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Lux Remembers

In last week’s column, I wrote about Lux, a teen-age Rotary Exchange Student, who lived with our family for four months almost thirty years ago.  After she went home, she called Christmas mornings and we sent cards and pictures.  Now, via email and social media, we communicate.

            I asked Lux, her nickname for Lavanya, to share her memories. This column is snippets of her response. I didn’t made changes; her command of English is part of her story.

Dearest mom thank you very much for taking me through this memory line.

            OH MY how and where do I start from? It feels like I have just lived there in Cookeville and back. Evergreen in my memory which I would cherish every bit of it for my lifetime.

            Lavanya a tiny teenager decides one fine day that she would be part of this exchange program and live in another country where people culture food everything would be unimaginably new. Knowing very well that I could return home to India only after a year to see my family. Our only form of communication was letters and few phone calls due to the cost of international calls.

            New environment, new people, new accent of English, new food and an entire new culture waiting for me. My first day of school was mind blowing and challenging. One would understand if you know the layout of Cookeville high school. New teaching methods and the culture of my fellow students were so beautiful. My acceptance as one among them started then. I was surprised and at the same time felt happy to have had the wonderful opportunity to be there and experience such happiness.  God really have blessed me with such wonderful parents in India and two lovely parents and families in Cookeville ready to be my parents forever.

            A sister who takes me to school who teaches me how to enjoy cleaning the ice off the windshield. A wonderful younger brother with whom I played with snow and enjoyed watching his basketball matches at school. Fun and carefree where those days, no doubt.

            I remember Halloween and the large pumpkin which I sat down and carved into my own design and put a candle onto it. A work all by myself.  Going to the nearby town and visiting the Apple Barn and tasting apple pie with cinnamon. I could drool over it even today.  Mom I miss your Macaroni and Cheese .

            Stepping out to pick our Christmas tree home and the fun we had watching dad Allen decorate it.  He was as tall as the tree. What a wonderful Christmas. Singing songs, opening Christmas presents (I yet hold most of it) a visit to the church for the midnight prayer, watching the movie Ghost with Alicia and friends.

            My entire year in Cookeville with the most wonderful families would be cherished for a lifetime. I have learned that life is beautiful and distances are never a boundary to have such wonderful relationships and continue the bonding forever.

            I’m thankful for Lux and that she has happy memories.  When we’re busy with daily life, we often don’t realize the memories we’re creating.

A Happy Thanksgiving Memory

When Lux moved into our guest bedroom on the Friday after Thanksgiving, 1990, Husband and I welcomed a third child, another teenager. She brought two suitcases, clothes on hangers, and a big smile. Lux, Lavanya, was a Rotary Exchange student from India, and we were her host family for four months.

            About a year earlier, during a family supper discussion Husband talked about the exchange students who presented the Noonday Rotary Club’s program and the idea to invite a student to live with us was born. Daughter and Son, ages 16 and 14, had known other Cookeville High School exchange students and they thought it would be fun.  Husband and I agreed so when he learned that Lux needed a host family, he volunteered.

            Rotary Exchange students are 15-19 years old and attend school while living with two or three hosts families during their 10-12 months experiences.  Lux had requested the United States.  She came from a professional family; an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. 

            Lux had lived with another Cookeville host family before she came to us so she knew the routines of a being a high school student and had earned how living here was different from living in her home city, a megacity.  But she had been the only child at her first host home and at our house she was thrown into a hectic schedule.  Two working parents and two teen-age siblings who played sports, attended Young Life meetings and church youth groups, and whose friends who were in and out of our home often.  All that activity made Lux’s smile even wider.

            No matter where anyone went, even to the grocery store or post office, Lux wanted go. She especially enjoyed high school and Tennessee Tech basketball games, and although she didn’t understand the rules, she liked the excitement and cheered when we did.   

            Lux sometimes wore a red dot on her forehead.  She explained that where she lived in southern India, a dot could be marked after prayers, but in some Indian cultures, only a married woman can wear a dot, a bindi.  And she explained her altar which set on her bedside table.  Christmas was a natural time to talk about the differences between Christian and Hindu faiths.  These ongoing discussions among made me appreciate this international student exchange program.

            Lux enjoyed the freedom of wearing blue jeans and t-shirts, but for special occasions she chose her native dress, beautiful colorful saris.  Showing her sense of humor, she once dressed in her sari and a baseball cap that Son had given her.  She stood by the door smiling, and as expected, Daughter and Son both shook their heads and told her to either change her clothes or take off the cap.  She giggled and took off the cap.

