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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!”

Caught Being Good

He wore biking shorts and a tight shirt, like serious bikers wear.  He walked slowly toward the Cane Creek Park picnic shelter where I and fifteen other book club members sat, and then he stopped about ten feet away from us.  I called out, “Can we help you?”

            He nodded, pointed toward the parked cars, and asked, “Are any of you ladies driving that white Honda?”  My friend raised her hand and said, “I am.” 

            “Well, ma’am, I’m sorry, but I accidentally ran into the front fender.  It’s a very small dent.  Will you come look at it with me?”  the man said.  All sixteen women groaned and my friend walked toward her car.  We watched as he pointed to a front fender and she rubbed her hand on it.  They talked, but we couldn’t hear them.

            When she rejoined the circle, my friend said, “I couldn’t even see it, but he says there’s small dent and he’ll fix it.  My husband would probably see it, but I don’t.”  Isn’t that the way with cars and men? Men see things women don’t.

            As the club meeting continued, I was seated where I watched the man squat beside the fender and use his hands and a cloth.  After 15 minutes he approached us again, and because my friend was speaking at the club podium, I walked with him to her car.

            “I did my best to fix it.  I don’t think anyone will notice,” he said.  I ran my fingers over the fender where he pointed and it was smooth. 

            “I can’t feel anything. How’d you do that?”  I asked.

            “I’ve fixed a lot of dents and scratches on cars for friends.  It’s not hard if you’re careful,” he said and wiped the fender with a cloth he held in his hand.

            “That was really kind.  Thank you,” I said.

            “Well, ma’am, my bike hit that fender and fixing it was the right thing to do,” he said.  “Please tell your friend over there I’m really sorry and appreciate that she wasn’t upset.”

            After the meeting, all of us checked out the fender and no one could see or feel a dent, and the paint color was all the same.

            This man had been caught.  Caught being good. 

            Years ago, when I taught in an elementary school, during an April faculty meeting the principal passed out sheets of paper labeled ‘I was Caught Being Good.’ 

            “When you see a student doing something kind, something helpful, something good, fill in his or her name on this form and write the good deed,” she told us.  The timing was perfect.  At the end of the school year, kids were a bit squirrely and teachers were weary.  

            Students were excited and happy when they were complimented for being good.  Everyone wanted to be caught, and teachers’ spirits were lifted as we looked for students who did good deeds.

            Who can you catch this week?  Tell them they’ve been caught. Both of you will feel good.

Catching More Heart Tugs

It’s time to pull out my folder labeled ‘Heart Tugs’ to remember when heartstrings tighten.  Those times amid the busyness of a day – a brief moment, a single sentence, or an experience that grows fonder as time passes.

            When my Grand was eight years old, she spent a lot of time playing in the dirt.  “See these two worms, Gran? I saved them from the driveway.” she said.  “They really like me, but they can’t live with me so I’m putting them in water and they’ll be happy.”  She put the worms that lay curled in her hand in a mudpuddle and used a stick to stir a smaller mudpuddle.

            “I made chocolate milk.  Want to tase it?” Ruth asked.  I shook my head.  “I did and it’s disgusting!  Now I’m going to make a pancake.”  My Grand held a palm size flat rock in one hand and with the other drizzled thin mud.  “That’s chocolate sauce. It’s delicious!”  Her giggle made me laugh.

            Seven of our eight Grands request pancakes for breakfast when they spend the night with Husband and me. Most remind me to add sprinkles or chocolate chips, but one always says, “Just plain.  No sprinkles or anything.”  And each chooses favorite pancake shapes:  stars, bears, flowers, or hearts.  When a friend gave me silicone ring shapes twelve years ago, I didn’t know a shaped pancake tastes better than a round one. 

            Grand #1 is 16 and his breakfast choice has always been bacon and eggs.  Scrambled eggs topped with melted American cheese and crisp bacon.  “These eggs are better than Mom’s, but it’s not her fault,” David said last week.  “Cooking eggs for all of us (his parents and four siblings) is harder than cooking just for me.”   

            I knew 6-year-old Jesse was up because I heard his footsteps in the playroom which is directly above my bedroom.  The clock said 5:50, an hour or so before I usually get out of bed.  I stumbled to the kitchen, made a cup of coffee, walked up the stairs, and then watched my Grand play. 

