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Why Write Letters?

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-11-47-55-pmDavid, age 11, looked at me as if I’d asked him to run twenty miles and carry me on his back. “Really, Gran? I have to write a letter? Mom has me write thank you notes. That’s a letter.” David and I sat side-by-side for our once-a-week writing time.

I bit my tongue before saying, “Because everybody should know how to write a real letter and I’m the teacher.” Instead, I said, “Because some of my greatest treasures are real letters. My dad’s letters to Mom when he was in the Army in Germany during World War II. Some from my brother when he was in the Air Force in Spain and I was a high school student. From my mother’s aunt. From Pop to me before we married. ”

“Pop wrote you letters? What’d he say? Can I see them?” David asked. My Grand’s distraction tactic almost worked. I shook my head. Another time, maybe.

I said, “Writing letters was the way people who lived long distances from each other communicated before email and text. Even before phones. It’s a skill.” David’s attitude about this task lighten and he laughed when I acted out the five parts of a friendly letter. I pointed to my head for heading, mouth for greeting, body, leg for closing, and I kicked for signature.

Does anyone else have fond memories of receiving letters? Clutching a letter from Mom’s aunt, I ran from the mailbox to my house. In a kid-like way, I wanted to open the fat envelope immediately, but Mom made reading Aunt Anne’s letter an event. Time allotted to brew a cup of tea and enjoy the many handwritten pages, front and back. Mom first read silently, maybe to censor anything that shouldn’t be shared with me. Then she’d read aloud and then kept the letter on the hallway table until she responded. After Mom’s death, I discovered many letters in a shoebox.

I keep one of Aunt Anne’s letters, dated 1965, in a three-ring notebook of my favorite recipes. The letter includes a recipe for yeast biscuits and Aunt Anne explained how to roll the dough, spread half of it with melted butter, carefully fold the other half on top, press lightly, and then cut out biscuits. Those baked biscuits open perfectly. As much as I appreciate the recipe, I love that I still connect with Aunt Anne and Mom through this letter.

David wrote his other grandmother and questioned writing ‘Dear’ in the greeting. “Can’t I just write To Grandma?” He struggled with what to write and said, “We tell her everything on the phone.” Finally, he wrote about moving his bed and clothes and things to the basement of his home. He wrote the closing in capital letters. LOVE. After he’d addressed the envelope, stamped, and sealed it, he said, “I hope she writes me back.”

David might not store Grandma’s handwritten letter in a box, but he’ll always remember she wrote just to him.

 

 

When You knew it was Love

searchWhen did you know you were in love? My Facebook friends shared their stories for this column. Stories of love at first sight. Of confirmed love.

On our first date. He took me out for a nice dinner, told me I was beautiful, and made me feel like no one ever had.

I saw him leaning against a brick wall. Shades. Sullen. Looking all James Dean.

He jumped over my front porch railing and ran to me when I came home from work. I didn’t know he was on leave from the Navy.

While at a movie night at a friend’s house, he walked across the room and handed me his popcorn bowl with only half-popped kernels. He remembered my favorite popcorn.

When I saw him with his family, he was gentle, loving, and showed respect.

Coming home from a trip to Chattanooga sealed the deal. Ruby Falls is so romantic.

He kissed me in my parents’ kitchen when we were teenagers. I knew I’d marry him one day.

In 7th grade, I saw her for the first time and a lightning bolt struck. We were a parent-take-us-couple. To the movies, skating rink, a friend’s house. Then we went to different high schools, but reconnected in 10th grade. She called me on her birthday at 11:00 p.m. because her family had forgotten her birthday. That was it!

Our eyes locked across the room at our high school reunion. I’d had a crush on him in high school and he “picked” on me. I called him the day after the reunion and he sent me flowers. Three weeks later we began a long-distance courtship.

On our first date. He held my hand during the movie and walked, rather than drove, me home.

Six months into dating, we were slow dancing and the thought popped into my head, “I’m in love with this guy!” I wasn’t happy about it because I was 14 and had big plans. He went away to college and called me every Sunday afternoon. When I received a scholarship at a college close to him, I knew it was meant to be.

I heard a tiny bell chime when I first saw him. It was like heaven said, “Finally, they meet!”

When going to college badminton class wasn’t as important as going to lunch with him. I made a D in badminton.

