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We Remember and We Care

Last year’s calendar reminds me where I was and what I was doing on this date 2020.  Shuttle pick-up at 2:15 p.m. Southwest flight #5743 at 5:00.  On Tuesday, March 3, 2020, Husband and I flew home after a visit with Son and family. 

            But I don’t need a calendar to remember what happened that day.  Before daylight in the Mountain Time Zone, Husband and I received phone calls and texts from friends and family members asking if we were okay. We called friends and Daughter here in Cookeville and learned that our house wasn’t damaged and that Daughter’s family and close friends were safe.  Everybody remembers where you were and what you were doing when you learned about the EF-4 tornado whattorethrough our county.  It affected all of us.

            Everyone knows someone who lost loved ones and their homes and the normal life they had lived before March 3.  We must never forget the 19 people who lost their lives.  All who loved them continues to grieve.   Many who lost their homes moved from their former community.  The daily reminders created too much pain.  It’s a year later and the memories resurface.  The ache doesn’t go away.

            I will never forget the pain on my friend’s face after her home was destroyed.  She told me the first things she wished for were her own shoes and clothes and her purse, including her identification and insurance cards.  So many times, before going to bed as I kick off my shoes in my closet, I hesitate.  Should I 

put my shoes and tomorrow’s clothes beside my bed? Should I put my purse within arm’s reach?  And many times just to be sure it works, I’ve turned on the flashlight in my bedside table drawer.

            I’ll never forget the stories of people who lost their homes, their cars, their clothes, and their pictures, and they were thankful.  Thankful they weren’t hurt.  Thankful their children, their parents and grandparents, their spouses weren’t injured.  Their stories reminded us that people are so much more important than things and that we must tell those we love how much we love them. 

            Who can forget the stories of first responders and volunteers?  The first responders did their jobs well.  They rescued. They saved lives.  And they shared stories of heartbreak. They didn’t bask in their heroism.  They bowed in humbleness as did the hundreds of volunteers who carried away destroyed homes and trees.  Volunteers provided shelter, food, water, and clothing – necessities usually taken for granted.

            I recently read a devotion entitled, “Interruptions.” The writer, a minister, quoted a mentor who said, “Interruptions often are the ministry.”  The writer stated that God splatters each of our lives with unheralded, yet opportune moments, that come at us out of nowhere.  I immediately thought of March 3, 2020.             

Let’s reach out to someone who is reliving the pain of a year ago.  Make a phone call and let someone know we remember and we care.

Driving Woes

A police car followed me on 10th Street from the intersection at Fisk Road and then south on Old Kentucky Road where the speed limit is 30 m.p.h. I made sure my speedometer stayed under 30.  I wondered what did I do and should I stop.  The road’s shoulder was narrow so I kept driving.

            Approaching the traffic light at Broad Street, I saw the police car’s blue lights.  At least, he didn’t turn on his siren, and I could easily stop in a church parking lot.  Determined to stay calm, I put on a mask and got out my driver’s license. 

            A Cookeville City Policeman wore a mask and stood several feet away.  I greeted him tentatively.  “Hello?” I said.  His first words calmed me: “Ma’am, you didn’t do anything wrong.”  I exhaled deeply.  “But your license plate expired June 2020,” he said.

            “Really?” I asked.  “Seven months ago?”

            His eyes smiled.  “Yes, really.  You are welcome to get out and look at the plate. I’ll show you the sticker.”

            To avoid being argumentative and explain my questions I said, “I believe you.  It’s just that my husband and I take care of things like that.  We stay on top of paperwork.”  Now, I laugh at my reply because obviously we didn’t.  I wondered how much the ticket would be and if the missing sticker was in my van glove compartment, an arm’s reach away. 

            “Well, the county court clerk’s office is open today so you can take care of it,” he said, and I realized that he wasn’t reaching for paper and pen or an electronic device as if to write a ticket.  

            I asked his name and then expressed appreciation to David for being considerate and understanding. I assured him that I’d have a new sticker that day, and I did. 

