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What’s in Your Wallet?

Elaine, age 6, watched as I searched inside my clutch wallet for money. I finally found $2.13 in bills and coins to pay the clerk. As we walked out of the store, Elaine asked, “What’s all that stuff in your wallet?”

I chuckled and said, “Stuff I need.” And my Grand asked, “For what?” For what, indeed.

Later I thought of Elaine’s questions and two other wallets came to mind. My mom’s and a college girlfriend’s. I stuck Mom’s billfold in my purse when she was admitted to the hospital April 1991. After her death a few days later, I kept it, just as she’d used it. Inside were the necessary things you find in everyone’s billfold: driver’s license, insurance cards, cash. And a few other things: her social security card, emergency contacts, and high school graduation pictures of my brother and me, although both photos had been made more than three decades earlier, and a picture of Mom and Dad. I cried sentimental tears that Mom had kept these pictures.

About ten years ago while travelling with a college girlfriend, I convinced her that her billfold was too big. No wonder she couldn’t find anything and her purse was so heavy. She didn’t need to carry every store discount card and notes from past shopping trips. Together we shopped for a smaller wallet and cleaned out her oversized one. Now, I laugh that my billfold looks like my friend’s did. Full of too much stuff.

So first, my apologies to you dear friend. What’s in my big 8” x 4” clutch organizer with its twelve card slots, zipper compartment, and three divided sections? The card slots are full. An expired museum membership card and insurance card dated 10/16 thru 10/17 to trash. Other cards that are used once a year go in a small zipper pouch in my car. Only two credit cards must stay.

Coins fill the zipper compartment. Pennies multiply. How I wish they’d transform into dollar bills. Just as sure as I clean out all the change, I will need a dime and three pennies to avoid getting back 87 cents in change.

One divided section for bills, one for receipts, and one for other important stuff. Important stuff like a dentist appointment card from 2016, expired restaurant coupons, and a scribbled grocery list – now trashed. And stuff I need: a band-aid, two postage stamps, emergency contact list, a copy of my passport (held over from when I marked the wrong box on my driver’s license renewal form and my driver’s license didn’t have a photo), a card listing a few passwords that regularly escape my mind. And a small plastic cardholder with three photos: one of Husband and two of our children when they were high school students, twenty plus years ago.

So Elaine the stuff in my wallet is important. It’s stuff to for identification, to buy more stuff, emergency stuff, and some sentimental stuff. Just like the stuff in most people’s wallets.



Lessons from Children

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 7.50.13 AMLast Friday, I was reminded of a lesson while celebrating Read Across America. This day isn’t on my calendar as it was when I was an elementary classroom teacher, but thankfully friends at Capshaw School invited me to read aloud. Although I often read with my Grands, sharing a book with a classroom of students is a different experience.

The calming atmosphere of the school where I taught for twenty years settled over me. I felt as if I were returning home, as a teacher in charge. The smells, the colors – all the same. The greeting, the smiles – different people, but the same.

Mrs. Rand introduced me and gave her second grade students a chance to ask questions. “What’s your favorite color?” Yellow, just like this questioner wore from head to toe. “Do you know my step-mom? She went to Capshaw.” I know step-mom’s parents. “What’s your favorite book?” Had this child been prompted to give me a lead-in to the book I’d brought to read?

These seven and eight year old students sat at my feet on the floor; I sat in a chair exactly like my former teacher desk chair.  I had practiced holding and reading a big picture book so that I could read sideways and upside down. “The book is Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae,” I said and showed the cover picture of a bright yellow, orange-spotted giraffe turning a flip.

In the book, Gerald’s knees buckle when he tries to twirl at the Jungle Dance. The other animals cha-cha, waltz, rumba and laugh at Gerald. “Look at clumsy Gerald! Giraffes can’t dance, you silly fool,” they jeer. Sad and alone, Gerald creeps away. The song of a cricket and his encouraging words makes Gerald sway his body, shuffle his feet, and swish his tail. And then he throws his legs sideways and leaps into the air into a backward somersault. The other animals gather around and declared Gerald the best dancer ever.

As I read the last words of the book, the children leaned forward and a few clapped. “So what could be another title for this book?” I asked. The children’s answers told me they understood the story’s theme. Giraffes Can Dance! Giraffes Dance When They Hear Their Music. Gerald Had to Learn. Everybody was Wrong, Giraffes Dance.

