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In Search of Candy Corn

I didn’t buy candy corn in September when I first noticed it at the grocery store, even though I really like candy corn and peanuts mixed together.  I knew the lure of a Payday candy bar’s flavor would hit hardest at 9:00 p.m. when I’m prone to eat anything and everything. (Yes, I know that’s the worst time of a day to eat.)

            September and October, I avoided that pure sugar candy, and early November, I planned to buy candy corn to make Oreo cookie turkeys with my Grands as we’ve done many times.  (Google Oreo and candy corn turkeys to see pictures of chocolate cookies with orange and white tailfeathers.)  I was surprised candy corn wasn’t on Food Lion’s grocery shelves and made a mental note, which I forgot, to pick it up somewhere else.

            Then late Friday afternoon, a week before Thanksgiving Day, Husband and I were getting a few groceries because the Ray family, which includes six kids ages 4 -12, was coming to our house Saturday for Thanksgiving dinner. We received a call from Daughter: “I’m at Kroger and they don’t have candy corn. Will you get some at Food Lion so we can make Oreo turkeys at your house tomorrow?”  There still wasn’t any at Food Lion.  How I wished I’d bought candy corn in September and given it to Husband to hide. 

            As Husband and I talked after supper, we wondered if any stores had candy corn,  and we decided to make a quick trip to our drugstore.  The kids would want to make Oreo turkeys.

            So, we set out on a Friday night adventure.  First stop was the drugstore. No candy corn. Then the Dollar Store, IGA grocery store, and another drugstore.  No candy corn.  Maybe Wal-Mart?  According their website, it was available online for $13.22 per pound, but not in local stores.  Amazon offered an 11-ounce bag for $5.08. We didn’t consider ordering.

            One story is that the candy company that produces 85% of candy corn was a victim of a ransomware attack in early October and production stopped.  The company reported production resumed in some manufacturing facilities to near capacity in time for Halloween sales. If I’d known, I’d stocked up and maybe other people did and that’s why there was no candy corn to make Oreo turkeys on Saturday before Thanksgiving. 

            Daughter improvised and the kids made Oreo turkeys with Ike and Mike tailfeathers, but that’s not the end of the story.

            I told my niece Sarah, who lives in Georgia, about Husband’s and my Friday night adventure and she offered to look for candy corn.  I asked her not to because it cost too much and I’d eat it.

            On Thanksgiving Day, Sarah presented two bags of candy corn to me. I didn’t tell her that the day before Husband’s sister, Sara, had given me a bag that she had squirreled away in her pantry.             That sweet and salty treat never tasted so good.  Thank you, Sarah and Sara!

Counting Gifts and Blessings

Have you seen the cartoon of a family gathered around a dining room table that’s laden with a Thanksgiving dinner, a perfectly browned turkey and bowls of sides?  A little girl, whose chin almost rests on the table’s edge says, “Shouldn’t we be thankful more than one day a year?”

            Yes, indeed, we should.  A habit that helped me during the pandemic was writing in a gratitude journal that I began years ago.  There’s something about listing and numbering blessings, using a favorite black ink pen on lined spiral-bound paper, that is calming. That reminds me the greatest blessings are gifts of my every day, ordinary life. 

            I credit Ann Voscamp’s books, One Thousand Gifts and One Thousand Gifts Devotional, for prompting me to keep an ongoing list.  Before reading her books, I mentally noted blessings and prayed thanksgivings, but I took Voscamp’s challenge to put pen to paper.  Actually, Voscamp writes that her cynical friends challenged her and her change in attitude led to her books.  Could I list 1000 Gifts? 

             My list began with people.  All those I love most, family and friends.  Then the comforts often taken for granted:  a warm house, food, clothes, car, the freedom to worship, running water.  My list became more specific. Micah, with open mouth and arms, runs to me.  Doing chair yoga with Sheila’s CD. Catching lightning bugs with Lucy.

            Looking back, my journal reads like a diary.  Medicine to control vertigo.  Swimming at the Y with Grands.  College girlfriends come to spend two nights.  Tommy Sue cleaned up my kitchen mess.

