• Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Meta

We Need Nice

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything,” Mom told me again and again and again.  Sometimes, she’d raise both eyebrows and say, “Now, be nice.” Even now, sixty years later, her words ring in my ears and hit my heart. Mom knew children; we could be jealous, self-centered, rude, and cliquish.  We needed to be taught, by example and words.

            I didn’t like being told over and over to be nice, but as an adult, a parent, a teacher, an advisor to a college sorority chapter, I found myself saying Mom’s words. And my Grands will tell you, they’ve heard her advice more than once.

            I never questioned what nice meant when I was young.  I just knew.  But when I read 6th graders’ writings about a story character who was nice, and when I sat with coeds who wanted their best friends who were really nice to be sorority members, it was necessary to define the word. Whether talking with twelve-year-old or nineteen-year-old students, I found out that everyone didn’t have the same connation of the word. 

            Nice had to be described by actions, by behavior.  This reminded me of one of my grandmother’s sayings:  pretty is as pretty does.  What does a nice person say and do?

            One dictionary meaning is someone who is pleasant in manner, good-natured, and kind. Synonyms for nice include pleasant, likeable, agreeable, personable, charming, delightful, amiable, friendly, kindly, congenial, good-natured, gracious, sympathetic, understanding, compassionate, and good.  Antonyms are unpleasant and nasty.

            It’s impossible to be nice all the time.  I’m sure some students and their parents would give examples of me as a mean teacher.  We’ve all had experiences when we weren’t at our best – pleasant and kind.  I regret those times.  And we have to bite our tongues to avoid speaking, harness our fingers on a keyboard, and simply not respond when our thoughts are hurtful to another. 

            I started this column after scanning online news reports and social media. I wonder if not seeing the person we’re speaking to face-to-face, or maybe not even knowing that person, removes the filter to be kind.  Being nice and kindness are life lessons most of us were taught when we were children.

            I’ve saved writings about life lessons.  One is a newspaper clipping from a Dear Abby column published in June and it’s worth repeating.  This advice caught my eye because it was first published in the 1960s, a time that Mom came down hard on me when I wasn’t kind to others.  It’s entitled ‘A Short Course in Courtesy.”

            The six most important words:  I admit I made a mistake. 

            The five most important words:  You did a good job. 

            The four most important words:  What is your opinion?

            The three most important words:  If you please. 

            The two most important words:  Thank you.

            The one most important word:  We.

            The least important word:  I.

            In today’s world, with so much division and so many people hurting, we need common courtesy.  We need kind.  We need nice.

Hurricane Sally Turned

I never wanted to ride out a hurricane, but that’s what happened Wednesday, September 16. A few days earlier when Husband and I drove to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Hurricane Sally’s predicted landfall was Louisiana, but she took advantage of a woman’s prerogative to change her mind and turned toward Florida.

            On Tuesday, I watched from our fourth-floor condo balcony as the ocean mimicked the clouds and became gray, blurring the horizon.  Powerful waves created tall water sprays.  White caps formed on distance water.  The branches of palm trees swayed.  I was awed by the power of nature.

            Husband, two friends, and I watched weather forecasts and we didn’t like what we saw.  As evening came, we moved the balcony furniture inside, located flashlights, candles and matches, and then we worked on a jigsaw puzzle, listened to 60’s music, and played cards until the wee hours of the morning.

            At 3:40 a.m. we four stood shoulder to shoulder in a small utility room after being notified of a tornado warning.  Electrical power was out so we held flashlights. We heard the wind howl and knew Sally could hit the coastline.  When the tornado warning ended, the logical thing to do was go to bed in bedrooms farthest from the sliding glass doors facing the ocean.

            6:30 a.m. The good news was that the palm trees were still swaying, not flat on the sand, and the boardwalk wasn’t damaged.  But where was Sally?  And how long would the electricity and internet be out?  We used our cell phones sparingly to avoid eating up data and draining the batteries.  My friend JoAnn, who I dubbed JoAnn the Jaunty Weather Girl, sent texts with TV pictures of weather maps showing Sally’s path and status, including her 105 mph wind speed, and the damages along the coastline. 