             Thanksgiving brings memories of Lux, a daughter I thought would move in, then out of our lives, but phone calls, Christmas cards, emails, and social media have kept us in touch.  When she calls and says, “Hi, Mom,” I see her smile and travel back to 1990. 

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My Grand Said

“Gran, your lunch looks like a dead mouse with a chicken on its head,” my 5-year old Grand told me while he ate lunch with Husband and me. How could half of a ham sandwich look like a dead mouse? I could stretch my imagination to see a chicken created from five triangular pieces of cheese.

“Jesse, have you ever seen a dead mouse?” Husband asked.

“No, but it’d look exactly like what Gran’s eating,” he said. Looking at his plate where I’d created face features using grapes and tangerine segments, Jesse said, “I like teeth and eyes, but I don’t like hair so I’m glad my guy is bald like Pop.” He giggled, ducked his head, and lifted his eyes to look across the table at his Pop.

There are several Jesse quotes in a little book entitled “The Grands Said” where I’ve collected things our grandchildren have said.

When he was four, Jesse put his face against the window of the van on a dark night.  Those of us who could see by the headlights were talking about a small animal that had run in front of the van. “I can’t see! Somebody turn on my outside lights!”

Recently, on a cloudy dark night while Jesse and his family traveled in their van, Jesse again stared outside. “It’s splish-splash dark,” he said. His mother repeated splish-splash dark. “Yeah, it’s really dark.”

A few minutes later, Jesse’s older sister asked, “Jesse, do you mean pitch-black dark?” (Siblings often interpret.)

“Yeah, pitch-black, splish-splash dark,” said my Grand.

While eating ice cream, Jesse stopped, put his spoon in the bowl and his hand over his face. “Oh, I’ve got a cold mind!” he said.  His cold mind was like other people’s brain freezes.

When Jesse, then 4, spent the night with Husband and me, he didn’t like the plain yellow pillowcase that was on his bed and asked for the Star Wars pillow. He looked at the flat pillow case made from fabric with Star War characters and asked, “How do you blow it up?”

Yesterday, I underestimated my Grand’s vocabulary.  He and I sang “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” On the second stanza, I sang, “She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes.”

Jesse yelled, “Gran! Stop! How could she ride six horses?” Drive, not ride, I explained. “How could she do that?” I described a big wagon, like his red wagon but the size of his family’s van, and maybe with a top. Someone could ride in it and guide the horses with long leather straps attached to the horses’ bridle. “Gran, don’t you call that a carriage?” Jesse asked.

Jesse was barely four when he dumped about 50 colored building blocks on the floor. He sorted them by color: red, green, orange, blue, yellow. Then he made stacks by color, largest to smallest.  Sitting tall and straight, he looked at me and said, “Look, Gran, I’m really smart.”

My young Grands make me laugh just by what they say. What gifts!

College Days Reflection


I am officially a Golden Grad of Tennessee Technological University.  At a banquet last Thursday night, TTU’s president placed a medallion around my neck and offered congratulations.
During the reception hour before the banquet, we 1969 graduates mingled and squinted to read nametags.  We talked about where we live, how many children and grandchildren we have, and how long we’ve been retired. The longer I talked with someone the more I remembered. Wrinkles and extra pounds don’t hide eyes and smiles. 
The TTU alumni office published and gave each of us a Class of 1969 Memory Book which includes pictures of the university, then and now, and individual pictures and personal updates that we submitted.  We were asked to share treasured memories, favorite professors, and most celebrated life events. 
A treasured memory is when I walked for the first time across campus with Allen, who was Husband three years later.  Allen and I walked from the Student Center, across the quad, past Derryberry Hall, to the science building for my chemistry class. Mrs. Charlene Mullins, who taught family life classes in the Home Economics department, was a favorite teacher. With her gentle voice and calm demeanor, she created classrooms that were as secure and comforting as kitchen tables.  And my most celebrated life events are about people: Husband, Children, Grands.
Fifty years ago, I earned a B.S. degree and teaching certificates that qualified me to teach home economics (a subject in high school many years ago), general science, and grades 1-8.  But some of the greatest benefits of my college years aren’t printed on paper.
Four years of living in a dormitory, a two-person room, and a hallway bathroom shared with twenty other girls developed tolerance and patience.  And those girls, my roommate and hallway dorm mates, became life long friends.  Friends who have shared joys and troubles regularly; at one time by a chain letter, but now by texts and emails. 
As a member of a sorority, I learned to agree to disagree while maintaining respect for others, to accept majority rule, and to work with a committee (which to this day I don’t like, but the experiences taught me how). I learned that little things, like the color of napkins for a party isn’t important.  Respecting people’s feelings and accepting differences are. 
I was given the opportunity to be a leader and take on the responsibilities of an elected office.  If I didn’t complete a class assignment, I suffered the consequence of a bad grade. If I didn’t complete and turn in a required sorority form to the Dean of Women, my forty sisters suffered. 
My life would have been very different had I not attended college. Not left home and lived and studied at TTU.  Not been a member of a group and not completed a degree. 
Two days that made the great differences in my life were the day I enrolled and the day I graduated from college. Those deserve celebration. Thank you Tennessee Tech University for honoring us Golden Grads.