            This week guidepost.org posted an article entitled “Gratitude Makeover” which includes tips to stay present and uplifted.  1. As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, say “thank you.” 2.  Start a gratitude journal. 3. Live in wonder. 4. Take a new path. 5. Keep an “attitude of gratitude.”  I’m not surprised that a gratitude journal is number 2, and I’m convinced it leads to number 5.  Doesn’t gratitude create attitude?

            Hot bath.  Warm, comfortable bed.  Cardinal at the birdfeeder.  All Grands gathered around the dining room table to play Bingo. Annabel and Elsie climb their magnolia tree.  Sunshine through the kitchen window.  Fresh strawberries.

            Voscamp’s writings aren’t always comforting.  “Counting 1000 gifts means counting hard things, otherwise I’ve miscounted.” I struggle counting hard things. Holding Joe’s hand as he lay in ICU. Brett undergoing heart surgery. My hand surgery.  Why be thankful for sickness?  For pain, physical and emotional?  Yet, blessings surface even during stressful, difficult times.  Minister prays for healing hearts.  Doctor’s assurances.

            Especially during the past nineteen months, I’ve counted technology blessings:  Zoom, FaceTime, email, and texts.  Even when I couldn’t visit with family and friend in-person, we stay connected.

            This week, I wrote #5099.  A safe walk to my Grands’ house.  Some days, I don’t write in my gratitude journal and other days, my pen almost runs out of ink.   #5100 Being able to write a weekly column.            

‘Tis the season to be thankful. 

Life as it Should Be

            It was a typical Friday.  Micah, age 7, visited Husband and me and because he’d finished his home-school work, we could play.  After Micah won three games of UNO, I asked, “How about a Ralph’s donut?”

            My Grand immediately dropped the UNO cards that he was carefully putting into their cardboard box and asked, “Right now?”  He put on his shoes and was out the back door before I grabbed my purse and headed to the garage. 

            “Can we eat inside there?” My Grand’s eyes opened wide with hope.  I explained that depended on how many people were in the bakery.  “So we might have to stay in the van?”  I nodded.  His shoulders slumped.

            Micah’s wish came true.  Only a few customers were in the donut shop that is often a gathering place for friends to ‘settle the world’s affairs.’   

            Micah ordered a plain twist and chocolate milk. We sat on stools across the room from the only other seated customer, a gray-headed, weathered-face man who wore a flannel shirt.  I watched customers come and go and admired the employee behind the counter whose manners and service were impeccable and friendly. 

            He greeted each person who walked in the bakery while he packed donuts into boxes and bags to serve others.  “Be with you in just a minute,” he nodded to a young man wearing a baseball cap, t-shirt, and jeans. 

            “I’m not in a hurry.  I’m doing chores and errands for my mom today,” the young man said as he sat on a stool facing the gray-headed customer, and they nodded greetings to each other.

            “You do that, young man.  Help your momma all you can,” said the older man.

            “She had long list when I got home last night.  I’m on a leave from Fort Bragg.”

            For the next few minutes while customers came and went, these two men shared where they’d been stationed and their jobs in different branches of the military.  I couldn’t hear every word, but enough to know their experiences, separated by decades, brought them together.

            Micah’s and my next stop was Heart of the City Playground. Every time I’m there, I think of the cold rain, the mud, the chilling temperature in October 2015 when volunteers built this playground, and every time, I’m glad to see people there.  While I pushed my Grand in the nest swing, his favorite, three young women (I assumed mothers) stood beside toddlers sitting on the see-saw.  The mothers laughed and talked.  A baby slept nearby in a stroller.

            A little boy squealed when his dad caught him at the bottom of the slide.  From atop the rope climbing structure a little girl called, “Look at me!” to a woman who sat on a bench and cradled an infant. 

            Life as it should be.  Strangers come together through common experiences.  Kind words. Friends talk while children play.  Toddlers safe because Moms and Dads are nearby.

            And a donut and chocolate milk.  All here in my Grand’s hometown.         

Thankful for People We Meet

Mrs. Culp was stern. Her rare, halfway smile was a forced quick grin, as if she thought she should smile.  She spoke in a coarse whisper, which I learned from a friend was the only way she could talk.  She had lost her natural voice years earlier.  She was short and held her chin high; her hair was fixed and sprayed stiff.