And then one child said, “Everybody can do something. Giraffes don’t have to dance.” I wanted to hug him and I asked him to please say that again. “Everybody can do something,” he said.   I got my teacher fix: a reminder that children are teachers, too. We adults can listen to and watch children and learn from them.

Some people say, “I could never be a teacher.” If every minute of a teacher’s day was like the thirty minutes I spent with those young students, everybody could be a teacher and everybody would want to. But everybody doesn’t have to. Because everybody can do something. Different somethings.

A Young Grand’s Love

“GRAN!” Jesse screams as he jumps down the backdoor steps at his house. I spread my arms wide and my 3 year-old Grand runs to me. He jumps. I lift him and he wraps his legs around my waist and buries his head in my shoulder.

“Oh, Jesse, I’m so happy to hug you!” I say. Just as happy as I was the day before when he ran to me.

These are the times grandparents must never forget. Must cherish. Almost every time Husband or I see Jesse he asks, “Go to Pop and Gran’s house today?” And he accepts our frequent answer, “Not today, Jesse. Would you like to come another day?” He smiles and screams, “Yes!” Another day can be tomorrow or a day next week.

Jesse has a routine when he visits Husband’s and my house by himself. He climbs the steps to the upstairs playroom. “Come on!” he says. He sets the 1970s Fisher Price plastic garage on a low table and dumps the matchbox cars out of a basket. He parks each car in a blue or red space and counts them. “1, 2, 3, 4,” he says. Then he counts again, “1, 7, 5, 2.”

“Let’s read books now,” my Grand says as he runs to the kids’ bookshelf.   He chooses the same books every time: Look Out for Mater and Tales from the Track, both about the red car Lightening McQueen and his car friends. He throws the books onto the couch. “Sit here, Gran!” he says and slaps beside the books. I sit and he crawls onto my lap.

My Grand laughs aloud when Mater, a brown tow truck travels down a curvy road backwards. And whispers “Shhh” when Big Bull, a monster-sized bulldozer, sleeps. Before I finish reading the second book, Husband comes into the playroom. “Poppy!” Jesse shouts and crawls out of my lap, holds the book, and runs to Husband. Poppy, Jesse’s love name for Husband. Seven other Grands call him Pop, but Jesse coined Poppy, and now it’s his turn to read aloud.

No matter the time of day or how long the visit, Jesse wants a snack. “I’m hungry,” he says. He carries a booster seat to a kitchen chair and fastens its safety belt around his waist. He peels a tangerine, and like most toddlers, stuffs his mouth full and then talks. “Cookies! Can I have cookies?” he says. His snacks are always the same: a tangerine, cookies, and water. Water in a blue plastic cup and a blue straw.

When it’s time for me to take my Grand home, he runs to Husband. “Bye, Poppy,” and holds his arms up to be lifted. If Husband simply hugs, Jesse reminds him to kiss-hug and wiggles to the floor after each kisses the other’s cheek.

Jesse’s greetings and kiss-hugs won’t last much longer. Soon he’ll do as his older siblings who casually say, “Hi, Gran” or wave half-heartedly. But I remember, they too, ran to me when they were toddlers.







Goodbye to Baxter, a Loving Dog

It’s said that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child. Because Son and Daughter 2 (aka Daughter-in-law) and their three children said goodbye to Baxter, their 13-year-old Boxer, I’m sad. Baxter was family. My Grand, four year-old Neil would say, “There are four boys at our house. Me, Daniel, Daddy and Baxter.”

When Husband and I visited Son and Daughter 2’s home, Baxter welcomed us first. I braced myself for his full-force hug as he leaned against my legs. When I sat down, Baxter lay his head in my lap, his tongue licking my hands, my arms. It took a while for me to learn to say sternly, “Baxter, go away,” as Son suggested. That sounded cruel. Surely he’d understand, “Baxter, I love you, too and you are such a good dog and I’ll throw a ball with you later, but right now I want to hug my Grands.”

These three Grands, ages 6, 4, and 2, have only known life with Baxter. He’d be asleep, even snoring, on his mat in the corner of the family room and one of them would pet him or sit beside him or lay face to face with him. When Baxter awoke, he’d lie still or stand and walk to another room, another mat, or his crate. I wondered if he hid in his crate for peace and quiet.

