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What’s Growing under the Mailbox?

Have you noticed the lavender and purple groundcover flowers in yards this spring?  My thrift has never been prettier.  It’s so pretty that I posted a picture on Facebook and while friends who commented agree the blossoms are pretty, some do not agree on what’s growing under my mailbox.

            Isn’t that phlox? Creeping phlox? Plox?  Moss phlox?  “Aren’t the plants with purple blooms thrift and those with white blooms candy tuft?” asked someone who grew up in Giles County, Tennessee.

            I learned on a trusted gardening website that Phlox subulate, a low-growing perennial, is known as creeping phlox or moss phlox and is also called thrift and is a member of the phlox family.  And according the owner of a local nursey and garden center, both names are used.  The garden center stocks phlox in many colors: white, lavender, and shades of pink and red, and when customers ask for thrift, they are asking for phlox.  Candy tuft is a different plant. 

            The names phlox and thrift may be regional, and thrift is probably an old-fashioned name. The comments under my Facebook post shows that many of us who call it thrift learned the name from our mothers and grandmothers. 

            Mom grew thrift.  For as long as I can remember at my childhood home, lavender thrift covered the four-foot bank between the yard and driveway and draped over the stacked rock wall by the driveway.  Every spring, blossoms covered the bank and throughout the rest of the year, thrift was a green ground cover.              About thirty years ago, Husband and I transplanted many plants from my parents’ yard.  I expected that a couple of years later, the plants would spread and thrift would cover the ground around our azalea bushes.  Mom warned me that the shaded area I’d chosen to plant wasn’t the best for growing thrift, and she was right.  It didn’t flourish, but it lived and eventually it spread, but never like Mom’s.

            Many years later, after Mom and Dad’s deaths, in the middle of summer when the green plants were wilted, a young man mowed our yard and cut weeds using a weed-eater.  He cut my thrift to the ground.  I cried and told myself it was only plants, and I should have told him not to cut the groundcover near the azalea bushes.  

            I dug up some of the roots and transplanted them to an area in a small flower bed that was in full sunshine, and the next spring, I tended those few green sprigs as if they were in intensive care.  They survived and when Husband and I moved four years ago, I transplanted enough thrift to cover a one-foot square and I added plants that I bought at the local garden center

            So, the blanket of lavender and dark pink thrift under my mailbox isn’t just beautiful, it’s a happy childhood memory that I was determined to capture and enjoy. 

            Call it thrift or phlox – it’s all the same.

Watching for Bluebirds

Most people purchase a home security camera to monitor their front and back doors.  A small wireless camera that takes video clips and photos is perfect to see visitors, animals and people, who are at your doorstep.  A phone app sends a picture, can also capture audio, and even allows you to speak to visitors. 

            But my friend doesn’t use this small camera to monitor doors. She watches what goes on inside her bluebird box.  When she recently showed me videos of Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird building a nest, I wanted a bluebird box in my yard.  This is one time that it was as easy said as done.

            Another friend, a member of the Cookeville Bluebird Club, put me in touch with the Don Hazel who builds and installs bluebird boxes and now I have one.  Don, president of Tennessee Bluebird Society, became interested in providing homes for bluebirds because during past decades the bluebird population decreased about 90%.  Bluebirds nest inside a cavity, such as old woodpecker holes or crevices in a building, but since there are fewer natural nesting places, they accept bluebird boxes.

            Many people have had bluebird boxes for years, and the formation of a local bluebird club has increased interest during the last year.  The club installed ten boxes at Cane Creek Park and four at Dogwood Park, and the club receives monitoring reports from a total of 53 boxes in the Cookeville areas. To join the club or learn more about bluebirds, email cookevillebluebirds@gmail.com and you might want to check out the Tennessee Bluebird Society Facebook group.

            I was excited when I saw a bird dart in and out of the small round opening on the front of my bird box, although it was a chickadee not a bluebird.  For two days, Mr. and Mrs. Chickadee carried blades of dry grass and bits of moss and then they were gone.  The bird box can be opened on the side to monitor the birds’ activities and to clean out the box so after ten days I removed the grass and moss. That day a male bluebird sat on top of the box.  He cocked his head from side-to-side, flew away, and returned carrying pine needles inside the box.  By the end of the day, he’d covered the bottom of the box and Mrs. Bluebird had flitted around outside the box.

            Success!  I expected to show off a bluebird nest, eggs, and chicks to my Grands and anyone who would quietly look inside the box. But the nest foundation has been abandoned. Sometimes Mr. Bluebird begins a nest, but Mrs. Bluebird wants a different home.  However, my friend who takes bluebird videos has assured me that Mrs. Bluebird can be fickle and they might return to my bird box.  

            I continue to monitor my bluebird box in hope that Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird will return and build a nest.  Maybe I should put out a welcome mat and a plate of mealworms mixed with cornmeal.  I’m trying to be patient.