            Every week when I took my young children to the Putnam County Public Library, Mrs. Culp was there.  I sometimes wondered if she’d ban us from the library for being too rowdy, too noisy.  When she took our returned books and stamped books we’d chosen to check out, she hardly looked at me and never at Son and Daughter. 

            Then thirty years later, I stood holding a metal bar and lifted my right knee which had been replaced two weeks earlier, and a short, gray-headed woman was guided to the bar directly opposite me.  She looked familiar.  How did I know her?  She struggled to do the exercise the physical therapist had explained, and after a few minutes the therapist told her to stand still and relax.

            The woman looked up at me and in a coarse whisper said, “I remember you.  You brought your children to the library every week.”  I immediately knew that the stern librarian and I were clutching the same metal bar, our fingers almost touched.  I nodded and smiled. 

            Did Mrs. Culp remember when my children hollered for me to get a book off the top shelf?  And the many times we dropped books?

            “You had a girl and a boy and they were always well behaved,” she said.  I thanked her and told her that every time before going in the library we had a use-your-best-manners talk.  “And you brought them every week.  They never ran around or were noisy.  What at they doing now?”

            Was Mrs. Culp, who hardly responded to my greeting when I piled books on the library counter, really interested in my adult children?  I explained that both Daughter and Son were married and had children and I told her about their work.

            “I’d expect they’d grow up and do well,” Mrs. Culp said.  “They were good children.”  I took a deep breath. My children had passed Mrs. Culp’s standards.

            I asked why she was doing physical therapy, and she smiled.  A real smile.  She’d fallen and broken a bone; I don’t remember if it was a hip or leg.  “I really miss the library and seeing people,” Mrs. Culp said. We talked about the feeling of calm by being surrounded by books and people who read.

            Every time I went to physical therapy I looked for Mrs. Culp, but she wasn’t there.  Those few minutes when we stood with toes and fingers almost touching stays with me. 

            Mrs. Culp was a stern librarian who did her job well and remembered my children.  Maybe, like some of us, she mellowed with age. I’m thankful I saw her genuine smile and knew her kind heart.

Paraprosdokians

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  We’ve heard these words many times. If you really want to do something, you can.  Even though you didn’t do it the first time, try again. Try harder. Try another way.

            It’s one of those old timey sayings that most of us probably hated when our parents said it to us, but yet we shared it with our children and so it goes from one generation to the next.  It’s so old-timey, it dates back to 1640 when George Herbert wrote, “To him that will, ways are not wanting.”

            A modern version, “Where there is a will, there is a way,” was printed in the New Monthly Magazine in 1822, two hundred years ago.  About eight generations have repeated this saying and in recent times, comedians use it as a paraprosdokian.

            Paraprosdokians are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected.  They are usually used in a humorous situations, and they create new brain wrinkles causing us rethink a statement.

            Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.

            Where there’s a will, there are 500 relatives.

            Where there’s a will, call me.

            Where there’s a will, there’s a family reunion.

             When Husband shared an article in Mental Floss magazine with me about paraprosdokians, I said, “A Parapro what?”  The more I read, the more I appreciated this thinking outside a box.

             Comedian Groucho Marx, a radio and tv personality of the 1950s, was a master of unexpected one-liners.  He uses common situations and surprised his audiences.   Room Service?  Send up a larger room. The husband who wants a happy marriage should learn to keep his mouth shut and his chequebook open.  I find television very educating – every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.

            Other comedians have used surprise sentence endings. “When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them,” Rodney Dangerfield said.   “The company accountant is shy and retiring. He’s shy a quarter of a million dollars. That’s why he’s retiring,” Milton Berle said.

            Winston Churchill often included unexpected statements in speeches. Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen.  I have never developed indigestion from eating my words.   A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.  If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

            We’ve all heard that we’re never too old to learn, but how about these twists?

            You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

            You’re never too old to fall off a horse.

            You’re never too old to play in the dirt. 

            You’re never too old.  Never.

            Make up your own paraproskokians.  Really, you’re never too old, assuming you have the will, there’s a way.