Where did the Years Go?

I slid the folded letter from its envelope. You are invited  to celebrate Tennessee Technological University Homecoming November 7-9, 2019, and join the Golden Grad Society. Golden Grad! Like a hot potato, I dropped the invitation onto the kitchen counter. I’d seen Golden Grads, people who’d graduated from TTU fifty years earlier. 

During halftime of Tech’s football Homecoming game, an announcement is made: Please welcome today’s honored guests, our Golden Grads!  People walk from the sidelines of Overall Field to the 50- yard line.  Some amble, some lean on canes, some hold another’s arm. Some march and swing their arms. Some take long, intentional steps. Some wear letter sport jackets. Some wear school colors, purple and gold. 

All gather at mid-field and wave to us fans as we stand to honor these individuals who have attended classes, studied, and earned a degree five decades earlier. Most have retired from work.  Some have gray hair, some no hair. Some carry stooped shoulders. Some limp. Many wear glasses. These aren’t young people.  Not even middle age.

And now, I have received an invitation to become a member of their society. But, in my heart, I’m a student wearing a brand new wool three-piece suit that Mom made for my 1965 homecoming outfit. On a rainy Saturday, I’m the co-ed who ruined a $60 pair of new shoes that matched my outfit. 

On a cold snowy Saturday, I’m a newlywed, warm in my ankle-length red coat, who sits on the top bleacher and proudly watches Husband crown the 1969 Homecoming queen; one of his duties as Associated Body President.  Five years later, I’m the mother of three-week old Daughter and I drove two hours to celebrate homecoming with friends.  

After moving back to Cookeville, Husband and I welcome out of town guests and plan the weekend. Friday night gathering with his fraternity brothers and my sorority sisters. Saturday with friends and children: morning parade and afternoon football game. We celebrate Daughter’s birthday when it coincides with homecoming. Sunday morning brunch around the kitchen table.  Pots of black coffee, eggs, bacon, and stories of college days keep on coming. 

I’m the TTU fan who takes in every football and basketball game with Husband and our two teenage children. A fun way to share good wholesome family time. And when Son is a TTU student, I wish for him to make friends and happy memories and graduate. Years later, Husband and I take Grands to Tucker Stadium and explain four downs, extra points, field goals, and we high-five Awesome Eagle. 

Saturday, November 9, we Golden Grads will stand in the middle of TTU’s Overall Field and wave to football fans. And if anyone assumes that because we graduated many, many years ago, we are old and happy just to be able to walk and wave, that’s not exactly who we are. 

Maybe, just maybe, when I’ve watched other Golden Grads they, too, were students, young adults, parents, grandparents who were surprised that fifty years passed so quickly

Why is being scared fun?

Why does anyone watch scary horror scary movies?  Movies that are so poplar around Halloween.  And why visit a Haunted Houses? Is it fun when a terrifying person screams or a horrifying object jumps toward you?

            The only horror movie I’ve seen is the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby, and if I could erase some of its images from my brain, I would.  Even now, fifty years later, my skin crawls and tingles as I remember my fear.  I understand it’s a classic and according to those who rate movies, it’s a great film and could be classified as suspense, not horror.  But parts of Rosemary’s Baby made me cower, close my eyes, cover my ears, and breathe deeply.  That wasn’t fun.