            We were relieved that the hurricane had travelled north of us and alarmed that there was destruction only fifteen miles west in Navarre.  Instead of coffee and a hot breakfast, we drank water and ate breakfast bars and fruit.  The refrigerator and freezer were stocked for the next five days, including fresh shrimp and chocolate ice cream. ‘Save the Shrimp’ was our goal so we opened the freezer and refrigerator once to put all the ice and the shrimp in a cooler, and the ice cream was the perfect consistency for milkshakes. 

            The ocean waves were even stronger, taller, wider than the day before. The water sprays higher. It was mesmerizing.  We had no TV, no internet, no electricity, no music.  But, thankfully, we had running water and were safe.  Taking advantage of daylight, we worked on the jigsaw puzzle and read.  When the electricity came on at 2:30, our afternoon naps were interrupted by lights we’d tried to turn on.             By Friday, internet was restored and the ocean was blue and calm.  We sat on the beach and counted blessings.  I’d never choose to be that close to a hurricane again, but I might drink a chocolate milkshake for a mid-morning snack – even if there’s no hurricane.

Newspapers are Part of My Story

A daily newspaper is one of those things I didn’t know how much I liked until I didn’t have it. And because a daily paper has always been a part of my life, I miss it.

            On summer days when I was a kid growing up in Pickett County, The Tennessean was delivered by mail six days a week, around 9:30 a.m., and I ran to the mailbox. I handed the news section to Dad, the sports section to Mom, because she was our family’s strongest sports enthusiast, and the living section, including the comics, was mine. 

            And then we’d swap sections.  I didn’t read all the national or state news, but the time I spent lying in the floor and scanning those pages are happy home memories.  From the living section Mom often clipped recipes and Erma Bombeck’s columns, some that I still have. Because Dad worked the crossword puzzle, Mom had to be careful not cut it out on the back of a recipe.         

            Sometimes our supper time conversations were about a newspaper article or a column by Elmer Hinton and it would be read aloud.  The thick Sunday editions were bought at a restaurant in town.  It stayed around the house until mid-week to be reread, and the colored comics were stashed for birthday gift wrapping paper.

            The only time of my life when I didn’t regularly flip newspaper pages was my college years, but as soon as Husband and I owned our first house, we got The Tennessean newspaper.  We added the Herald-Citizen when we moved from Hermitage to Cookeville more than forty years ago.  When it wasn’t possible to get The Tennessean delivered, I was thankful our local paper continued Monday-Friday afternoon and Sunday morning deliveries. 

            I take comfort in routine.  Six months ago, when the Herald-Citizen changed to morning delivery, I often waited until late afternoon to read it.  And after Monday publications stopped, I looked in the blue box under our mailbox several Mondays before remembering there wasn’t a Monday paper. I finally adjusted to morning publications and deliveries four weekdays and Sundays, and now that’s changed to mail delivery three days a week.

            I could sing the newspaper blues, but I won’t. I won’t because I know if the staff members of the Herald-Citizen could make a profit publishing six days a week and employing delivery carriers, they would.  I won’t because I appreciate that we still have a local paper.  I won’t because like many others, I read some newspapers and publications online, and that habit has contributed to the demise of printed publications.

            I won’t because I know I need to be flexible and accept change. Years ago, I was a classroom teacher and complained about having to record students’ grades on a computer instead of in a red grade book, but Dad didn’t sympathize.  He said, “Keep up or be left behind.”

            So, while I miss a daily newspaper, I applaud the Herald-Citizen staff as they continue to serve and provide news in our community.

When Husbands Grocery Shop

Who’s the designated grocery shopper at your house?  The person who puts on a mask and buys groceries during this pandemic stay-at-home time.  About six weeks ago, Husband and I divided our long list, and we both shopped.  Since then, he’s been our shopper.

            Husband is the logical choice.  He grew up working in his grandfather’s and father’s grocery store so he knows the layout of stores and feels at home among aisles of canned vegetables and bagged pasta and apples and paper napkins.  As we discussed who would shop, he reminded me that he’s a speed shopper and I’m not.  He’s right.  I’ve watched Husband pick up a bunch of bananas and put them in his grocery cart and never stop walking.  He didn’t even slow down. I spend several minutes looking at every bunch to choose the best bananas, and I often break off one that is too green or that is one too many.   