Trick or Treat, Smell my Feet

The earworm won’t go away.  It plays over and over in my head.  All because my 16-year-old Grand asked if his family could trick or treat in my neighborhood this year, like they did last year.  He reminded me that the little kids, his siblings, liked it and that my street is safe.

            “Sure, but it’s your parents’ decision.  I’ll walk with you if they say it’s okay,” I told him. And then I added, “Treat or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.” 

            I should have stopped after the word okay.  My Grand closed his eyes and shook his head as a teen-ager tends to do when a grandmother says something silly.  And those words about feet and something to eat have been on earworm rewind for a week. 

            That jingle takes me back to being a kid ghost, covered in a white sheet with eye holes cut out, and walking around my neighborhood on Halloween night.  My girlfriend and I chanted, “Smell my feet, give me something good to eat!” until we knocked on doors. 

            When a door opened, we held open our jack-o-lantern decorated paper grocery bags and in our sweetest voices we simply said, “Treat or treat.” In days of past, we children only knocked on doors of people we knew and we expected only one sucker or small chocolate candy at each house.  And I was always sure that if I wasn’t polite and said ‘thank you’ that the neighbor would report my bad manners to my parents.  I’d never say smell my feet to a grown-up.

            Since the smell-my-feet earworm hasn’t crawled away, I’ve wondered who wrote this jingle and when.  Every online source I found listed the writer as Anonymous.  After all, who’d claim credit for penning such words?  The jingle is first cited in print in 1948 or 1964, according to different online sites, but there are no named publications.  Who’d claim the notoriety of first printing these words? 

            I did discover several versions of the jingle.  Trick or treat, bags of sweets, ghosts are walking down the street.  Trick or treat, give me something good to eat; if you don’t I won’t be sad; I’ll just make you wish you had.  Kids in Canada have their own version:  Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat; not too big, not too small, just the size of Montreal.

            And I discovered a version, first cited in print in 1988 (again, no publication listed) that I hadn’t heard before and will erase from my head so to never say aloud:  Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat; if you don’t, I don’t care, I’ll pull down your underwear. 

            Imagine if I’d said to my Grand pull down your underwear instead of smell my feet.  He wouldn’t walk down my street with me again and that earworm would be even more annoying.

            How about bags of sweet?  That could be a pleasant earworm.

Can I Ask You a Question?

Lucy lay in the bathtub completely immersed, except for her face, and hidden under a thick layer of bubbles.  “Gran,” she said, “can I ask you a question?”  This from my 10-year-old Grand who once asked, “Gran, how does a baby get in Mommy’s tummy?”  Who once said, “Don’t you think belly buttons look funny?”  Who often asks riddles. 

            “Yes,” I answered, “what’s your question?”  Will it be frivolous?  A question that makes me laugh? A question her mother could better answer?

            My Grand grinned.  “Am I your favorite?”

            Favorite among eight Grands? How can I have one favorite? I measured my words.  “Lucy, you are my favorite right this moment.” 

            “But, am I your favorite all the time?”

            Fairness led my response. “Let’s think about that. How would your brothers and sisters and cousins feel if I had one favorite all the time?”

            My Grand sat up  and soap bubbles fell from her shoulders. She named her two brothers, her two sisters.  “They said I’m your favorite.”  She threw a challenge.

            “They’re right.  You are.  You’re here and we’re together.”

            “But,” she again challenged.

            “No but.  And…..” I let the word drag.  “When others are here or need help or a hug, then they are my favorites.  You’ll always be a favorite. Right now, you are my very favorite!”  My Grand giggled and slipped back under the water.

             Thinking back to being 10-years-old, I know how it feels to be a favorite.  I was the favorite of my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles because I was the only daughter, only granddaughter, only niece.  I wore that invisible badge of honor and love with pride and confidence.

            Years ago, Erma Bombeck, a syndicated newspaper columnist from 1965-1996, wrote about a mother having a favorite child.  ‘Every mother has a favorite child. The one with whom I share a special closeness, with whom I share a love no one can possibly understand.’ 

            Bombeck explained that her favorite child messed up during a piano recital, ran the wrong way with the football, had measles at Christmas, had a fever in the middle of the night.  Her favorite child was selfish, bad-tempered, and self-centered.  She wrote that a mother’s favorite child is the one who needs her at the moment for whatever the reason – to cling to, to shout at, to hug, to flatter, to unload on – but mostly to be there.