            “Look Gran, I sorted them,” he said.  Bristle blocks, that his mother had played with when she was a kid, were in groups by color.  “Did you notice that all the big square blocks are red and the little ones are green?”  I nodded.  “And, look, the wheels are the only circles so they’re over here.”  He pointed to six wheels. 

            Jesse stuck two red blocks together and added wheels near the bottom edge.  “I’m making a car,” he said.  He made a car, a house, a tall tower that fell several times, but stayed together.  He talked non-stop telling me who drove the car, who lived in the house, and he laughed every time the tower fell. 

            As we walked down the steps, Jesse said, “Can I have chocolate chip pancakes?  And a heart and a star?”  Yes, every time, anytime.

            Heart Tugs.  I’m catching all I can.

Is Gossip Good or Bad?

           “This might be gossip, but did you hear…..?”  Those words spilled from of my mouth as my friend and I sat on her living room couch.  I repeated what I’d been told about a mutual friend, someone we’d both known many years.

            My friend and I had heard slightly different versions of what had happened and after a few minutes of conversation, we agreed the how didn’t matter, the outcome was the same. And we both wished the outcome had been different. We wished our friend was happy and healthy, not as she is and we talked about how we could help her family.

            Gossip brings people together and creates community.  Yet, most people think gossip is unkind and malicious, but, originally, gossip carried a positive meaning.

            The origin of gossip is the Old English word godsibb.  A word composed of God and the adjective sibb, meaning a relative, anyone who was kin.  It also referred to someone who was a sponsor, a spiritual support, a godfather or godmother to a person being baptized.

            A reliable source stated that during pre-historic times talk among friends and family, was a way to find suitable mates and encouraged stronger friendship and alliances. The word godsibb came to mean talking about others who weren’t present, as well as sharing recent happenings, thoughts and opinions. 

            Writings from the 1300s show that gobsibb was often used to identify women friends who were present at a birth.  A child’s birth was a social event and friends spent hours talking among themselves and giving moral support to the mother during her labor.

            Anthropologists say that gossip was a bonding agent to women in societies where they were granted little power.  

             It’s not known exactly how gossip took on a negative connotation and how the word became associated with women, but through centuries, that’s what happened. So much so, that when we women talk about anyone and anything, we’re labeled as gossips.  When men talk, it’s called networking or lobbying.   

            A 2019 study reported by BBC.com found that workers, men and women, gossip about 52 minutes a day.  Most conversations weren’t positive or negative, but neutral.  Gossip helps workers realize shared values and experiences and bring workers closer.  Office workers might call this ‘water cooler talk’; teachers call it ‘playground talk.’ The study concluded that gossip is a good thing.

            By Webster’s definition, gossip is talk about other people, sometimes involving details that are not confirmed as truth.  The word gossip does make us think of people who maliciously talk about people and like to spread rumors, but when a conversation about other people isn’t harmful and mean, it is good.  

            I wish the Old English word godsibb had survived through the centuries. With all its negative connotations, no one wants to be labeled a gossip.  But calling someone a gobsibb -wouldn’t that be a compliment?

            When my friend and I talked about our friend, was that good or bad?  It was good, and maybe I should have said, “This is godsibb.  Did you hear…..?”

Squelching Smadness

Quinn was upset.  As six-year-old girls can be, she was a bit hysterical.  Crying.  Wailing.  Lying on the floor.  Quinn’s mother checked her daughter quickly, determined she wasn’t injured, and hugged her.  “Are you sad or mad?” the mom asked.

            Between sobs, Quinn said, “I’m smad.”  She sniffed, then said, “I’m sad and mad.”  Quinn was unhappy and angry.  When her grandmother shared this story, Quinn’s reason for being upset wasn’t remembered.  That a young child could describe her feelings was remembered. 

            Smad.  What perfect word.  Sad and mad tangled and meshed together.  A big snarly mess.  Right now, I’m smad about several happening going on in world. 

            Recent natural disasters have been devastating. In Haiti, over 2, 200 people died, about 300 are still missing, and 53,000 homes were destroyed by an earthquake.  A flood in Waverly, just 160 miles west of Cookeville, took twenty people’s lives and destroyed 270 homes.  Devastation caused by Hurricane Ida is still being evaluated. Did these disasters bring memories of the tornado that struck here in March, 2020? 