Although all three Grands loved Baxter, two-year-old Ann turned to him for comfort. When we visited recently, Ann was unhappy that she couldn’t do what she wanted. She ran across the room and said, “I need my Baxter!” Baxter, sound asleep, didn’t flinch when Ann slung herself across his body.

It’s Daughter 2 I’m saddest for. Baxter was given to her as a young pup and he kept her company, especially when Son travelled on overnight business trips. She wrote the following tribute.

Baxter — my sweet, people-loving furry boy. My baby before I had a real baby.
He was a leaner, a licker, and a lover. As long as he was getting loved on, he was happy (even at the vet). You could see it in his short, wagging tail and feel it as his entire body weight leaned against your legs, and he licked whatever he could reach.
His ears were velvety soft, and he had a small white spot on the back of his neck. He had one black toenail, and his paws smelled a bit like corn chips. (One learns these things when an 85-pound furry boy shares your bed, occasionally). He loved peanut butter and would eat almost anything, including small stinky socks.
He lived a long, happy life. I’m grateful to have had him by my side for so long – in four different states and numerous homes, along for the ride in life’s big and small moments. His absence has left an almost tangible void in our house.

So Son, Daughter 2, and Grands, know that others are sad with you. Baxter was one loving dog.



Roses, Violets, Sugar, and Cards

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 7.54.23 AMIt’s Valentine’s Day. A day to send greetings to those we love. A day that the Greeting Card Association says that over a billion cards are sent, and it’s estimated that almost two hundred million roses are produced for this holiday. That’s about 17,000,000 bouquets of a dozen roses.

When I think of Valentine’s Day cards, I think of a two-line poem I first heard Dad quote when I was a child, and it was printed on some of the first mass produced cards in the mid-1800s.

Roses are red, violets are blue

Sugar is sweet and so are you.

But that’s not how the poem was first written. These lines were adapted from a rhyme published in 1784 in a collection of English nursery rhymes and read as follows:

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,

The honey’s sweet, and so are you.

Thou are my love and I am thine;

I drew thee to my Valentine.

The origins of these words can be traced back all the way to the 16th century, 1590, and were written by Sir Edmund Spenser in his epic The Faerie Queene. To describd a fair lady, he wrote, ‘She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew.’ All these years later, cards are printed with variations of the two lines about roses and violets and honey.

By the time you read this, I’m sure everyone has given and received Valentine cards. But what if you haven’t? It’s not too late. All you need is a pen or keyboard, a little time, and a willingness to put your feelings in words.

Husband and I have celebrated more that fifty Valentine’s Days. Yes, fifty! Three as college sweethearts and forty-eight as husband and wife. The cards we’ve given each other chronicle our time together. From lovey-dovey courtship days. Busyness of early marriage, each holding a job. Appreciation of love and care given to children and family. To funny verses about love lasting through the years. And we’ve exchanged gifts of flowers and candy.

I do appreciate every card, every gift, but I most remember one gift and one card. When Husband and I were college students, I was the only girl in my dormitory who received a dozen long- stemmed yellow roses. Yellow, not red, roses. No doubt the florist tried to convince Husband that red roses signify love and romance and were the perfect Valentine flower. Yellow roses represent joy and friendship. Husband knew yellow roses were my favorite flowers.

And my best-loved card didn’t cost one penny, except Husband’s time and the expense of printer ink. Not a store-bought card, but a personal card. I read this just-for-me card every Valentine’s Day and sometimes in between.

So write a card for your sweetheart. Begin with ‘Roses are red and violets are blue. Sugar is sweet and so are you.’ You can’t go wrong with those words. They’ve been around a long time.

Collecting: A good hobby?

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 7.45.11 AM‘Surely, collecting is a good hobby.’ With those words I ended a column two weeks ago that was inspired by the current Collecting Cookeville exhibit at the Cookeville History Museum. Friends have told me their adult children don’t appreciate their collections. One daughter refused her mother’s offer of a few of her Hummel figurines. “Mom,” the daughter said, “you like those more that I do. You keep them.” This mother knows a time will come when her only child will donate her treasured collection to a non-profit organization or sell them to add dollars to her son’s college education fund.