            My favorite Halloween movies feature a small ghost or a round-headed little boy.  With his bright blue eyes and open mouth smile, Casper, the friendly ghost, flits from scene to scene.  The classic movie, It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, dates back to 1966.  While Charlie Brown and friends celebrate Halloween, Linus carries his well-worn blue security blanket and searches for the Great Pumpkin.  I’m entertained by Casper and Charlie Brown, and will never know the stories of Edward Scissorhands or The Exorcist or the other top 40 scariest movies, most released in time for Halloween.

            I’ve haven’t been to a Haunted House.  I don’t like total darkness.   I don’t like not knowing what’s near me.  I don’t like jolts of shock and surprise.  When Son was a teen-ager, he stood behind me while I loaded clothes in the washing machine.  Because the dryer was running and water was filling the washer, the laundry room was noisy.  Son knew I startled easily so he simply said, “Hi, Mom,” in a calm, quiet voice.  I screamed, inhaled quickly, and shook all over.  All who know me well, don’t speak behind my back when I don’t know they are there.  Why would I pay money for an attraction that shocks and startles me?  Why does anyone?  That’s not a rhetorical question.  Why? 

            The fear response does keep us alive because an adrenaline rush helps our bodies react. When we are scared our hearts beat faster, our blood flows more quickly to the brain and muscles, and our bodies are stimulated to produce sugar for fuel. Maybe some people like the adrenaline rush. 

            I was a teenager when I ran from ghosts.  One fall afternoon, my high school girlfriends and I walked along a county road and stopped at a cemetery to rest and talk.  The wind blew dry leaves, both on the ground and atop oak trees.  As the sun set, we heard strange noises.  Shrieking noises.  Then howls.  And somebody saw something – white figures – floating in the woods.

            Adrenaline kicked in.  None of us noticed the scratches and cuts on our arms as we ran through a long farm field of dry corn stalks.  We outran the ghosts.

            Halloween is the time when some people watch scary movies and like to run from ghosts.  Once was enough for me.

When Grands Visit

One of the greatest joys of being a grandparent is when Grands visit, especially without their parents.  That’s when we grandparents can spoil, and our children can’t tell us that they never got to do the things the grandchildren are doing. 

            Husband and I invited five Grands, ages 5-14, to spend a few days with us while Daughter and Son 2 took a mini-vacation.  We see these Grands often and one spends the night with us each week so we know their likes, dislikes, and personalities.  We also know their energy levels and melt-down points.

            Our Grands took over the second floor.  Beds and blow-up mattresses were claimed or assigned.  Honestly, when one Grand spends the night, everything is packed in a small backpack. For four nights, they brought backpacks, duffle bags, armloads of stuffed animals, books, iPads, reading lights, four scooters, a basketball, and a bicycle.  

            Husband and I had a plan: divide and enjoy.  (Yes, divide and conquer came to mind, but joy was our goal.)  Husband took three to the gym to play basketball; I took two shopping at a store where $1 buys a treat.  Some played UNO and Qwirkle.  Three made flour and salt play dough and one spent thirty minutes adding food coloring to get the perfect purple, which eventually became the perfect chocolate brown.  And each had a thirty-minute Wii (video games) playing time. Day 1 was a success.

            Day 2 we took a field trip to the Chattanooga Creative Discovery Museum. Early morning, I packed breakfasts and snacks while older Grands helped the youngers dress and get out the door into the van.  As we traveled all were quiet, listening to an audio book and munching on biscuits and grapes and drinking juice.

            The museum was packed with activities for all ages and people of all ages.  Again, Husband’s and my plan to divide and enjoy worked.  Across the way I held up two fingers; he’d held up three.  Everyone within sight.  Another good day ended when we arrived home and our Grands piled out of the van and grabbed scooters to ride and balls to throw for outside burn off energy time.

            I planned Day 3 to relax:  play games, read, make peanut butter play dough, and maybe cookies.  I realized it’d be a long day when our Grands energy levels registered at the top of the chart and mine was barely above 0.  The Grands chose candy as Bingo prizes; that was fine with me.  The day ended with pizza and a movie. I was the first one asleep.

            By 9:00 a.m. on Day 4, one Grand had her belongings packed and asked, “When will Mom and Dad be home?”  This last day passed quickly.  After suppertime we loaded my van to take our Grands and all their stuff home to their parents.  As I backed out of our driveway, Micah, the youngest yelled, “Gran!”  and then in the sweetest voice he said, “Gran, I love you.” 

            Suddenly, I wasn’t so tired.  So harried.  Like I said, it’s a joy to have Grands visit.

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