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Who Will Volunteer?

Who can help? Who wants to? Who has time? Hearing these questions, I’ve turned away. Ducked my head. Avoided eye contact. But other times, I’ve raised my hand. Committed to a time and place. Completed the assignment.

            My first volunteer work was before I knew what I was doing was volunteering. When the pianist of my small church went away to college, there was no one to play the piano. Except my cousin and me, neither accomplished pianists and both young teenagers, but we were willing, so we alternated weekly during our high school years.

On the Sundays I played, the song selection was limited. The song leader chose songs written in the key of C or with no more than two sharps or four flats and a song I knew. I carried away two things from that teen-age experience. It felt good to play a role in my church. To serve and not be paid. And church members often said thank you and encouraged me.

Through the years, I’ve taken on volunteer jobs. Visited senior citizens in retirement homes. Served as advisor to my college sorority. Read with and tutored young students. Taught 4th grade Sunday school. Delivered meals to shut-ins. Served on community boards. Helped out during the high school state football championship games. Picked up litter.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in four Tennesseans volunteered in 2015. Many organizations depend on volunteers, but does the experience help the volunteer? According to an article in Psychology Today, there are five benefits. Volunteers live longer and are healthier. Volunteering establishes strong relationships. Volunteering is good for your career. Volunteering is good for society. Volunteering gives you a sense of purpose. And I’d add, it’s fun.

People in our community volunteer as evidenced recently by the clean up after May’s wind damage and the rescue of those stranded at Cummins Falls. Volunteers are committed to making their community better and helping others. A listing of almost 400 organizations popped up when I googled volunteer opportunities in Putnam County, Tennessee. We can choose our volunteer jobs.

My next one is at the Putnam County Fair. When I learned that the fair needed volunteers, I signed up. To welcome visitors, offer help, and be an ambassador for Putnam County. No experience is necessary. Just a smile and willing attitude. An opportunity to be a part of a ten-day event where 52,000 people walked through the gates last year.

You can volunteer at the fair, too. Email info@putnamcountyfair.org and give your mailing address and telephone number. (And check out the website: putnamcountyfair.org) Each volunteer will receive a ten-day pass for the event. Volunteers are needed for most evenings. Some for three hours, some five.

When I was 14 and played “In the Garden” on the church’s upright piano, I didn’t know I was beginning a way of life that would span decades and lead to directing Putnam County Fair visitors to the nearest bathroom.

If you aren’t a volunteer, try it. You get more than you give.

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Who Needs an Umbrella?

I made it through April without an umbrella. That’s not to say I wasn’t outside in the rain.   I was, but never holding an umbrella. In fact, I gloated that I didn’t spend $20 or more to buy one.

When my small, folding, red umbrella that I kept tucked under the front seat of my mini-van bit the dust, I started looking for a new one. Every time I was in a store that stocked umbrellas, I checked out the selection. Designer styles with sparkles on the handles didn’t tempt me. Black and navy blue are drab and who wants drab on a rainy day? White ones would get dirty. Tan ones are boring.

Long umbrellas won’t fit under the van seat or in my purse. But I was tempted by one that was yellow on the top and decorated with the Vincent van Gogh painting “Irises” on the inside. Wouldn’t looking up at purple flowers while rain fell all around make for a happy day? Then practicality kicked in. If I were holding an umbrella, shouldn’t I be looking where I was walking, and not up? And if I spent $50 for a Van Gogh print, I’d like hanging it on my wall, and $50 is too much for an umbrella.

I’ve been entertained while looking at umbrellas. Some were labeled “waterproof.” What? Aren’t umbrellas supposed to be waterproof? I wasn’t looking for a white, frilly parasol to provide protection from the sun. Umbrellas protect from rain. And the term “windproof” is interesting. One was guaranteed to withstand 55 mph wind and supposed to be the only one that can stand up to heavy winds. If the wind is blowing 55 mph, I’m staying inside.

Then there are enormous umbrellas. Why would I want anything so big that I could fly like Mary Poppins? That’s how I’d feel holding a 68” umbrella. These are marketed to golfers, but since golfers rarely pull or carry golf clubs and usually ride in covered carts, I don’t understand the need for a gigantic cover.

And not all umbrella handles are alike. My trashed red one had a fat handle that fit my hand. Some handles are skinny, like a pencil. Some have curved, hook-like handles. And some have C-shape handles, much like cuffed bracelets and advertised to “leave your hands free for holding a baby or using a mobile or carrying things.” Seems like a good idea, but these handles are only on long umbrellas.