            Not all men are natural grocery shoppers. Vicky’s husband offered to do the grocery shopping.  She doubted his ability, but accepted his offer.  “I’m taking dinner for a family with newborn triplets and I want the mom’s first home meal to be really good so get exactly what I’ve written,” Vicky said.  She explained the list, including French bread, “It’ll be good if the bread is sliced.  I’ll put some spices and butter between slices and wrap the loaf in foil to be heated.”  Her husband brought home a bag of 50 small slices of dried French bread, jumbled in a plastic bag.  It wasn’t easy for Vicky to assembled those little pieces into a loaf.

            With a detailed list, Husband dons his mask and heads out to shop.  Before I can fold and put away a load of clothes, he’s home with enough food to feed a large family, not just the two of us.  And most times, he brings home exactly what I expect.  But once, he bought French style green beans and I expected a can of Allen’s green beans.  He explained, “They didn’t have the Allen’s brand, but I remembered that they were Italian cut so I thought these would probably work.”  I didn’t understand his logic.   Was it that France and Italy are European countries?  When he finally grinned, I realized he was teasing me.

            Husband buys things not on the list:  chips and cookies. I don’t walk down the chips’ aisle because each bag lures me, and when a bag of chips is opened at home, it’s my duty to eat until the bag is empty.  Husband knows that Cheetos – yellow crunchy puffs of cornmeal and oil – are a favorite.  So, guess what he brought me for a treat?   I can’t wash my hands enough to remove the artificial yellow 6 coloring.  And Oreos, with sweet cream filling, are the perfect midnight snack.

            I appreciate Husband’s willingness to do grocery shopping.  When we no longer have to wear a mask and shop more often than once every two weeks, maybe he’ll continue to shop.  Those chips and cookies are mighty tasty.

Common Sense in These Days

I can almost see Papa raise his bushy, white eyebrows and hear him say in a quiet monotone, “Well, now, it’s time to use some common sense.”  Papa’s calm demeanor and patience carried our family through extremes: trials and happy events.  When one of his three daughters was a bit out of sorts, Papa was the voice of reason. 

            Bombarded with warnings and information about a contagious disease, Papa would’ve said, “Well, then, don’t get around people.  Do what you can to not get sick and make good use of time at home.”

            Like everyone, I’ve read suggested ways to avoid the coronavirus disease.  Did anyone else remember hearing all these before, many years ago?  At home?  At school?  Even in Sunday School class?

            Keep your hands to yourself.  Don’t pick your nose. Don’t put your fingers in your mouth.  Don’t rub your eyes.  Wash your hands, with soap!  Wash before you eat, after using the bathroom, after being outside, after being at a birthday party. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Use a tissue or put your mouth in your elbow, not your hand.  Aren’t these habits our parents taught us and we taught our children and teachers repeat daily?

            Because the time between catching the virus and showing symptoms of the disease is estimated between one and 14 days, it makes sense to stay away from people.  But we need groceries, so wash your hands before and after you shop.  Wipe down the grocery cart with an alcohol wipe and don’t touch anything you don’t have to touch.

             As Papa would have, I’m trying to see these days of staying home as opportunities. Time to finish a quilt.  Update picture albums.  Clean out my kitchen cabinets of things I haven’t used during the past three years since moving to this house.  Finish a few writing projects I started a long time ago.

            On Facebook, a friend listed movies for middle school age children to watch during Spring Break and I could certainly enjoy a few evenings watching some favorite movies.  And I’d really like a day to read all day.  I don’t have an excuse to not exercise because I can bend and twist and lift at home or go for a long walk outside.

            I understand the rational for cancelling sporting events and conferences and meetings, but I’m really missing March Madness.  Basketball is my favorite spectator sport and I looked forward all year to watching the games.  How disappointed the players must be and the many businesses that support the cancelled events are suffering.