            Bombeck’s words have always stuck with me.  Because I have one daughter and one son, it’s easy to say each is my favorite.  But how can I say I have a favorite Grand?  Children – no, everyone – needs to be a favorite.  Needs to know that someone loves and treasures them above all others.

            I’ve replayed Lucy’s and my conversation and wish I’d answered with one word.  “Yes!”  Wish I’d not tried to be diplomatic and fair. Wish I’d not tried to explain.            

Lucy is my all-time favorite, as are her brothers, her sisters, her cousins.

Thank You for Saving Lives

Dear Health Care Workers,

            I hope you’ve seen the yard signs around town that read ‘CRMC THANK YOU FOR SAVING LIVES!’  We could shout it from the Smoky Mountains and scream it in the hallways of Cookeville Regional Medical Center and it wouldn’t be enough to let you know how much you are appreciated. 

            Every work day you suit up, covering yourself from head to toe. I can only imagine the pep talk you give yourself as you drive to work. For months, you’ve fought COVID-19 for your patients and in most cases you’ve won. 

            News media gives us numbers of deaths – even one is too many.  Let’s celebrate the lives you save.  The people who leave the hospital and go home because you do your job and do it well.  Thank you.

            I’ve heard stories about nurses holding phones so family members can see their loved one – mom, dad, grandparent, son, daughter – on a FaceTime call.  You hold patients’ hands and you are their medical and emotional and spiritual caretakers.  You give and give and give.  Thank you.

            You trained to be caretakers, but I wonder if you think, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for.’  You do what you need to do, no matter if it falls into the expectations or the training as medical caretakers. Thank you.

            You’ve worked to save lives when patients come to you not having done their part to stay healthy.  No matter if patients are vaccinated or unvaccinated, you do your best.  Thank you.

            That yard sign thanks all who work at our local hospital, all 2,466 employees.  Those who stand beside patients’ beds couldn’t do their jobs without staff members who cook and serve food, mop floors, read x-rays, purchase supplies, keep computers running, count pills, and many other tasks. Thank you.

             Recently, I watched as twelve children, ages 4-16, used chalk to write and draw on hospital sidewalks that you walk to and from work.  The kids had been told they could write anything encouraging, anything happy, anything to say thank you.   

            They knew exactly what to say in just a few words. You are our Heroes. Your work matters so much.  Thank you! Cookeville appreciates you. You do it right!  You’re a STAR!  Smile big!  You lift us up!

            Bright colored drawings of smiles, rainbows, hearts, stars, flowers, stick people wearing face masks, and a girl with pink hair accompanied the words.  I hope those words and drawings put a smile on your face and told you that we’re thankful you do your job every day. 

            Many things have been done to show our appreciation. Yard signs, meals delivered to you, notes written, and chalk drawings are to support you through work days.

            Your work matters so much. You do it right!  You are saving lives!  Thank you.

Columnist Note: Purchase a yard sign.  Proceeds go to the CRMC Employee Assistance Fund.  https://interland3.donorperfect.net/weblink/weblink.aspx… $10/each for pick up. $25/each for delivery.

Tea for Two

“Gran, would this be a good day for tea?” my six-year-old Grand asked.  She’d just finished eating breakfast: bacon, eggs, and toast.

            “It’s a perfect day for tea,” I said.  “Maybe later and we’ll invite others to join us.”  Her mother and her three girl cousins and their mom, I thought.

            Ann wrinkled her nose and leaned her head toward her right shoulder.  “Hmmmm.  How about now and just me and you?”

            Ann’s mother stood behind her and nodded to say she thought her daughter had a good idea.  “I’d like morning tea and just the two of us,” I said.

            My Grand put her breakfast plate on the kitchen counter and said, “Let’s get ready!” A few minutes later Ann was dressed in a brightly colored dress and wore a bow in her hair and a huge smile on her face.  I’d changed from a t-shirt with writing across the front to one with no writing.  We were dressed for a Monday morning tea party.