One March day, I talked myself out of buying a $20 orange umbrella, which I liked just okay, because I realized that for several months I hadn’t reached for an umbrella even once. Maybe I didn’t really need one.

I set April, Tennessee’s rainiest month, as a test. I wore my two jackets with hoods and I got sprinkled a few times, but I never wished for an umbrella. I may never own another one. It’s one less thing to keep up with.

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Lost and Found

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-7-43-00-amI do all I can to be an average American. Like spending 55 minutes a day looking for things I own, but can’t find.

My long black coat sweater would have been perfect to wear to the funeral home. I changed from black sweat pants to black dress pants. Brushed my hair and teeth. Went to the closet to put on my sweater. It wasn’t there. It should’ve been hanging beside my red sweater. I quickly surveyed the hanging clothes in my closet, and then I touched every coat hanger near where that black sweater usually hangs. It wasn’t there.

I glanced at something black that was folded and lay on the edge of the bathtub. The sweat pants I’d just taken off. I looked in the hallway coat closet. It wasn’t there. I grabbed a tan jacket and headed to the funeral home.

My mind wandered during the funeral service. I really liked that sweater coat. I’d worn it with blue jeans for grocery shopping and dressed it up for church wear. And I’d bought it as a souvenir on a trip. How could I be so careless? Where did I last wear it?

When I returned home, I did another search through closets. Then I remembered. A few days before, I had attended a club meeting at a friend’s home and later went out for supper. I called Jennie. Did I leave my sweater at her house? No.

I called the restaurant. After I briefly explained that I’d misplaced something and hoped it was there, a sweet young woman said, “Oh, I understand. We have lots of lost items.” I described my sweater. “There are several black things behind the cash register. It’s probably here. I’ll look and be right back,” she said.

I hit the speaker on my phone and put on my tan jacket and gathered my purse and car keys. Smugly, I waited to hear exactly where to retrieve my sweater. Thank goodness, the restaurant was only a couple of miles away.

“Well, there are three black things. Two sweaters. One is a man’s. One, a woman’s short sweater,” the sweet young woman said.

I wasn’t ready to take no for an answer and asked, “What about the other black thing?”

“It’s a lightweight golf jacket.”

After mumbling thanks and hanging up the phone, I slumped into a living room chair. “What’s going on?” Husband asked. I shared the whole two-hour story. Blah, blah, blah. From getting dressed to go to the funeral home to the lightweight golf jacket.

Husband nodded, turned, and walked out of the living room. Frustrated and mad at myself, I didn’t move. Minutes later, Husband held up my black sweater jacket. “This one?”

It was exactly where I’d left it. Draped over the side of the bathtub beside the black sweat pants. Isn’t that where most lost things are? Exactly where we left them?

At least, I’d spent twice the average 55 minutes searching so maybe the next day I wouldn’t search for anything. Wishful thinking.

Why Write Letters?

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-11-47-55-pmDavid, age 11, looked at me as if I’d asked him to run twenty miles and carry me on his back. “Really, Gran? I have to write a letter? Mom has me write thank you notes. That’s a letter.” David and I sat side-by-side for our once-a-week writing time.

I bit my tongue before saying, “Because everybody should know how to write a real letter and I’m the teacher.” Instead, I said, “Because some of my greatest treasures are real letters. My dad’s letters to Mom when he was in the Army in Germany during World War II. Some from my brother when he was in the Air Force in Spain and I was a high school student. From my mother’s aunt. From Pop to me before we married. ”

“Pop wrote you letters? What’d he say? Can I see them?” David asked. My Grand’s distraction tactic almost worked. I shook my head. Another time, maybe.

I said, “Writing letters was the way people who lived long distances from each other communicated before email and text. Even before phones. It’s a skill.” David’s attitude about this task lighten and he laughed when I acted out the five parts of a friendly letter. I pointed to my head for heading, mouth for greeting, body, leg for closing, and I kicked for signature.

Does anyone else have fond memories of receiving letters? Clutching a letter from Mom’s aunt, I ran from the mailbox to my house. In a kid-like way, I wanted to open the fat envelope immediately, but Mom made reading Aunt Anne’s letter an event. Time allotted to brew a cup of tea and enjoy the many handwritten pages, front and back. Mom first read silently, maybe to censor anything that shouldn’t be shared with me. Then she’d read aloud and then kept the letter on the hallway table until she responded. After Mom’s death, I discovered many letters in a shoebox.