            Daily life as we know it has changed, and, unfortunately, some of us will be sick.  I hate everything about the coronavirus.  The precautions.  The sickness.  The cancellations.  Its effect on the economy.             But as Papa would’ve suggested, I’m striving for common sense: trying to make decisions to live in a reasonable and safe way.  And I’m hoping for a silver lining – there must be one.

Brain Exercise

I am right handed. I do everything with my right hand.  Hold a fork to eat and a pencil to write. Brush my teeth. Zip my jacket. Get credit cards out of my wallet. I press the space bar on a keyboard with my right thumb.

Most of us humans, 85-90%, are right handed and researchers 

believe whether we are a right or left handed is determined in the womb. Young children begin to show a tendency to use one hand more than the other as soon as they pick up food with their fingers and put it in their mouths.  

I’m not like my dad who was mixed handedness, using different hands for different tasks. He wrote and ate with his right hand and played golf left handed. I’m not like my friend Brenda who is ambidextrous and can perform tasks equally well with either hand. Both mixed handedness and ambidextrousness are uncommon, but how I wish I were either.

I’m one of those people who has said, “I can’t do anything with my left hand.” Can’t never tried. Can’t never could. You can’t until you try.  Those sayings from my grandparents and parents hit me full force during the past weeks since I’ve had surgery on my right thumb to repair arthritis damage. I’ve learned to eat with my left hand and sign my name on a credit card charge, but some things are still hard.

The cast I wear holds my right thumb immobile and separate from my fingers. I can use my fingers, but they are practically useless on my laptop keyboard. Only my middle finger strikes keys easily. I stop and concentrate to make my left thumb hit the space bar. I had to adapt.

So I’ve learned to write more than a grocery list and a text message on my iPhone and iPad.  I hold a rubber tipped stylus in my left hand and swipe it across the keyboard screen. Using the SWYPE app I don’t have to strike individual letters to write a word and auto-fill gives me word choices. In fact, auto fill sometimes predicts the exact word I want. And I don’t have to touch the space bar between words. 

I knew using my left hand wouldn’t be easy.  A friend reminded me that switching from a ‘righty’ to a ‘lefty’ would be good brain exercise. The right side of the body is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain which is responsible for speech and writing. The brain’s right hemisphere controls the movement of the left side of my body  and is associated with creativity and imagination.  So as I string letters together to make words and words to make sentences, I struggle to use the part of my brain that doesn’t control writing and with a hand I’ve sworn I can’t use.

Only three more weeks and I hope to have my fingers and thumb, without a cast, on my laptop keyboard and holding my toothbrush and a spoon. But maybe I’ll sometimes exercise my brain and use my left hand. Just because I can.

Strange Sensation

 My right arm and hand, from a few inches below my elbow to my  fingertips, were encased in a hard cast and held by a sling.  My thumb was completely immobilized by the cast. The sling held my hand as if I were saying the pledge of allegiance. Twelve hours earlier, a surgeon had repaired my thumb joint that had been destroyed by arthritis.

My arm felt like a heavy cement log. I looked at my bent fingers and told them to be straight. They didn’t move. I couldn’t move my right hand and arm.  While I appreciate the effects of a nerve block for surgery, I was anxious for my hand to wake up. 

I stretched my left arm, spread my left fingers wide, and made a fist. Rolled my head forward, backward, side to side. Lifted my shoulders and straightened my back. I breathed deeply.  Blew out slowly.

Then I experienced strange feelings. It felt like I stretched my right hand, held my fingers and thumb wide apart, and made a fist. Then my hand opened, palm up. Shocked, I looked down. My arm and hand really were in a cast and sling.  What was this? 

During the next hour, I felt my right thumb tuck under my palm, a position that I’d often used unconsciously to protect my thumb. But my thumb was really in its cast and not near my palm. Another time I was sure my right index finger pointed straight at my waistline, several inches below where my hand was immobile and all my fingers were bent and numb.  

I’d read and heard about phantom pain.Is there such a thing as phantom movement? Is that possible? The next day when I had feeling in my arm and hand, I searched for answers. 

According to the National Institute of Health website, Phantom Limb Syndrome is a condition in which patients experience sensations, whether painful or otherwise, in a limb that does not exist. It’s possible that nerves in parts of the spinal cord and brain “rewire” when they lose signals from the missing limb.