I know no one else in my family is particularly fond of clowns. I really like my twenty or so clowns arranged in small groups, which sit among the books on our living room bookshelves. Clowns with notes on the bottom telling who gave them to me and when. A clown depicting an adult reading a book to a child. One holding brightly colored birthday balloons. A clay clown, with a broken foot, that Daughter made.

According to psychologists, we humans are unique in the way we collect items just for the satisfaction of seeking and owning. We’ve done it for thousands of years, since earliest man gave up nomadic life and settled in one place.

Somehow I feel compelled to defend the importance of collecting and I found a blog that gives 8 reasons why collecting things you love is good for your brain. Now who can argue with anything that is good for our brains?

Collecting builds observation skills and organizational skills. We collectors search for details to make choices and look for common characteristics. Collections call for sorting into categories and that can transfer into other tasks, i.e. presenting school assignments and work projects.

Collecting builds knowledge and may lead to a career. A bird collection could inspire the study of habitats, the many species, and the distinct differences among birds. It’s possible a child could become an ornithologist because her mother collected wooden bird carvings. And think about children who collect rocks and are budding geologists. Charles Darwin collected beetles when he was a child and developed a curiosity for all living things. We know him best for his theory of evolution through natural selection presented in 1859.

Collections inspire creativity. Artists often collect things that influence their work. And social connections are made through collections. At model train shows and swaps, people from all walks of life and all ages meet to exhibit and trade train cars. And there are worldwide clubs for philatelists, people who collect postage stamps.

I knew it. Collecting is a good hobby. But I know collections are often valued only by the owner. I don’t expect my children to ever want all my clowns on their bookshelves, but someday they may want one or two. Ones with their names and “Happy Birthday, Mom” on the bottom. Just as a keepsake of something that made me smile and was good for my brain.


Lost Again?

Ruth, Lou, and David fastened seatbelts and settled in my van one afternoon recently. I said, “While you’re at mine and Pop’s house, please tell me if you see my red glasses.”

“Your what?” said David, age 12.

“My glasses. The ones with red frames.”

“You lost them again, Gran?” asked 10-year-old Lou.

“Not lost. Misplaced.”

“The same ones that Elaine (these Grands’ youngest sister) found in the grass in your yard?” asked Ruth, age 8.

“Yes, and someone found them in the creek one time. Was that you, Ruth?” I said.

“Yes, I think I did! On the bottom,” said Ruth.

“Wait,” said David, “you lost them in the grass and the creek? Why don’t you just wear them all the time like Mom does?”

I explained that I need glasses only to see something close. Not to see at a distance. “Don’t you have other glasses?” asked David.

Yes, I have two pairs I bought at the Dollar Store. “So, can’t you just wear them?” I explained that my red-framed glasses are prescription and made with better glass and I can see best with them and I rattled on about how frustrating it is to misplace them.

My Grands didn’t say a word. It was a case of information overload and it wasn’t my Grands’ problem. I wanted responses. “So, will you please look around for my glasses? I really need them,” I said.

Ruth looked out the van window, seemingly lost in thought. “Gran, I have an idea.” She paused. “Think real hard. Where was the last place you remember having them?” Spoken with inflection of someone who has heard this question many times.

So, later that day after my Grands left, I backtracked my morning steps. Upstairs in the green room where I typed on my laptop computer. In the bathroom. On the kitchen desk. The kitchen table. In the dirty clothesbasket in the laundry room. I pulled out every stinking piece of dirty clothes because I was pretty sure I had pushed my glasses to the top of my head before I put dirty clothes in the washer and took clean ones out of the dryer.

At suppertime, I shared my dilemma with Husband and how David thought I should wear another pair and Ruth’s insightful question. Husband smiled. That smile that meant ‘We’ve been here before.’ “Where have you looked?” he asked. I explained and named every piece of dirty clothes I touched.

After supper, Husband nonchalantly walked from the laundry room and laid my red glasses on the kitchen counter. “What?” I said, “I looked in there! Went through all our stinky clothes. Looked on the floor.”

“Did you look in the trash can?” he asked.

My Grands will laugh when I tell them about Pop’s discovery. And, someday I’m going to write a story from my glasses’s point of view. They’ll scream, “Don’t put me on top of your head. I don’t like falling in grass and creeks and trash cans!”