            Husband was as surprised as I was. There wasn’t a 2021 sticker in the van glove compartment, but paperwork for the June 2020 sticker, and years before, was there.  Although we found evidence of payment for his vehicle’s license renewal, there was none for mine.

            It’s still a mystery that we didn’t “take care of things like that.” It won’t happen again.  I wrote a note for June 2021 on all my calendars:  renew license plate.

            Five days later, I went to Sonic to purchase eight gift cards for our Grands for Valentine’s Day. After ten minutes, a server handed me two cards and apologized because my order would take a while since the card machine wasn’t working well.  I continued reading and relaxed.  After another thirty minutes, I had eight gift cards and pushed the van’s start button. 

            Instead of an engine purr, I heard the hiss and clank of a dead battery.  Husband came to my rescue and thankfully jumper cables reached from the battery of his vehicle to mine.

            Before leaving home now, I check my van’s tires and gas gauge, make sure the engine trouble light isn’t on, and adjust the mirrors.   Two unexpected driving experiences are enough.

I’m a Can-Do Kid

            “Gran, number 1!” my six-year-old Grand called from the backseat of my van.  So, I pushed the 1 on the CD player and hear the words I’ve heard a gazillion times:  I’m a Can-Do Kid written by David Plummet and John Archambault, illustrated by Lisa Guida.  “Will you skip to the song?” Micah asked because he wanted to skip the reading of the book and hear the song.

In 2008, when our oldest Grand was three years old, our neighbor Joan Tansil gave me a book and CD entitled I’m a Can-Do Kid.  The CD is a four-minute reading and a three and one-half minute song. Every Grand who has ridden with me has listened to it, over and over and over. And I used this book as a prompt when I had an opportunity to do writing activities with kindergarten through third grade students. All kids have a story to tell using pictures or words, or both, of what they can do. 

            The story begins with simple lyrics.  “I can see the sunshine.  I can smell a rose.  I can tie my shoes.  I can wiggle my toes.”  Another stanza includes seasons: “I can build a snowman with a funny nose.  I can plant a seed and watch it grow.”  The book invites conversation about handicaps: “I’m a wheelchair wonder with wishes and dreams.  I can do wheelies and be on teams.” 

            All kids like the stanza about music: “I can play kazoo, bang a garbage can, scrub-a-dub a washboard, clang a frying pan.”  Most kids know what a kazoo is and many have beat a metal pan with a wooden spoon, but most don’t know about metal garbage cans and metal washboards. 

            My Grands and students repeated the chorus loudly. “I can. I can. I can. I can. I can.  I’m a can-do kid, yes I am. I’m a can-do kid, yes I am.”  As I copy these words from the book, I smile, just as children do when they say and sing, “I can.” 

            I just noticed there is not a single exclamation point in the book and in this time of short text messages and social media comments, exclamation points are common.  If there ever was a time to express joy and happiness, it’s while saying and singing, “I can!”

             All of us need a big dose of ‘can-do therapy.’  Youtube.com offers the song and pictures from the book; search for I’m a Can-do Kid.   Listen and watch.  You’ll be singing along with the chorus and those words will rattle around your head for a few days. 

            Last week, using FaceTime I read the book to Micah while he sat in his house across town.  When I got to the chorus, he sang, and when I read the last page, he asked, “Hey, Gran.  Can we hear it again?” 

            Of course, we can.  And then we’ll talk about all the things we can do.  That’s the best part of this book.

I’m a CAN-DO Kid

What is Love?

           

The plastic blue three-ring binder has been on our bookshelf for years, among picture albums from the days when a roll of film was developed and pictures were placed in plastic sleeves.  Inside the blue notebook are newspaper clippings glued on blue-lined notebook paper.  Clippings that Mom saved during the winter of 1975-76. 

A pictorial review tells of the troubles of 1975.  Other editorial cartoons show hope for 1976, Dennis the Menace tracks mud through his house, and Dagwood gobbles a humongous sandwich. The single panel cartoons Mom saved that I most appreciate are love is… (always written in small letters and followed by three periods.)

Remember the cute boy and girl with big round heads and eyes, up-turned noses, and no clothes?  Mom’s love is… clippings are yellowed, showing their age, but as true today as thirty-five years ago.