Our wedding was only weeks away when our rescue boxer died. Phillip wrapped his body in a quilt and dug a grave at my grandparent’s farm. I realized that if I could endure such a sad time with Phillip by my side and still feel hopeful about the future, I had chosen the right partner for life.

Thank you, friends, for your mini-love stories.   I was swayed when he brought Ralph’s chocolate-covered cream-filled donuts and drove me from my college dormitory to 8:00 chemistry classes in the dead of winter. I hated early cold mornings and chemistry class. I loved Boyfriend, now Husband, and donuts. And still do.

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Freeze these Minutes

imagesWhen I give my Grand a block, he makes it a car, rolls it on the floor, and says, “Vrooooomm.” I watch Jess, two years old. He lays flat, stomach and head on the floor, and rolls the pretend car just inches from his nose.

After a few minutes, Jess throws the block onto the floor and gets two Hot Wheels cars from our toy shelf. Then back to prone position. Clutching a car in his right hand under his stomach, he rolls the other car with his left hand. Back and forth. “Vroom. Vroom. Vrooooomm,” he says.  I want to freeze these minutes when my Grand is totally engaged in a simple game.

Jess, the youngest of five, visits Husband and me and we relish that we can play with just him. And our Grand seems happy to play alone and have Pop and Gran all to himself.   When I say it’s time for a snack, he runs to the kitchen table, holding a Hot Wheels in each hand, climbs into a booster seat on a kitchen chair, and shouts, “Fruit!” His one-word sentences sometimes sound like demands. He swipes his hand across his chest, an attempt to move his hand in a circle, which signifies please in sign language.

Jess helps me peel a tangerine, remove the stringy white pith, and divide it into segments. His small fingers pick off every tiny white string before he plops a segment into his mouth. “More!” he says and swipes his chest.

Outside, Jess runs toward a rubber playground ball. He accidentally kicks it and it rolls away. He runs again. Picks up the ball and throws it and runs toward it. When I pick up the ball and suggest we roll it back and forth to each other, he grabs the ball and runs. “Mine!” he shouts. Yes, it’s all his and it’s his game until he’s tired and lays his head against my legs.

I give him a plastic spray bottle of water. He squirts the grass and then discovers water changes the color of our gray wooden fence. He giggles and then laughs out loud as water drips down the fence. Soon the bottle is empty and he runs back to me. “More. More. Now.”

Much too soon, it’s time to take Jess home. My fingers don’t manage the belt on his car seat well and my Grand sits patiently. He’s tired and I sing a silly song, “I’m fastening your seat belt, seat belt, seat belt.” Finally, he’s buckled in and Jess claps his hands, kicks his feet, and laughs.

When I tell him good-bye at his house, Jess responds, “Book. Read.” He grabs a book from his family’s children’s book basket and holds it toward me. Daughter, his mother, says, “It’s one of his favorites right now.” Jess and I settled on the couch and two of his older siblings sit close by. Jess makes the sounds to go with the pictures in the book. “Vroooooomm!”

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Chicken-coop Table

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-9-18-27-amIf furniture could talk, there’s an oak table that could tell stories. I first saw it, and four chairs, in Granny’s chicken coop in the spring of 1969 and it was completely covered with feathers and chicken poop. Granny said Husband-to-be and I could have the old rectangular shaped table, and my parents thought it’d make a perfect kitchen table for us. But I couldn’t believe anyone would ever eat a meal on it.

Using hot water and stiff brushes, Dad and I scrubbed the maple-veneered top, that was buckled and cracked, and discovered a solid oak top to match the table’s legs. Dad cleaned, sanded, and refinished the table and four chairs and he glued and secured every leg. It was the perfect size for a small one-bedroom apartment and had a pop-up leaf. Husband and I moved that sturdy, pretty oak table into our first apartment and took it with us when we moved.

In 1980, Dad made and gave us a round oak table so the chicken coop table went into storage. I like to think it enjoyed a rest. No doubt after surviving several moves, and our children’s toddler years, it needed some time off.

When Daughter was a college student and living in an apartment, the table was her desk. For three years it sat next to her bed and was covered with books, papers, a word processor, and everything that a college student throws onto a flat surface. And then back to storage for a short time until Son and his friend, college students, needed a kitchen table in their apartment.