I keep one of Aunt Anne’s letters, dated 1965, in a three-ring notebook of my favorite recipes. The letter includes a recipe for yeast biscuits and Aunt Anne explained how to roll the dough, spread half of it with melted butter, carefully fold the other half on top, press lightly, and then cut out biscuits. Those baked biscuits open perfectly. As much as I appreciate the recipe, I love that I still connect with Aunt Anne and Mom through this letter.

David wrote his other grandmother and questioned writing ‘Dear’ in the greeting. “Can’t I just write To Grandma?” He struggled with what to write and said, “We tell her everything on the phone.” Finally, he wrote about moving his bed and clothes and things to the basement of his home. He wrote the closing in capital letters. LOVE. After he’d addressed the envelope, stamped, and sealed it, he said, “I hope she writes me back.”

David might not store Grandma’s handwritten letter in a box, but he’ll always remember she wrote just to him.

 

 

What’s Normal?

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-7-36-16-amI declined a brunch invitation because I was in the middle of moving. “I hope to get back to normal soon,” I said.

My friend quickly replied, “What’s normal?” A question most of us have heard. Normal. We know what it means: usual, ordinary, expected, everyday, routine, fixed, traditional.

I’ve missed normal everyday life for the past few weeks. I can’t define a normal day for another person. Everyone’s routines are as different as fingerprints. None of us do the exact same things nor in the exact same ways.

But I know what’s not normal for me and my days have been packed with not-so-normals. Like handling a warm apple pie candle five times while packing. Throw it in the garage sale box. Wait, it goes with the electric simmering pot that’s in my writing and sewing room. Don’t pack it with books because it might get mushed. Not with fabric. What if it comes out of the plastic package and makes a mess? Put it with kitchen stuff or maybe the bathroom stuff or just stick it in my purse.

It’s not normal to brush my teeth with my finger. I patted myself on the back because the coffee pot, coffee, and cups were ready for the first morning at our new house. Yet, I didn’t have my toothbrush or bath soap.

It’s not normal to sit on a living room couch with a broken leg. The movers warned us the back right leg was loose and when I accidently bumped into the couch, the leg fell off. Anyone else flip a dozen light switches before turning on the light you want? And who can’t turn on a front porch light? It’s controlled by a push button, not a switch. At least, that’s what Husband says.

It’s not normal to move a box of sandwich zip lock bags five times. Which drawer or cabinet should they be in to be most handy?

I pushed every button on the microwave. A dim light came on. A brighter light. Nothing happened. The word ‘Cancel’ flashed. Just cancel. Lukewarm coffee, that was hot an hour earlier before I lost it, tastes good.

It’s not normal to search ten minutes for peanut butter. Hit my head on the same cabinet door three times in one day. Read out loud the words printed on oven controls and still be confused about which button to push first. Not recognize the sound of my doorbell. Lose a bathroom rug. Hang bathroom towels straight and evenly spaced because that can be accomplished quickly to satisfy my need for order.

It’s not normal write this column just before deadline. To continue to move the words “Write column” from day to day until it had to be done.

These past few weeks have thrown me curves. I look forward to flipping light switches and turning on my oven with confidence. And laughing and visiting with girlfriends over brunch. I look forward to normal.

Oh, the Things I’ve Saved

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-9-47-57-amPacking everything in the house, where Husband and I have lived for 32 years, is a monstrous task. And so many times, I’ve blinked my eyes, shook my head, and wondered, “What was I thinking?” I’ve saved stuff that is going straight to the trash or recycling and stuff we’ve donated or boxed for a springtime garage sale.

Until now, I’ve never considered myself a pack rat, a hoarder. I’m sentimental and practical, my excuses for stashing away so many things.

A white bag labeled Happy New Year has hung in a guest bedroom closet for at least ten years since Husband and I hosted a few friends on New Year’s Eve. I thought the Grands would like the noisemakers and headbands. After supper one night last week, they blew those horns outside for five minutes, and I knew none of us would ever see the contents of that bag again. There’s a reason for the name, noisemakers.

Surely the five pairs of panty hose were good at one time. Now the elastic is stretched and the hose would fall to my ankles. And why did I hold onto a device that never worked? A battery-operated, hand-held gadget to remove fuzz from sweaters.

I must have kept every flower vase I ever touched. Tall clear glass ones. Short squatty ones. White plastic. Bud vases. Bouquet vases. All can be reused and I hope someone puts beautiful flowers in the ones I donated. Same with mugs. Some I don’t even like. How many hot drink cups does anyone need? Yes, extra mugs can hold pencils and toothbrushes, but I don’t keep pencils and toothbrushes in every room in my house. Well, I do keep pencils everywhere, but I don’t need mug holders everywhere.