            Love is…lots of giving and taking.  Knowing when to count your blessings.  Carrying your share of the load.  Not turning your back on his problems.  Best when played straight. What makes you feel a whole lot younger than you are.  Love is trusting and having faith in each other.

            And love is… can be specific.  Learning the words to his favorite song.  Not keeping him waiting too long.  Seeing it’s not a perfect job but it’s still all right.  Not using his last razor blade to shave your legs. Smelling good just for him.  Not making loud noises in the morning. 

            The first love is… cartoon was printed in the Los Angeles Times in 1970 and continues in some print forms today, but don’t we all have our own ideas of what love is?  Some of my friends shared.  Love is having special friends.  Cooking for a month while your wife is sick.  The coffee my husband brings me before I get out of bed.  A cream horn and glazed donut from Ralph’s Donut Shop.  A thank you note under your pillow.  Folding back her sheet at bedtime.

            And third grade students shared their thoughts.  Love is being kind and helpful. Giving hugs and not being rude or mean.  Someone who cares for you and you can trust. To feel happy and bright.  Something you do to be kind and you give something to someone. 

            One eight-year-old said, “Love is action not a word.”  A friend shared that one of her favorite quotes, ‘Work is love made visible.’   Turn that around: love is work made visible.  Action.  Work.  Love.  Those three words go together. 

            As I flip through Mom’s collection of clippings, I think of my parents at this time of their lives: nearing retirement, their first two grandchildren were toddlers, and they enjoyed playing cards and golf with friends.  They showed their love to each other and those they loved.              I’m glad Mom saved love is… clippings, and she marked a favorite one.  Love is … never getting enough of that wonderful stuff.  It seems to me that love is ageless.

Back to School

When this pandemic ends, will we do things differently?  Specifically, will we educate children differently?  School days for some teachers and students have been like never before.

            Because I wanted to understand remote learning better, I went back to Mrs. M’s virtual classroom.  Back on Zoom with 2nd grade students for a math lesson.  Mrs. M greeted students after their one-hour lunch break and then said, “To practice three-digit subtraction, we’re going to begin with Kahoot!” All nine students cheered and I frowned. What is Kahoot?

            Mrs. M launched Kahoot, an application of quiz-based games presented with cartoon drawings of kid-friendly characters.  The first problem was 133-85.  Within two minutes, the students had worked the problem in their notebooks and used Chat, a message board, to write and send their answers to Mrs. M.  Only she could see their answers. 

            “I see you dancing!  Yes, get up and move when you finish,” Mrs. M said.  “Turn down a corner on the page where you worked the problem.  Your parents will take a picture and send it to me.  I want to see what strategy you used.”  Mrs. M then asked Annie, “What strategy did you use?” 

            Annie answered, “Plain old standardized algorithm.” She explained each step as Mrs. M worked the problem for all to see.  “You can’t take 5 from 3 so make the 3 in ones a 13 and the other 3 a 2,” Annie began.  She and Mrs. M talked through the problem saying the words regroup, borrow, and rename.  Mrs. M and her students talked about other methods: draw pictures, count up, and use a number line. 

            Remember working problems with yellow chalk on a blackboard while the teacher and classmates watched?  Are there advantages to remote learning?  Mrs. M has seen quiet, shy children become braver; maybe because only the teacher could see their answers. Mrs. M can meet with a student during lunch to give extra help while other students are offline.

            There is more parent-teacher communication that is easier and immediate.  When one student was confused, Mrs. M asked that his mother to stay on-line after the Zoom meeting so together they could figure out how to help this child.  Mrs. M says she can communicate with parents daily.

            As a retired elementary teacher, I’m thankful I never had to teach remotely and I admire Mrs. M and all teachers who are.  They are working double-time, some even teaching in their classrooms and remotely. 

            Is virtual learning here to stay?  Remote learning has been an option for high school students for years, but I don’t think virtual learning is the best learning environment for young children. 