After graduation when Son took his first job, the table went with him to Kentucky. Then Son married, and the table travelled with the newlyweds to Texas and then Colorado. When Son and Daughter-in-law bought a new kitchen table, chicken-coop table once again became a desk. But it was soon replaced by a new modern office desk. Now it’s back here in storage.

Chicken-coop table is well traveled. During the past forty-eight years, it’s made five stops in Tennessee, two in Kentucky, one in Texas, and two in Colorado. It’s ridden in vans, pick-up trucks, rented trailers, and professional moving trucks.

How I wish this table had a tiny recorder and could tell its stories. The chickens squawking in the chicken coop. Discussions around a breakfast table between newlyweds and Friday night pizza with friends. Those first meals with a new baby in the house. Birthday parties. Holiday dinners.

Stories told in the confines of a college coed’s room. Stories of studying and laughing and crying and celebrating. It could tell of life in an apartment of two college men. Late night talks and card games played. Life of a young man taking on his first job.   Second-generation newlyweds and their first child.

And I’d really like to know where that table lived before it was stored away in Granny’s chicken coop. And I wonder how long chicken-coop table will rest. When will it be used again?

What if you break your resolution?

screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-7-55-31-amDid you read the Snuffy Smith cartoon strip in this newspaper last week? Snuffy, a hillbilly who lives deep in Kentucky hills, almost hit the bullseye with my feelings about New Year’s resolutions. Snuffy’s friend, Lukey, asked, “Didja make a New Year’s resolution?”

Snuffy answered, “Shore did! Made it! Broke it! Already mullin’ my options fer next year.”

I say, “Made it! Broke it! Already trying again.” According to a televised news report, only about 44% of the people in the United States make resolutions and less than 10% are successful in keeping these self-made promises.

The top resolutions are being a better person. That includes weight, exercise, breaking bad habits and the list goes on. My goals fall within that wide realm and I was inspired by two people, Brenda and Deanna.

Brenda answered the phone when I called the doctor’s office. She spoke with a cheerful voice. I sniffed and coughed and explained that I wanted to see the doctor. “Oh, honey, you need to. Let me find a time for you to come in. How long have you felt so bad?” Maybe she was asking for information, but she sounded concerned. “I want you to feel better. It’s no fun being sick,” she said. Brenda scheduled my appointment and I was ready to hang up the phone when she said, “Now you take it easy. Don’t try to do much until you feel better.”

While eating at a restaurant, I felt a small jolt on the back of my chair and someone rubbed against my shoulder. I turned and a little girl almost fell into my lap. Deanna grabbed her daughter and said with great embarrassment, “Oh, I’m so sorry. My two-year-old tried to jump from her chair onto the floor. I couldn’t catch her in time. I’m sorry.” Big sister stood close beside her daddy. Baby sister was in Dad’s arms.

I smiled and said, “She’s your middle child, right?” She was and she leaned against my lap. I lay my hand on her shoulder. “Middles think they can do anything,” I said. Deanna nodded, and I told her that I’m a retired teacher and have eight young grandchildren. Deanna sighed. “Oh, thank you. I’m glad you understand.” We visited briefly. Talking about children. Deanne hugged her middle child and said to me, “You have a really good day. We try to everyday.”

Be friendly and nice. That’s my resolution. Brenda could have scheduled my appointment in a business voice and never acknowledged that I sounded sick. Never encouraged me to take it easy. Deanna could have grabbed her toddler, apologized quickly, and headed out the door. My encounters with both women were short. Both made me smile.

Like 90% of people who make resolutions, I break mine. Then I try again to be like Brenda and Deanna. Just take a few minutes to be friendly and nice to everyone. Even strangers. Especially to family and friends.

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Gran’s New Game

search-2“Mom, Gran has a new game and it’s really fun! Bingo! Have you ever played?” My 11 year-old Grand stood beside Daughter, his mother. She raised her eyebrows and looked at me. I smiled and nodded. Daughter’s five children, ages 2 – 11, had spent a half day before Christmas with Husband and me and then I took them home. We stood around Daughter’s kitchen island.

“Well, yes. A long time ago, I played,” Daughter said.

“Did you have a metal ball and twirl a handle and little white balls came out?” Lou, age 9, asked.

“Did you get peppermint candy when you won?” Five-year-old Elaine liked the candy better than the game.

“Did you put little colored circles on the numbers on your card?” Ruth, age 7, had lined up different colored markers for each column of numbers.

