – a few weeks ago as we were walking up the hill to his home after putting his chickens in their pen for the night. We were talking about our families, growing old, and slowing down in our lives. He said, wearily, “Sometimes I feel unnecessary.” I assured him that, indeed, he was necessary, and needed in many, many ways by lots of people and animals, but his statement resonated with me and lodged in my heart as I thought the same words and applied them to myself.

How can I weave these four quotes into the fabric of my life as I face a new path and the uncertainty of an income to supplement my retirement funds? Sometimes things just aren’t okay, and life is far from what I believe to be normal. My sons are grown and living independently on the west coast, across the continent from me. I have no grandchildren to dote on. Like George, I sometimes feel unnecessary. I keep telling myself to relax and let life happen. Everything will be okay.

But it isn’t that simple. Life changes. What looks like it might be the end turns out to be the beginning of something new. But what will it be? It’s scary, not knowing.

I need to take a few deep breaths, be patient, let life happen, and wait for the “okay” in my life to reappear. I’ll not search for “normal” in my life. I will embrace the changes in my life, and discover places where I am necessary.

As I look towards the future after this week ends, I think about my writing.

Will I have more time to write? Is there a chance that I may be able to supplement my income through my writing? Since I self-publish, is it at all possible that someone of importance may stumble across some of my writing, find value in it, and want to take a chance on me? Who knows? This could be a pipe dream of mine, something that will never happen.

But then again, it might.

I Told Myself….

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I am watching my sales report on createspace.com, the platform I use for publishing my books. I told myself I wasn’t going to do this.

I also told myself that if only one person reads my new book, “Sunshine Leads the Way,” and is touched by something in it, I would be satisfied. This has happened. I have received a wonderful review by a reader. I am happy.

In addition, I told myself I wasn’t going to get greedy, and that I don’t expect my little book to become a best-seller. This is still true, but as people read my book and share their satisfaction and enjoyment from it, I mentally pose the question, “Why not?” Then I pull myself back down to earth and remind myself the reason I write and publish. It isn’t for the money (although it would be nice to have a supplemental income to help me with my living expenses!), but for the joy of writing and for the hope that by sharing my life experiences, I may help someone else with theirs. By sharing my extraordinary days, I might light the way for someone else to take notice of theirs.

Collecting days is something I’ve done all my life, and I want to make this activity one that might catch on with people everywhere. We so often go through the daily routine of living that we miss the wonder and adventure that the most ordinary of days can bring. I try my best each day to find something worth remembering, worth researching, worth photographing, worth writing about. Yesterday, it was seeing a fairy ring of mushrooms in a neighbor’s yard and finding out what a hashtag is all about. One day last week, it was an unusual cloud formation drifting across the sky. Friday, it was a baby goat bouncing on and off of me in delight – a baby goat, who before that day, had been skittish and afraid of me. On Saturday, it was sitting in my living room with four fantastic young women surrounding me, enjoying an afternoon of friendship and love together. I have claimed these strong and unique women as “my girls”, and we were celebrating a job change and new beginning for one of them.

It isn’t so much about writing in a journal or carrying my camera or phone around with me all the time. It is all about being observant, grateful, curious, and loving. It is also about holding each day in my heart, caressing the present moment with a prayer of thanksgiving, and understanding that with each minute that passes a memory is born.

I invite my readers and followers to order a copy of my book and read it. If you like it, a nice review on amazon.com would be appreciated. But more than anything, my desire is that by reading it, your life may be changed, just a bit, and that you may realize that you, too, are a collector of days.

https://www.amazon.com/Sunshine-Leads-Way-other-stories/dp/154468438X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1498570616&sr=1-1&keywords=sunshine+leads+the+way

 

All Things Bright and Beautiful

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“All things bright and beautiful. All creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”

This was a song I learned as a child, and believed the words. I still do.

Something has been resting heavily on my heart for the past several days that I feel like I need to address in my writing. It has to do with this little song, whose words keep playing and replaying in my mind, and about God and God’s creation.

Last week I read that the United Methodist Church, the church I have been affiliated with all my life, ordained a transgender person as a deacon. I read with great interest the article about the ordination of M Barklay, one of God’s bright and beautiful creations. I read about the struggles this person has gone through in reaching this important point within the organized church, and the devotion and dedication to God and God’s work M is so passionate about. I am proud of my church for taking this step of inclusion and acceptance of people who don’t quite fit into the male / female mold, one that many of us hold onto so tightly.

What disturbs me about this were the many comments I read from Christian people condemning the church for this action and for labeling M as a child of the devil (the worst that I read) or a person not worthy of representing the church as an ordained deacon, according to scripture. I was amazed at the hatred, fear, despising, and condemnation that littered the comment section of the online articles that I read.