             “If I were in Charge of the World” is one of my favorite poems.  And if I were, students and parents would have the option for a do-over.  Students who are in second grade now could be in second grade when the 2021-22 school year begins, no matter where they are spending their school days this year. 

            And they would all have a teacher like Mrs. M.

Reflections on Inauguration Day

What were you doing this time last week?  Last Wednesday, January 20, 2021, did you watch the presidential inauguration?

            For weeks, I was apprehensive and concerned. Regardless of political standing, many of us have been uneasy.  The pandemic, racial violence, our November election and its aftermath, the recent insurrection at the Capitol, the division and anger among our citizens – all give way to anxiety. 

            I’m not a political being and I avoid major conflicts; in fact, I’ve been accused of hiding my head in the sand and being a Pollyanna.  I’m uncomfortable wearing a cloak of anxiety and I prayed for safety and calm on January 20.  I needed peacefulness.  I needed positives. I needed traditions. 

            While inauguration days often include celebrations and parties and rituals, our Constitution requires only the swearing in of the president.  Article II, Section 1 gives the short oath that every president says: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  This oath was first taken 232 years ago by George Washington and now it has been repeated by our 46th president.  The repeating of these thirty-six words was a United States tradition I needed to hear and see.

            An online article entitled, “Corny Comforts of the Biden Inauguration,” stated that corniness is comforting and decent and old-fashioned. I realized the traditions I needed are corny.  Corny, as in not original and overly sentimental. 

            Vice-President Kamala Harris’s and Dr. Jill Biden’s tailored coats and high heels mimicked Mamie Eisenhower’s wool skirt and black heels.  Mrs. Eisenhower was the first First Lady I remember.  Last Wednesday, I was comforted by the expected opening and ending prayers of the ceremony.  The oaths of office taken with one hand raised and the other on a Bible.  The singing of the national anthem.  Fireworks at the end of the day.  I needed those traditions, corny and as old-fashioned as they might be.

             We’d been told who the performers would be and they lived up to their personas.  Expect the unexpected when Lady Gaga takes stage.  Expect J-Lo’s confidence and beauty.  Garth Brook’s cowboy hat.  All entertainers gave their best.

            But did anyone expect the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate to steal the show?  Amanda Gorman’s opening line, “When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” challenges me.  Those words make me wonder am I seeking light or shadows? 

            We knew this inauguration would be like no other.  People wearing masks and seated far apart.  Flags on the National Mall instead of people.   Barbed-wire fences and armed security personnel like never before. A history-making vice-president who prompted my former student’s daughter, 9-year-old Annaliese, to say, “Wow, Mom! We have a girl as vice president.  You mean I could be president or vice-president?”

            We choose what we remember.  What are your memories of January 20, 2021?   

Dropping into a School Classroom

The second-grade students entered their classroom quietly, one at a time.  Their teacher, Mrs. M greeted each child by name and in a happy voice said, “Good morning.”  Some children responded with a wave; some nodded; some replied with words.  Some smiled; some frowned; some appeared too sleepy at 8:15 a.m. to show expression.

            This school day began just like mornings when I greeted students as they came into my classroom at Capshaw Elementary School.  But these children didn’t walk past their teacher.  They were at their homes, and their teacher was in her school classroom, and they came together on a Zoom conference call.

            I’ve wondered about remote learning.  How does it work?  Can young children learn while at home sitting in front of a computer?  Mrs. M, my former teaching colleague, agreed that I could join her Wednesday morning class, or as she said, “Be a fly on the wall.” 

             Wednesday was the first day back to school after a four-day break so Mrs. M said, “What did you do while you weren’t in school? Type one thing in chat that you did.” Immediately my computer screen was filled with the students’ responses: played Pokeman, built a snowman, played with my dogs, played video games.  Mrs. M responded verbally to each student and then asked, “Cindy, how are the goats?”  One student raised her hand, and Mrs. M told her to unmute herself and gave her permission to talk about Princess, her cat. 

            Then Mrs. M introduced me and explained why I was there: “Just to see what we do in class.” 