            The news from Afganistan is heart-breaking.  Senseless deaths and violence.  Death always hurts – people loved every person who died and they grieve. 

            After being vaccinated for Covid 19 and family and friends receiving vaccines, I had hoped that this virus would lose its grip on our daily lives.  Now, the delta variant is on a rampage and while the vaccine should prevent serious illness for me, how I wish my young grandchildren were vaccinated.  I wish everyone were vaccinated and would wear masks.

            One day in 2006, while eating lunch in the teacher lounge with young teacher friends, they talked about Facebook and encouraged me to set up an account.  Since then, I’ve used social media and liked connecting with former students and long-time friends, and I post this column on Facebook. 

            But now I’m smad because I see Facebook posts that are intended to tear down people and/or create conflict.  Those posts are sometimes questions. I’m smad that people write words that hurt and purposely cause disagreements to divide people.

            I could wallow in smadness.  Be sad and mad all day long, every day, but I don’t want to live that way.  My best antidote to smadness is counting blessings – literally numbering and writing blessings in a lined spiral bound notebook.  It’s a morning habit I began several years ago after reading One Thousand Gifts, an inspirational book, by Ann Voskamp. 

            Voskamp was challenged by a friend to list 1000 gifts so she took pencil in hand, and while caring for her five children and doing chores alongside her husband on their working farm, she wrote.  As I write blessings, words of thanksgiving, smadness is pushed aside. 

            When I heard Quinn’s coined word, I knew I’d take it as my own.  It’s okay to be smad.  It’s not okay to stay smad. For me listing joys, even something as simple as a yellow finch snatching seeds from my birdfeeder, helps squelch being smad.

When Children Leave Home

            My friend Celeste is sad.  Life at her house isn’t the same. It’s not loud and messy. No homework or junk on the kitchen table. Instead, it’s bare and clean. No stuff on the steps to carry upstairs.  And she can park her car in the garage. Her house is too quiet, and she’s counting the days until her son’s fall break.

            Celeste’s youngest child packed his bags and moved from home to a college dormitory.  She was quick to tell me that she is really good and she trusts God through this season of life, but she thinks no one prepares parents for this chapter of parenthood.

            I think she’s right.  Who prepares parents for an empty nest?  Bookstores’ shelves are filled with information about caring for babies. There is advice for dealing with the Terrible Twos and Middle-Schoolers and Defiant Teens, and school counselors help high school students and their parents apply to colleges and seek scholarships.  But who gives support to the parents when their children leave home?   

            I remember the days when Daughter and Son moved from home to college and my feelings were a garbled sad and happy mess. I’m not a counselor or a family relationships expert so my thoughts are based on experience.

            Empty nest syndrome is real.  Parents grieve. We spend eighteen years raising children and when they no longer sleep at our houses every night and eat most meals at our tables, we are sad.  We miss them and their busy lives: practices, ball games, recitals, last-minute changes of plans, friends visiting.  Suddenly, our houses are much too quiet.  

            So, Celeste, as you adjust to a new chapter in your family’s life, it’s okay to have a few lonely times, and then celebrate that you’ve done your job well.

            Successful parents give children wings – the confidence to leave home.  Be like the mother bird when she pushes her young out of the nest and watches him fly.  She flaps her wings as if in applause and chirps and sings like a standing ovation.  Celebrate that your son has become independent to move away and that he is continuing his education.

            This is a time to look back at the days before you were a parent. Reconnect with friends, maybe those who were your high school or college friends.  Spend time with people you haven’t had to time to be with.  Take your mother and aunt to lunch or visit a neighbor who you hardly know.  

            Try something new.  Do the things you’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t have time.  Learn a new skill or take a college class yourself.  Help out at your favorite local charity.

            Celeste, relish this time as your son becomes a young adult. He’ll be home to visit and expect his favorite meals and put his stuff on the kitchen table and park in your garage space. And, believe it or not, there will be a time when he leaves and you’ll enjoy quiet and calm.

Traveling Letter

“Will you participate in a group letter?” I texted to six college girlfriends.

            “I don’t like chain letters. Please don’t send one to me,” one friend responded. I explained that I wanted to begin a traveling letter and each of us would write a brief note and pass it on.  Like the letters we sent each other years ago, before email.  

            “I want to know how long it takes a letter to get to all of you and back to me.  It’ll be fun to read your writings. I’ll include stamps, and it’ll be fodder for a column,” I wrote.