It makes me sad.

The Lord God made us all, as we teach our children in Sunday School. It is a miracle that any one of us is alive and walking on Planet Earth. I look at my own life and marvel that I am here at all. At any one point in the history of the world, one small thing could have happened to keep a baby from being conceived, and thus, I wouldn’t be here. In my imagination, I can just see my caveman ancestor returning to his cave after a long day of hunting and gathering, wanting a little affection from his cavewoman. She had a busy day, as well, and was exhausted. I can imagine in my mind her hugging her caveman mate, and saying in cave language, “Not tonight, Honey. I have a terrible headache.” But she didn’t. A cavebaby’s life was begun, and here I am, along with a long line of other ancestors, my siblings, and my two sons. And whether any of us are heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, or something in between really doesn’t matter. We have been given the gift of life, which is beyond any labeling that may be tacked onto our backs by others.

God created all things bright and beautiful. To those Christians who condemn homosexuality, gender differences, the concept of “two spirit” people (a Native American term. Read about it!), and anything that doesn’t fit into their narrow belief about God and God’s creation, I feel very sorry for them. I don’t believe that gender differences are a sin. What constitutes sin is us missing the mark of God’s intention for our lives. Who’s to say that God’s desire can’t be fulfilled in people who are a little bit different from us.

I think it is time for Christians, and all people who believe in God, to look at every person as God’s creation. I realize that things happen as a part of being human that make people different from one another, and can certainly make some people evil and dangerous. But we are all God’s children, even the very worst of us. And God is alive in us, even when we shut God into a dark closet and ignore the creator within us.

I wish M Barklay the very best in ministry and in reaching out and touching the people who need M the most to show God’s love to all. I look at the life of Jesus, and can see him reflected in this ministry.

I’m sure there are many who read this who won’t agree with me, and that’s OK. I am content and satisfied with my beliefs, which include believing that God is love, and that God loves everything and everyone that God has created.

“And that’s all I have to say about that” (thank you Forrest Gump for this quote).

Small Town, Georgia, Girl

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           I have a new baseball cap that labels me as exactly who I am. It says “Small Town Girl”. It has a map of Georgia embroidered on it with a star designating my approximate location in the state. It was a gift, and I love it!

I guess I’ve always been a small town girl, even though I was born in Piedmont Hospital in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948. But even though I was born in a large hospital in Georgia’s capital city, I never claimed Atlanta as my own.

I grew up in Decatur, Georgia, which during the 50s and 60s was indeed a small town. We were six miles from downtown Atlanta, which to the child that I was seemed like an awfully long way from home. It was too far to walk, so we had to take the trolley if we wanted to go downtown to go shopping at Rich’s. My mother didn’t drive a car, meaning that most of our shopping was done right there in Decatur. It was when Mama needed patterns and fabric to make clothes for my sister and me that we dressed up like we were going to Sunday School, hopped on the trolley near the Decatur train station three blocks from our house, and spent the entire day downtown, getting off the trolley back home in Decatur late in the afternoon, just in time for Mama to prepare our family supper. Sometime in my adolescent years, Decatur lost her small town status to become part of Metropolitan Atlanta. But she remained a small town for me until long after I moved away at the age of sixteen. Today, even though Decatur retains much of her small town charm, the traffic congestion and difficulty in finding a place to park that doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, along with the variety of pricey restaurants, remind me that she really doesn’t qualify for “small town” status in my mind anymore. Even the houses on the street where I grew up are now priced so far out of my reach when they go on the market to be sold, I could never afford to live there these days!

Enter Monroe, Georgia, the small town I have called home for the past five years. Now, this little town reminds me more of the Decatur where I grew up than any place I know. Yes, we have our traffic snarls on Broad Street, especially when the big trucks are trying to get through town on their way from one of the interstates to the other, and when I am trying to come out of the Walmart parking lot during rush hour or on Saturday. It’s a lovely little town, with friendly people, welcoming churches, a terrific little community theater, a Saturday farmer’s market, lots of small shops for browsing and purchasing interesting items of all kinds, safe places to walk my little dog Sunshine, a strong medical community, and the warm touch of Georgia hospitality. People here wave as they drive by, and they pause on the sidewalk to say hello to my dog. They don’t ignore me as I walk past and will look at me and greet me with a smile.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be living in Monroe, Georgia, I probably would have shaken my head, pondered in my mind just where Monroe is on the Georgia map, furrowed my brow, and asked, “Where? Why?” It isn’t important why or how I landed in Monroe, but I am happy that I did. I was even able to purchase a small home – one that I could afford – to set down a root or two. I am making this my home for awhile and claim this little town as my own, even though I am a transplant.