My arm and hand exist, but because they were numb I wonder if my brain worked as if they were amputated. Several times during a two hour period, I felt movements. Seeing my immobile arm and hand in a sling didn’t align with what I felt. These were strange, unsettling sensations.  I’ve heard of pain in an arm or leg after amputation and always wondered if it was real.  How was that possible?

Now, I’m sure phantom pain is real. This experience makes me sympathetic to people who suffer from phantom pain. Imagine feeling severe pain in a leg that had been amputated. Because my brain told me that my fingers and thumb moved when they were in a cast, I know amputated limbs can hurt. 

Our bodies, our brains work in miraculous, mysterious ways.  And I wish my brain would miraculously tell my left hand to hold a pencil and write like my right ha

Coddiwomple and Other Fun Words

An unusual word I saw posted on Facebook, made me think of my paternal grandfather.  Papa was a first-class coddiwompler.  He usually drove to a particular place, but sometimes when I rode in his car with him when I was young, I’d ask where we were going.  He responded that we’d know when we got there, but he could’ve said, “We just going to coddiwomple.” He probably didn’t know that coddiwomple means to travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown or vague destination.

            Coddiwomple makes me think of Papa’s Sunday afternoon drives when he took Grandma on rides around Pickett and Overton counties.  He wanted to get Grandma out of the house, but there was never a destination and most often they didn’t stop except at a country market to get a cold drink, a carbonated beverage.

            Before leaving this word, I must share that several people commented on Facebook that coddiwomple is life’s journey. I agree. 

            My Granny often said, “Don’t put it cattywampus.” ‘It’ could have been a dish that she didn’t want me to put on the edge of the counter beside the kitchen sink or a quilt piece that she wanted me to lay on another with the straight edges even. Cattywampus is the similar to catty-corner when something isn’t lined up as need be.

            “You’re a nincompoop!” Oh, the many times I heard and said nincompoop when I was a kid.  Anyone acting silly was nincompoop.  I would never have said someone was stupid, but I’d say he was a nincompoop which meant the same thing.  This word is so fun for kids when the last syllable is shouted loud and long.

            I’m often bumfuzzled.  I’ve spent hours trying to find one piece to put in a jigsaw puzzle and out of frustration, I became flustered.  When someone tells me driving directions that involve more than three turns and landmarks or when I can’t understand what my young Grands say, I’m bumfuzzled.  This word is more fun to say that confused or perplexed because bumfuzzled rolls out of the mouth with a smile.

            Are you a lollygagger?  Do you waste time?  Do you spend time doing something that isn’t serious or useful?  Some procrastinators tend to lollygag, and people who don’t keep up on group hikes lollygag.  A beach or mountain cabin vacation is perfect for lollygagging, but lollygaggers aren’t appreciated when there’s work to be done.

            While searching out fun words, I learned that I suffer from abibliophobia.  Even when I’m reading a book, I want a few others stacked on my bedside table waiting to be read.  What if I decide the book I’m reading isn’t good? Even though my living room bookshelves hold books I’ve read, and Husband always has several interesting magazines, I need a stack (and it can’t be cattywampus) of unread books.  I truly fear running out of something to read.

            Coddiwomple, cattywampus, nincompoop, bumfuzzled, lollygag and abibliophobia – what fun words!  As I write these last words, I’m wabbit.  You probably feel that way too at the end of the day.

Porch Sitting

“What are you going to do this afternoon, Gran?”  Annabel asked.

            “Write the first draft of next week’s column.  What do you think I should write about?” I answered.

            “Fall. That it finally feels like fall,” my 10-year-old Grand said.  She laid her head back in one of our front porch rocking chairs and smiled smugly as she rocked back and forth.

            My Grand was almost on target of what I had in mind.  Finally, the weather has cooled enough that Husband and I can once again enjoy our front porch.  One of the things I immediately liked about our house when we were house hunting as few years ago was its covered wide front porch.  “That’s big enough for rocking chairs,” I told Husband.  He agreed and before we even closed on our hew home, we began shopping for front porch chairs, white wicker rockers.