            I smiled as I read the responses on the text thread.  “Is there a time limit?”  No.  “Only if you promise to share it with all of us after we’ve all written.” Yes. “Count me in! I love getting mail!”  “A column, of course!”  My friends texted laughing emojis and agreed to participate.

            In the late 1970s, we girlfriends kept a traveling letter going for several years.  When I received it, there were seven letters. I took out my letter, wrote a new one, and mailed it along with the other six pages to the next person on the list.  How I wish I had those letters.  

            So recently, I mailed a letter and suggested that writings could be about anything.  Weather. Dreams.  Pandemic.  Anything.  I wrote a paragraph about my backyard bluebird box.  Each person would add a few lines, to this same page and the back if needed, or write on another page, and mail it on.

            It took fifty-five days for our letter to travel to five addresses in Tennessee, one in Florida, and one in Kentucky.  Because two friends were vacationing when the letter arrived in their mailboxes, it took a bit more time than expected.  

            I received a fat envelope that required two stamps, and I didn’t open it immediately.  I waited until late afternoon after the day’s busyness.  With a glass of wine, I settled onto my front porch rocker and took five pages out of the envelope. 

            Snippets from each person’s writing are similar.  Frustrations with changed plans.  One wrote, ‘I have been reminded yet again that making plans is over rated.’

            Changes caused by the pandemic. ‘Harry (her husband) and I have been together more than we have in our 53 years of marriage.’  ‘No friends came to our house for months until we were all vaccinated.’

            Finding positives. ‘In my garden, flowers bloom, birds sing, the sun shines.’ ‘During the pandemic, we cooked more, visited with family, became friends with close neighbors, had time to read and exercise, and took up birdwatching.’ ‘It’s a beautiful quiet, peaceful Sunday afternoon.  The dappled sunlight is magical as I look into the woods.’

            I treasure my friends’ writings and have read our traveling letter several times.  Each time, I read something new, and after sharing it with friends, I’ll keep it.              This time next year, it’ll be history, and I’ll suggest we write a 2022 traveling letter.

Technology Needs High-Touch Balance

Husband and I have always had our differences.  He listens to the Blues; I choose Smooth Jazz.  He relaxes in front of TV; I unwind while holding a book.  He tops salads with Thousand Island dressing; I like Bleu Cheese.  When our home thermostat is set at 72°F, he’s cold and I’m hot.

            He worked in the business world.  I was an educator.  He was a fish out of water in my elementary school classroom; I never understood what he did every day at his office.  In retirement, he continues to serve on business related community boards; I volunteer for projects for children and their families.

            When our working and volunteer paths have crossed, we’ve worked well together and still do.  Before I submit a writing for publication, he edits it and always catches omitted words and typos.  Recently, he had an opportunity to write a column for a health-care facility publication and asked me to read it for errors and to make suggestions.  

            After reading quickly, my first response was a question: “May I use some of this for my column?”  His writing speaks to all professions and all people, working or retired. Maybe Husband’s and my occupations were more alike than I ever knew, and I wish I’d read the book to which he refers while I was in the classroom.  The following is an excerpt from Husband’s writing.

            We use technology routinely to do our jobs, communicate, shop, to entertain ourselves and more.  With one click, a package is delivered to our doors.  Siri or Alexa stream music or videos.  The world is at our fingertips.

            As I think about the technology we use each day, I am reminded of John Naisbitt’s book Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives.  The book was published in 1982 and was a best seller. In the second chapter of the book, “From Forced Technology to High Tech/ High Touch,” Naisbitt proposes “that whenever new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response that is, high touch—or the technology is rejected.”

            Megatrends was published before many of you were born, but the book was standard business reading in the 80’s.  I believe Naisbitt’s writings are still valuable as more and more technology is introduced into our lives.  There is a need to offset the no-human-contact high tech with personal interaction, high touch.

            What did you miss most when our country was locked down for COVID?  For me, I missed being with my family and friends, personal interaction.  Yes, we Zoomed and FaceTimed, but that was not the same as actually being in the room with family and friends.  We had a yearning to hug our grandchildren and look into the eyes of our best friends.

            As we depend more and more on technology, it’s important to understand the need for personal interaction.  In Megatrends, Naisbitt wrote, “We must learn to balance the material wonders of technology with the spiritual demands of our human nature.”