            Ann chose peppermint tea; I chose Earl Grey. “Which teapot would you like?” I asked.  I offered a small blue one that my mother’s friend gave me when I was a child or one that a friend brought to me from Japan. My Grand chose the Japanese teapot because she liked its fancy designs. “It’s so pretty,” she said as she held it.

            Ann refused my offer of fine china, instead she chose everyday Fiesta pottery.  “Green is my favorite color.  What’s yours?” she asked.  She placed her green and my gold-colored cup and dessert plates on trays.

            Since I didn’t have scones or tea cookies, I cut chocolate brownies and peanut butter bar cookies, into one-inch squares.  Ann arranged them on our plates, and I poured hot water into our teapots. 

            My Grand wanted to sit at our round glass table outside so we carefully carried trays to the front porch.  I corralled Husband to take pictures and Ann and I posed after she staged the plates and cups.  As I poured tea, Ann asked, “Gran, don’t you think we should get rid of that big bug before we eat?”  She pointed to a dead beetle, across the table from me, but within her reach. 

            Finally, after the beetle was on the ground, three spoonsful of sugar had been stirred into Ann’s tea, and fancy napkins lay on our laps, we sipped tea and ate brownies. I talked about traditional foods served for tea.  My Grand shook her head to show dislike for scones, chicken salad sandwiches, and smoked salmon, but her eyes lit up for cucumber sandwiches.  “Can we make some now?” she asked.

            So together we trimmed off bread crusts, cut each piece of bread into four squares, spread cream cheese, and cut thin round cucumber slices.  Ann declared that they were the best cucumber sandwiches she’d ever eaten.

            I declared tea time with just Ann one of the best teas ever. Actually, anytime with Grands, especially doing what they choose, is the best of times.

So Goes the Days

Jo’s walk after supper was rained out so it was a good time to finish a project.  She explained, “I could finish some crafty things for a wedding shower. I went toward my craft room, again I say toward my craft room, and came back with polished nails and a bottle of water.  Not the task I set out to do!”  

            Just a few days before Jo had gone downstairs to get one thing and did several things.  Later, she headed up the stairs with her arms full, but not the one thing she went downstairs to get.  She asked her Facebook friends, “Do you all do that?  If not, don’t tell me.  Spare me!”

            Jo, I’m right there with you.

            Early morning is a perfect time for a walk. One day last week, the temperature was 60 something and the sun was shining.  I’d had my morning fuel: coffee and a spoonful of crunchy peanut butter.  I’d thrown a load of clothes in the washing machine and I’d be home about when the washer shopped and would put the clothes in the dryer.  A brisk short walk could jumpstart my day. 

            ‘Take vitamins and get tennis shoes,’ I thought as I walked from my kitchen.  In the bedroom, I picked up the magazine that I’d dropped onto the floor when I fell asleep reading the night before.  

            In the bathroom, I brushed my teeth, folded and put away a t-shirt, that hung on the clothes rack, because it wasn’t quite dry the day before when I took it out of the dryer.  In the closet, I picked up dirty socks and took them to the laundry room.

            Back in the be kitchen, I filled a water bottle to carry for my walk, looked down at my flip flops on my feet and thought, ‘Vitamins. Tennis shoes.’  I started all over again, walking toward the bathroom and the closet.

            Finally, I’d swallowed multi-vitamins and put on my socks and tennis shoes. I’d ready as soon as I got my AirPods and phone so I could listen to a podcast, Stuff You Should Know, while I walked. Airpods secure in my ears, but where was my phone?

            It wasn’t in my purse or on the kitchen desk.  I retraced my morning steps and found it on a closet shelf. With phone in my pocket, AirPods in my ears, and water bottle in hand, I opened the back door to step outside – just as the washing machine buzzed. 

            The clothes were washed. I could put wet clothes into the dryer and they’d dry while I walked. I raised the washing machine lid and realized some clothes needed to be partially dried, then hung. 

            I didn’t look back.  Those clothes weren’t going anywhere, but I was.  I walked out the door thirty minutes after I first thought about vitamins and tennis shoes.            

So goes my days – filled with distractions and forgetfulness.  Like Jo said, “Do you all do that?  If not, don’t tell me!”