            Say white wicker rockers three times and you’ll probably say what I said the first time we went shopping.  Whi-te ricker wockers stuck in my head and even now, three years later, I concentrate to say wicker rockers and not add an extra syllable to white.  On moving day, our two rocking chairs were the first furniture placed.  They were inviting, but we worked.  At the end of that stressful, physically exhausting day, Husband and I drank a cool drink and rocked.  And we talked.  About the day.  About what we needed to do next.  About the fact that most of the leaves were off the trees on this mid-November day.  About the leaves that hung high on an oak tree.

            Since that day, when either of us say, “I’m going to the front porch,” that’s short for “I’m taking a rest or I need a break.  I’m going to rock for a bit and you are welcome to join me.”   

            A wide covered front porch was common years ago. One of my favorite pictures of my maternal grandparents was taken on my grandfather’s parents’ porch.  I’ve been told it was a gathering place, a place to settle the world’s problems.  When guests came, the men went to the porch after supper and leaned back in straight back, caned bottom chairs.  My paternal grandmother had an old wooden church pew on her front porch and it was my favorite place at her home.  We waved at every passing car and I’d tell Granny everything that happened at school that day and complain that Mom expected me to keep my room clean.  We broke green beans and shelled black-eyed peas and cracked black walnuts.

            Cooler temperatures welcome front-porch sitting. After weeks of hot weather, I’m glad to wrap up in a sweater and even cover up with a blanket and rock. Husband and I wave and greet neighbors who walk their dogs.  Neighborhood children ride bikes and scooters.  We watch the sunset, although we don’t have an unobstructed view, and see the moon rise in the East and all seems right with the world. 

####

My Problem with ‘No Problem’

           

The drugstore employee said there wasn’t a prescription on file for a drug I thought my doctor had called in.  “We can contact the doctor or you can,” he said. 

       “I will. Thank you for your help,” I said.

“No problem,” he said in a curt voice and immediately hung up, disconnecting our phone conversation. 

            His last two words hit a raw nerve.  I broke my personal ruleof not complaining on social media and posted on Facebook.

Dear owners and managers of service businesses,
Please teach your employees to respond, “You’re welcome,” when a customer offers appreciation. Every time I hear, “no problem,” I’m offended. When I say, “thank you,” I am expressing gratitude and a curt “no problem” makes me wonder if I unknowingly created an inconvenience or problem for the employee.

Rant done….

            I relished the support of 81 friends who hit the LIKE and LOVE icons and many commented that they wished workers would respond differently. Kathy wrote, “I want to say was there a problem to begin with?  That little phrase has caught on and I’m not a fan either.” But some friends tried to smooth my ruffled feathers.  Sara wrote, “This doesn’t bother me.  I’ll take anything that has a positive vibe. I equate no problem with happy to help.”

            A few young friends, all former students, commented. Trudy wrote, “I’ve read a few articles about it and they mostly say it comes from a standpoint of humility and that what they are trying to say is there no need for praise. To them, saying no problem means they were happy to do it, preform the service, but it seems to get lost in translation between generations maybe?”  I hadn’t thought of these words spoken with humility and appreciated Trudy’s comments. She responded, “This phrase probably doesn’t communicate across generations.” 

            Kristy wrote, “I think it’s a generational gap issue.  I say ‘you’re welcome’ out of habit and assume ‘no problem’ means the same.  But I see what you mean and totally agree that service workers should be trained to communicate better.”

            So maybe I need to accept this phrase and be content that others my age would prefer a different response.  But I learned about a recent presentation entitled “Inclusive and Culturally Sensitive Service” at Michigan State University that advised employers to train employees to avoid saying “no problem” to customers.  The MSU official stated that “no problem” is a trigger that could lead a customer to believe they could be a problem.  It’s more calming, the official said, to say, “You’re welcome.”  And I discovered that a 2015 article in Forbes magazine encouraged managers to train their employees to say “you’re welcome” after a customer offered appreciation.

            Last week, when a young server refilled my water glass, I said, “Thank you.”  He paused, looked me in the eye, and said, “You’re welcome.”  I could’ve hugged his neck. I appreciated his response as much as his service and the good food.  I look forward to eating at that restaurant again. 

####