            I smiled when Mrs. M told her students, “Sit up, nice and tall, and ready to learn.”  Students sat at a desk or table or on a couch or an upholstered chair. A blank paper appeared on my screen at the same time Mrs. M said, “Let’s write today’s date together.  You write on your paper as I write on mine.”  She wrote and asked students to show their papers and they held their papers so that we all saw them.

            Together Mrs. M and the students checked morning work.  They wrote and said words that have the same vowel sound as in the word globe and solved the equation 9 + _ =17. Students held up fingers to show missing numbers and they checked their work.  After checking and correcting a whole page of work, Mrs. M said, “Mark this page so parents can take a picture and send it to me.”

            For three hours, I observed much more than I can share in 500 words.  In a nutshell, I saw teaching and learning in a completely different environment and format than I used during my teaching days, and I observed the same teacher-student connections, the same instructions, the same mix of students.             During a follow-up FaceTime conversation, I asked Mrs. M what has happened during remote learning experiences that was unexpected.  Her response and some of my other observations will have to wait for another column.

Be the Change

My cousin Myra shared a grocery store experience.  On Facebook she wrote, “The guy behind me in a checkout line 3-deep yielded his spot to a fragile, elderly gentleman with two items.”  Following this young man’s example, Myra yielded her spot too.  The woman in front of Myra paid for the older gentleman’s milk and meat.  Myra thanked the young man for starting a cascade of kindness. He told Myra that his 95-year-old grandmother had just recovered from COVID, and he was showing his gratitude. Myra ended her post with these words, “Be the change, friends, be the change.”

            Joe shared a similar experience.  As he drove home after work, he thought of his never-ending list of home chores.  He topped a hill and saw a stopped car driven by a young man who seemed to be trying to start the car.  Joe drove past, but knew he had to turn around and offer help.  The car had run out of gas.

            Joe wrote, “We had to get the car out of the road, but being one month post knee surgery, I couldn’t push it.”  A few minutes later, four people stopped, offered to help, and pushed the car to a safe place on the side of the road.  Joe took the young man home where someone would get gas and drive him to his parked car.  Joe wrote, “Kindness and empathy can go a long way.  I’ve been where he was and to this day remember the unselfish example of those who stopped to help me.”

            I’m reminded of a time when Son and Daughter were young, ages 5 and 7, and we travelled on Highway 111 to visit my aunt in Livingston.  Suddenly, my Ford station wagon veered right.  I immediately pulled onto the wide shoulder and stopped.  The back right tire was almost flat.  Before I could begin looking for a jack and spare tire, a pick-up truck stopped.  The driver was unshaven, his hair unkept, his clothes were dirty, and he needed a bath.  He immediately offered to change the tire.

            I told Son and Daughter to stay in the car and I stood out of this man’s way.  Within minutes, he had replaced the flat tire with the spare tire.  I held out a $20 bill and said, “Thank you.” The man smiled, shook his head, and said, “Pass it on.  Help someone else.”

            A century ago, Mahatma Gandhi used nonviolent resistance to lead India’s independence from British rule, and he inspired civil rights movements across the world.  This quote is attributed to him, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  That’s a paraphrase. Actually, he said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”             Thanks, Myra, for reminding me that change is possible and that kindness begins with one person.

What carried you thru 2020?

One day during the first week of March, 2020, I stood beside my friend at her kitchen sink while we talked.  A tornado had struck Putnam County and many people were grieving the loss of loved ones and homes.  The spread and seriousness of the corona virus had become real.  My friend added her family news of the past two days.  Her dentist had discovered that she needed major dental work.  A close family member was scheduled for a diagnostic medical procedure the next day, and her husband, and others in management positions at his workplace, had been told to work long hours on assembly lines until a strike was settled with employees who normally did those jobs.

            With exasperation, my friend said, “Okay, 2020! What else you got?”  My friend and I hugged and assured each other that somehow all would work out.  Somehow.

            During the past ten months, I have often thought back to that day.  Our physical health, our endurance, our emotions, our faith, even our sense of humor have all been tested.  Last week, I read a question: what carried you through 2020?  My quick one-word answer was HOPE.