Well, That’s Strange

I answered my mobile phone because I thought I recognized the number that was calling. Wasn’t that the number a friend gave me yesterday and I didn’t put it in my contact list? 

“Hello,” I said.
A soft southern female voice said, “Is this Vicky?”  I was wrong, but the rest of the conversation was one that makes me chuckle, even now, three months later.

Me:  Who are you calling, please?
Caller: Vicky Henderson
Me: I think you have the wrong number.

Caller: Is this Vicky?

Me:  No this isn’t Vicky. I think you called a wrong number. My number is 252- _ _ _ _.
Caller: That’s the number I called. 

Me: But it’s not Vicky s number
Caller: Well, that’s strange.

Strange, indeed.  Bless her heart.  During our next few minutes of conversation, I’m not sure that Caller ever believed that I hadn’t stolen Vicky’s number.  She was sure that she always called Vicky using my phone number. 

This wrong number call, pleasant and entertaining, was worth answering.  But because I don’t want my phone to ring for unwanted calls, now I have those calls silenced. On the iPhone settings, I chose Phone and clicked silence unknown callers.  Calls from unknown numbers are silenced, sent to voice mail, and displayed on the recent list. Incoming calls continue to ring from people in my contacts, recent outgoing calls, and Siri suggestions.

You know what seems strange?  That incoming calls continue to ring based on Siri’s suggestions.  How does Siri determine from whom I receive calls? What’s her criteria?  Who is Siri, anyway?  According to my phone, Siri is a personal assistant.  Imagine that.  A personal assistant that needs no training and knows the unexpected calls that I need to receive.  So, if a friend from long gone-by days calls, will Siri make my phone ring?  But Siri must be doing her job because since she has screened my calls, I haven’t received a signal voice mail from an unknown number, although many appear on my recent list.  

Thinking of strange phone incidents, years ago I received a call from my number.  This happened before I’d knew about spoofing when a someone disguises a number by changing the caller identification. I held my phone in my hand and was shocked that the call was from me.  I wonder is Siri would have accepted that call because, after all, it is a known number.

I don’t understand exactly how phones work.  As I kid I asked how my words could go through a wire all the way to my aunt’s house, and now it seems like magic that cell phones convert voices to electrical signals. And

it’s strange when the words Potential Spam and Spam Risk are displayed for incoming calls.  The word Spam brings on another column.  I’m glad Caller called and we talked.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t have put all these strange random thoughts together, and since I haven’t heard from Caller again, I assume she has Vicky’s number.

Driving Woes

A police car followed me on 10th Street from the intersection at Fisk Road and then south on Old Kentucky Road where the speed limit is 30 m.p.h. I made sure my speedometer stayed under 30.  I wondered what did I do and should I stop.  The road’s shoulder was narrow so I kept driving.

            Approaching the traffic light at Broad Street, I saw the police car’s blue lights.  At least, he didn’t turn on his siren, and I could easily stop in a church parking lot.  Determined to stay calm, I put on a mask and got out my driver’s license. 

            A Cookeville City Policeman wore a mask and stood several feet away.  I greeted him tentatively.  “Hello?” I said.  His first words calmed me: “Ma’am, you didn’t do anything wrong.”  I exhaled deeply.  “But your license plate expired June 2020,” he said.

            “Really?” I asked.  “Seven months ago?”

            His eyes smiled.  “Yes, really.  You are welcome to get out and look at the plate. I’ll show you the sticker.”

            To avoid being argumentative and explain my questions I said, “I believe you.  It’s just that my husband and I take care of things like that.  We stay on top of paperwork.”  Now, I laugh at my reply because obviously we didn’t.  I wondered how much the ticket would be and if the missing sticker was in my van glove compartment, an arm’s reach away. 

            “Well, the county court clerk’s office is open today so you can take care of it,” he said, and I realized that he wasn’t reaching for paper and pen or an electronic device as if to write a ticket.  

            I asked his name and then expressed appreciation to David for being considerate and understanding. I assured him that I’d have a new sticker that day, and I did. 

            Husband was as surprised as I was. There wasn’t a 2021 sticker in the van glove compartment, but paperwork for the June 2020 sticker, and years before, was there.  Although we found evidence of payment for his vehicle’s license renewal, there was none for mine.

            It’s still a mystery that we didn’t “take care of things like that.” It won’t happen again.  I wrote a note for June 2021 on all my calendars:  renew license plate.

            Five days later, I went to Sonic to purchase eight gift cards for our Grands for Valentine’s Day. After ten minutes, a server handed me two cards and apologized because my order would take a while since the card machine wasn’t working well.  I continued reading and relaxed.  After another thirty minutes, I had eight gift cards and pushed the van’s start button. 

            Instead of an engine purr, I heard the hiss and clank of a dead battery.  Husband came to my rescue and thankfully jumper cables reached from the battery of his vehicle to mine.

            Before leaving home now, I check my van’s tires and gas gauge, make sure the engine trouble light isn’t on, and adjust the mirrors.   Two unexpected driving experiences are enough.