While packing the drawers of my kitchen hutch, my friend said, “Here’s another rock.” A flat gray, silver dollar sized rock. She’d already laid aside others: limestone, creek, volcanic, sandstone, slate, granite, calcite, and more. None valuable. All collected from somewhere special, at the moment, or given to me by someone special, forever. Then she held a creek rock, slightly smaller than a deck of playing cards that had been painted gold. “This one must be a keeper. It’s painted,” my friend said. She was right.

When I pulled open the travel filing cabinet drawer, I smiled. All those trips. All those folders labeled with places and dates and in alphabetical order. Some filed away before the days of technology when searching for hotels and restaurants wasn’t as easy as typing a question in a search engine. When information was shared by travel agents and friends. I kept a menu from Boston’s Bull and Finch Pub, made famous by the television program “Cheers.” A map of Maine. A brochure from Chicago’s Field Museum. And from a more recent trip, I saved a river cruise dinner menu. Did I just want to remember that I’d eaten potage de legume, vegetables in cream? And after I showed the Grands a brochure of Thomas Jefferson’s Library in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., why did I file it?

I must have put every picture developed from my Kodak Instamatic camera in picture albums. There’s no time to go through all those pictures now, but I glanced at a few. Who’d save a blurry photo of college girls wearing baby doll pajamas and hair rollers and sitting on a dormitory bed? Or a picture of school children at environmental camp and all you can see is their backs?

Oh, the things I’ve saved.

Leaving and Taking

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-6-35-24-amHusband and I are moving. Leaving the house we built. The yard we cleared of brush and saplings. The home where we raised children and welcomed Grands. Moving a short distance, only a mile. To a yard that’s much smaller than the 2.3 acres we cleared thirty-something years ago. To a house a bit smaller and making it our home.

It’s a good move. A move we’ve talked about for several years. A move that’s our choice.

We’re leaving our snow sledding hill.   Where the Grands learned to sled, learned to lean left to avoid hitting a tree, learned that their sledding turn wasn’t over until they pulled the sleds up the hill for someone else to have a turn. We’re taking the buyer’s promise that our Grands are welcome to sled anytime the hill is covered with snow.

We’re leaving the basketball goal. The goal set up on the concrete driveway before the house walls were painted. The goal that our children and Grands spent hours shooting a basketball through. We’re taking the ball and we’ll buy a portable goal.

We’re leaving the wedding steps. The outside yard steps built fourteen years ago so wedding reception guests could easily walk down our steep hill to celebrate with Daughter and Son-in-Law. We’re taking the memories and pictures of a long line of family and friends who visited as they slowly made their way down the steps to wedding punch and cake.

We’re leaving the creek. The shallow, narrow creek that’s perfect to wade in and build a dam across. To throw a leaf into and watch it float, to throw rocks into for a big splash, to gather smooth rocks, to dig in the mud. We’re taking the buyer’s welcome to come play anytime.

We’re leaving the dining room. The room where Son and Daughter-in-Law opened wedding gifts the day after their wedding while those who love them best sipped coffee and nibbled cinnamon rolls. Where Happy Birthday has been sung dozens and dozens of times. Where my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary supper and their teenage grandchildren wanted to eat and run and go to their high school’s football game. Where friends eat whatever is served – soup and cornbread or steak and shrimp. We’re taking the dining room table, the china, the silver, and making plans for family Christmas breakfast at our new home.

We’re leaving the very best ever next-door neighbors. Neighbors who watched our house and collected our mail when we vacationed and brought treats on every holiday. We’re taking their friendship.

We’re leaving trees. White oak, sycamore, tulip poplar, dogwood, maple. Trees we marked with yellow plastic strips to save from chain saws. Trees that drop brown and yellow and orange leaves. Trees where squirrels build nests and run along their branches. Trees I love. We’re taking memories of our children and the Grands jumping in just-raked leaf piles. Memories of the last yard clearing, for the year, on the day after Thanksgiving when family time was spent using leaf blowers, rakes, and huge tarpaulins to haul leaf piles to the woods.

We’re leaving a basement garage. We’re taking our cars to a main level garage.

We’re leaving one home and taking our beds, our clothes, our books, our coffeepot, and our welcome mat to a new home.

Oh, how I wish I could wave a wand to pack, move, unpack and be sitting with my knees under my writing desk. The move is good. The moving, not so good.