“I said Bingo the loudest!” Elaine said. “And Jess (her 2 year-old-brother) screamed Bingo and got candy, but he just played with the little circles.”

“Sounds like you had lots of fun with Gran’s new game. Maybe she’ll let me play,” Daughter said.

Whew. Bingo made this first cut. I had bought it to play when everyone got together at Husband’s and my house for Christmas. Eight children, age 11 and under, and their parents: Daughter, Son, and spouses. Outside is the perfect place to give everyone space. But we’d be spending some time inside. Trying out new toys. Opening gifts and eating and visiting and playing, and eventually, all would be tired and some would be cranky. I hoped Bingo would be the perfect inside game. Everyone could play and I had a big collection of prizes.

I had prepped Daughter and Son that we were ending our day with Bingo. So when the Grands began whining and fussing about whose toy was whose, I whispered, “Shhh. Anyone who’d like to win a prize come sit quietly at the dining room table to play a game.”

The five Grands who’d help me try out my new game were the first ones to the table. “Come on, you all. It’s a really fun game!” David encouraged those who were dilly-dallying. Parents teamed up to help pre-school age Grands. Toddler Grands were given only colored circles. Cards and markers were passed out.

“I’ll call a number and if it’s on your card, cover it with a colored circle. When you have a straight line of circles, say ‘Bingo.’ Then you get a prize,” I said.

The Grands’ parents deserve Academy Awards. They smiled and laughed and wished for B7 and O64. They applauded and cheered when anyone shouted, “Bingo.” They oohed and ahhed when Husband brought out the basket filled with prizes. Slinkies, stickers, decorated kitchen towels, notepads, mechanical pencils, key rings, Matchbox cars, and such.

For now, it’s Gran’s new game. Someday, I’ll tell everyone about my granny taking me to the American Legion Hall on Saturday nights to play Bingo and the prizes were money.

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Treasures – the Simplest Things

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-7-51-03-amThe true treasures in life are found in the simplest things. A small, framed picture with those words sits on the windowsill above my kitchen sink. Perched in the frame’s corner are a miniature birdfeeder and three birds: a cardinal, a blue jay and a tufted titmouse. This picture by Marjolein Bastin, and sold by Hallmark, makes me smile every time I see it, although it’s been in my kitchen for decades.

            Not to be sappy, excessively sentimental, but during the holidays my greatest treasures and what I most appreciated were not purchased gifts under the Christmas tree.

Like many mothers, my best gift was having my children and their families together. They sat around Husband’s and my dining room table. Six adults, eight children, ages 1 to 11. A white tablecloth and a Christmas candle centerpiece weren’t important. Or that some drinks were poured into the best crystal and some into plastic cups with a top and a straw.   Or what food was served. How many times have you heard someone ask, “Mom, have you eaten?” Maybe she was filled with the happiness of having all her brood together and eating was trivial.

Three Grands and their parents travelled across country and three nights, at my Grands’ bedtime, I read Watch Out for Mater. (In the world of Cars, Mater is a rusty tow truck that Lightning McQueen must protect.) Dean, age 5, chose the book. He and his little brother Neil snuggled close as I sat on their bed. Dean giggled because Lightning had a girlyfriend, Sally, and Neil was sad that Matter cried. “He should’ve listened to Lightning. Then he wouldn’t cry,” Neil said. How good it was to snuggle and watch my Grands absorb the characters’ emotions.

For our first-ever Family Talent Show, David, a beginning piano student, played “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Louise, age 9, entertained us with her violin. Two five-year-old cousins teamed up to share every Knock-Knock joke they knew and then they made up a few. And anyone who didn’t have a planned act, danced. (This term is used loosely to include shuffling feet and somersaults.)

My seven year-old Grand gave me a special handwritten card. “I love Gran bekus she loves me.” I treasure her line drawings of a butterfly and a spider web and she signed it as I sign her birthday cards, ‘Love forever.’ My Grand knows how to tug my heartstrings.

When I announced, “Anyone who wants to win a prize come sit quietly at the dining room table.” I wasn’t sure how my plan would go. I brought out Bingo. A wire cage, marble size balls embossed with such things as B15, white playing cards, and a basket of prizes. This game deserves its own column.

You’ve enjoyed such simple things, too. Family together. Reading a book. A handmade card. A game. Acting silly. Let’s appreciate simple things as treasures during 2017.

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