Be the Change

My cousin Myra shared a grocery store experience.  On Facebook she wrote, “The guy behind me in a checkout line 3-deep yielded his spot to a fragile, elderly gentleman with two items.”  Following this young man’s example, Myra yielded her spot too.  The woman in front of Myra paid for the older gentleman’s milk and meat.  Myra thanked the young man for starting a cascade of kindness. He told Myra that his 95-year-old grandmother had just recovered from COVID, and he was showing his gratitude. Myra ended her post with these words, “Be the change, friends, be the change.”

            Joe shared a similar experience.  As he drove home after work, he thought of his never-ending list of home chores.  He topped a hill and saw a stopped car driven by a young man who seemed to be trying to start the car.  Joe drove past, but knew he had to turn around and offer help.  The car had run out of gas.

            Joe wrote, “We had to get the car out of the road, but being one month post knee surgery, I couldn’t push it.”  A few minutes later, four people stopped, offered to help, and pushed the car to a safe place on the side of the road.  Joe took the young man home where someone would get gas and drive him to his parked car.  Joe wrote, “Kindness and empathy can go a long way.  I’ve been where he was and to this day remember the unselfish example of those who stopped to help me.”

            I’m reminded of a time when Son and Daughter were young, ages 5 and 7, and we travelled on Highway 111 to visit my aunt in Livingston.  Suddenly, my Ford station wagon veered right.  I immediately pulled onto the wide shoulder and stopped.  The back right tire was almost flat.  Before I could begin looking for a jack and spare tire, a pick-up truck stopped.  The driver was unshaven, his hair unkept, his clothes were dirty, and he needed a bath.  He immediately offered to change the tire.

            I told Son and Daughter to stay in the car and I stood out of this man’s way.  Within minutes, he had replaced the flat tire with the spare tire.  I held out a $20 bill and said, “Thank you.” The man smiled, shook his head, and said, “Pass it on.  Help someone else.”

            A century ago, Mahatma Gandhi used nonviolent resistance to lead India’s independence from British rule, and he inspired civil rights movements across the world.  This quote is attributed to him, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  That’s a paraphrase. Actually, he said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”             Thanks, Myra, for reminding me that change is possible and that kindness begins with one person.

It’s About Time

It’s that time again when I have to adjust to ‘old time,’ the term Papa, my grandfather, used for standard time, and he called Daylight Savings Time ‘new time.’  It takes a while to get used to sunset at 4:50 p.m. and the sun shining brightly at 6:15 a.m. My body and brain don’t immediately adapt, but the most difficult change is when I travel across time zones. 

            Drive across the United States from Maine to California and you’ll go through four standard time zones.  Travel to Alaska takes you to another one and Hawaii covers two more, except Hawaii and Arizona don’t observe Daylight Savings Time, but the Navajo Nation, in northeastern Arizona, does observe Daylight Saving Time.

            This thinking about time sent me on a search to remember when and how time zones were established and to learn other exceptions.  The need for a standard time became necessary with the beginning of railroad travel.  Prior to 1883 there were over 300 local times across the United States.

            Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was adopted universally in 1884. The world is divided into zones by longitude, with each hour 15 degrees apart.  The starting point is the Prime Meridian, 0° longitude, that runs from the North Pole to the South Pole and passes through the Old Royal Observatory, in Greenwich, England, near London. Here in middle Tennessee we are in the GMT-6 (hours) Standard Time Zone so when it’s 4:00 p.m. in Greenwich, it’s 10:00 a.m., six hours earlier here. Counting around the world an hour difference for each fifteen degrees would mean there are twenty-four time zones. 

            Except, it doesn’t exactly work that way because some time zones are determined by political and geographical boundaries and some by choice.  So, there are forty time zones and all aren’t based on an hour.  India, Iran, Afghanistan, Burma, Newfoundland, Venezuela, and parts of Australia use half-hour differences from standard time.  I would be really confused traveling in Australia because there are three time zones: GMT+8, GMT+9½, and GMT+10. When it’s 4:00 p.m. on the west coast, it’s 5:30 p.m. in central Australia, and 6:00 p.m. on the east coast. 

            Time in some places is even more unusual. Nepal, a small country in the Himalayas and bordered by China and India, adopted GMT+5¾ in 1956, and the Chatham Islands in New Zealand is GMT+12¾ so those are 45 minutes past the hour. China is also unique; geographically it covers five time zones, but in 1949 the country established one time zone, Beijing time which is GMT+8.

            I imagine that the scientists from around the world who created Greenwich Mean Time in 1884 thought they’d set the world straight. But the lines for worldwide time zones are more crooked than the Caney Fork River. 

            Everybody just doesn’t go along with a plan.  Like Papa who never changed his clock that hung above the kitchen table to ‘new time’ because dinner was always eaten at 12:00 noon on ‘old time.’  

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.