            Hope is defined as believing that something good may happen and feelings of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.  What gave me hope?  Quiet morning devotion time, including listing blessings.  Meeting with Sunday School class members using Zoom.  Knowing that health care workers gave their best to care for patients. Reports of vaccines to prevent COVID. FaceTime visits with Grands who live far away.  Playing card and board games with Grands who live across town. Text messages to and from friends and family. Jokes – anything that made me laugh.  

            When my normal routines of life, i.e., grocery shopping and club meetings and face-to-face visits with friends, came to a halt I began walking for exercise more often and it occurred to me that the big picture life remains the same.  Daily sunrises and sunsets. Changing seasons.  White blossoms burst open on dogwood tree branches in the spring, leaves in the summer, red berries in the fall, and now the branches are bare.  Mother Nature gives hope.

            There was hope and celebration when my young cousin and his wife welcomed their baby daughter into their family.  When friends married.  When a few family members came together.  When the COVID vaccinations began last week. 

            Some take-aways of 2020 give hope.  A young woman who lost her mother to COVID learned that she’s much stronger than she thought she was or could ever be.  Nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and all health care workers are heroes.  Teachers gained more respect as they taught using unprecedented methods.  I’ve become more patient, waiting for deliveries, waiting for quarantines to pass, waiting for vaccines to be available, just waiting.             As 2021 opens its first week, I ask, “Okay, 2021.  What have you got?”  Whatever comes, even amid chaos and pain, there is hope.

Happy Heart Tugs Needed

In early 2020, I wrote on my calendar that today’s topic would be Heart Tugs. I’ve written other columns about happy times when heartstrings tighten. Times to imprint in my head and heart to relive and cherish.   

            During 2020, I haven’t followed through on my intention of writing quarterly Heart Tugs.  Other topics took precedence this summer and fall.  And now, I wrestle with sharing moments that paint pictures of happiness and well-being when so many people struggle from all that 2020 has thrown at us. 

            While it’s good to celebrate the joyful moments, I can’t put sadness and sorrow aside. All emotions kindle Heart Tugs:  some happy, some comforting, some painful.

            Many celebrated Christmas while still grieving the death of someone they love.  Many lost their homes in the March tornado. Many can’t hug parents and grandparents who are in retirement homes or hospitals.  Many families didn’t celebrate Christmas in traditional ways.

            In June, as Husband’s mother’s casket and vault were lowered into her grave, her family stood close by.  Three of her great-grandchildren, all younger than 6 and wearing masks, stood within inches of the grave and watched as shovelfuls of dirt were thrown. At age 92, Grandmother lived a long life with little illness. Her greatest treasures were her twelve great-grands who knew exactly where she kept candy for them.

            Thankfully, technology has connected friends and families.  Six college girlfriends and I didn’t make our planned annual trip, but we visit often using Zoom.  A friend and her siblings and their children and grandchildren reminisced and laughed together even though all were in their own homes and miles apart. 

            Using Facetime, Husband and I watched our Grands, who live an airplane ride away, open Christmas gifts we had shipped to them.  They wrapped new blankets around their shoulders and the two boys, ages 7 and 9, plopped onto the floor and looked at their new books.  Our five-year-old Grand said repeatedly, “I want to tell you something.”  She described every something in detail.

            During this pandemic, one of the few places our local Grands can go is to Husband’s and my house.  So last week, our 15-year-old Grand came with his four younger siblings to decorate sugar cookies.  He slathered colored icing and poured sprinkles with fake enthusiasm.  When Husband stood beside him and spread green icing on a baked Christmas tree, our Grand’s attitude changed. 

            Two hours later, these five Grands boxed up their decorated cookies to go home, and I declared this the best cookie decorating ever.  My six-foot teenage Grand said, “Yeah, Gran, that was really fun.”  A minute later, he asked, “Gran, are you crying?”

             On cold winter days while I walk outside for exercise, I’ll be warm wearing the scarf my 13-year-old Grand knitted for my Christmas present.  My nine-year-old Grand reached her arms high, hugged me tightly, and whispered, “I love you so much, Gran.” 

            Heart Tugs. I’m catching all the happy ones I can – to balance the sad ones.