Small Town, Georgia, is a good place for someone like me. I live a simple life, enjoy listening to the birds singing in the trees around my home and watching the deer in the park, appreciate that nothing that I need is further than 10 minutes away by car (and I could walk if I had to!), and have made some very good friends. All this, and more, are what make me a true blue “Small Town Girl.”

In the novel that I wrote, “Fishbowls and Birdcages,” the main character was someone like me, a person who moved around from town to town, never quite belonging, and never sure just where Home was. She finally found her place, and it, too, was in Small Town, Georgia, although hers was a fictional town. She learned that the saying, “bloom where you are planted,” had a positive meaning for her as she developed her own identity and strength through her faith in God. Fran found her place, and I have found mine.

Yes, I am now officially a Small Town Georgia Girl. My new hat is proof of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help Me Make It Through the Night

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The telephone awakened me from a sound sleep. My bedside clock showed that it was a few minutes past 1:00am. Caller ID on my phone informed me that the caller was my friend, Bill. What could he want to talk about at this hour of the night. We had talked earlier in the evening for almost an hour.

Bill apologized for waking me up. The sound of his voice told me that something was wrong. I couldn’t get him to share with me what was on his mind, or why he called me at this ungodly hour, even though I asked him more than once what was the matter. Rather than quiz him further or demand an explanation, which it was obvious I wasn’t going to get, I simply asked him, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Talk to me, “ he replied. “Please help me make it through the night.”

Only a couple of days earlier we had been talking on the phone about our favorite song writers, and Kris Kristofferson came up in the conversation, where we had agreed that we both liked his music, and this song in particular.

“Talk to me,” he repeated.

“Would you like for me to tell you a story?” I asked.

“Yes, please.”

Drawing from my writing and my collection of days, I began telling him about a game my sister and I played as children, Runaway Orphans. Since Bill and I both grew up in the same town, he was familiar with the places my sister and I visited when we played this special game. I embellished the story and added drama to it in an attempt to entertain Bill with its telling and perhaps help him get whatever was troubling him off of his mind.

When I finished, he said to me, “Tell me another one.”

I then went into the story about the day I ran away from home when I was five years old.

“Another one?”

I dug deeper into my childhood, recalling our family tradition of making homemade peach ice cream on the Fourth of July every year and about my job of sitting on top of the churn while Daddy turned the crank. From there, I went into the story about my special brother, Johnny, and a story about my daddy’s pocket watch. As I finished this story, I realized I had been talking for well over two hours, and that it was very quiet on the other end of the line.

“Are you still there? Are you feeling any better now?” I asked.

Bill’s voice, barely above a whisper, answered, “Yes, I think I am.”

“Do you want me to tell you any more stories?”

“No, I think I’ll be ok now. Thank you.” And he hung up, leaving me wondering what had just happened. It was now 4:30am.

Bill never told me why he needed me that night. The next evening when we talked, I commented, “Well, we made it through the night last night, didn’t we?”

“Yes, “ he said. “And it was no small feat. I’ll forever be grateful to you for staying on the phone with me all night long.”

I never learned what was troubling Bill that night. Over the course of our three-year friendship, I discovered that he had his own demons he was battling, and little by little, one by one, he shared a few of them with me. He also recalled tidbits of his history and life as a journalist – he truly had the gift of the story teller, and could have me laughing uncontrollably or sympathizing with tears running down my face as he’d relate a tale from his past.

Bill also encouraged me as a writer. He never completely understood my style of writing – I am not a journalist or reporter, but a weaver of tales and a painter using words instead of paint of my memories and adventures through life. He would sometimes tell me that I needed to step away and be more objective in my writing, that I put too much of myself into it. I’d politely disagree with him, and he’d keep on complimenting me on my writing, even though I didn’t take this piece of advice. He said on many occasions that I was a better writer than he was. That wasn’t true. He was a gifted writer, a diligent researcher, and an extraordinary communicator through the written word. I could never do what he did.

One thing that Bill told me often was that he didn’t believe he would live to be an old man. He once said that he didn’t think he would live to see 70. And he was right. I guess he somehow knew his limits and sensed his life span. When a classmate of ours died recently, he told me he thought he might be next. I wish he had been wrong.

Bill was my friend. My heart is aching as I write tonight. I’ll miss hearing his voice, listening to him telling me about his latest writing assignment, and being the recipient of his praise and admiration of me and my writing.

I wish I could have had the chance to say goodbye.

“I don’t care what’s right or wrong,

I don’t try to understand.

Let the devil take tomorrow.

Lord, tonight I need a friend.

Yesterday is dead and gone, and tomorrow’s out of sight.

And it’s sad to be alone.

Help me make it through the night.”

“Help Me Make It Through the Night” by Kris Kristofferson