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Words Remembered

What are the quotes that bring you joy?  That keep you balanced, mentally, emotionally and spiritually? That have become family sayings? 

            I could fill this column and several more with quotes from a folder on my computer and a list in notes on my phone and a spiral notebook where I’ve scribbled and another notebook labeled “Our Grands Say….”  Most everyone has a list of quotes – maybe not written, but remembered – that you’ve collected through life’s experiences.  Hopefully, if you’ve written them, you have them in one place, and someday, I might get around to doing that.

            Last week I shared words from Dr. Suess’s book, The Cat in a Hat: Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.  And I thought about the many words I’ve read and heard and copied and remembered that have shaped my life.     

            Years ago, my dear friend Mary Jo who is now 96, told me that her Grandmother Hill often said, “Hope for the best.  Prepare for the worse and gratefully accept what the good Lord sends you.  Not just accept, but gratefully accept.”

            I’ve never tired of hearing Mary Jo repeat her grandmother’s words, over and over. Every time she pauses, tucks her chin, cocks her head, and opens her eyes wide before saying, “Not just accept, but gratefully accept.”  Then she takes a deep breath, draws herself up tall in her chair and smiles. 

            When I’ve told Mary Jo about my plans or disappointments, she’s reminded me of Grandmother Hill’s words and encouraged me to hope and prepare and accept.  Through the years, that advice has been a guide for everything:  Monday morning 6th grade math lessons and Daughter’s wedding and two knee replacements and vacations and even a two-hour playtime with Grands.

            Another favorite quote deals with my need to be more patient.  As a teacher, I forced myself, after asking a question, to count to sixty or watch the second hand (yes, there was an analog clock in my classroom).  Giving students time to think and formulate an answer was needed, but I wanted quick responses.  And now, I sometimes finish sentences for other people and then have to apologize for interrupting.

            I’m most impatient waiting for my body to heal.  A cold should be gone in a day.  Knee replacements should have healed within weeks.  A recent bout of Covid and flu a month later pushed my limits. My impatience while working hard to rehab after a knee replacement led me to copy Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words: Adopt the patience of nature; her secret is patience. 

            From my notebook of my Grands’ sayings, I love what Henry said when he was 5 years old and saw an airplane in the sky. “Birds and planes and helicopters and magical reindeer – that’s all that can fly.”  That’s all.  Henry captured nature, science, and magic in a few words.

            During this year, I’ll pull out a few other favorite quotes to write about and hopefully you’ll share your favorites.


Don’t Cry, Smile

I ate the last Christmas cookie.  No, I savored that cookie with ceremony.  A second cup of coffee, flavored with vanilla, a half spoonful of sugar.  But I was sad.

            This star sugar cookie, covered with yellow icing, red sprinkles and red-hot candies, was the last one that my Grands decorated a week before Christmas.  The last one on my glass platter.  As I bit one star point, I remembered the anticipation of Cookie Decorating Day.

            Right after Thanksgiving eight-year-old Micah asked, “Gran, are we going to decorate Christmas cookies?”  Yes.  “When?” was the next question.  His three older sisters asked questions during the three weeks.  Did you get more sprinkles? Can we bake lots of trees? Last time we ran out of red food coloring; did you get more?  Will we make gingerbread men like we always do?

            The question that surprised me was 17-year-old Samuel’s: “Gran, can I come by myself to decorate cookies?”  It took me back to the time when he was the only Grand and stood on a stool and smeared icing everywhere and there were more sprinkles on the kitchen counter and the floor than on cookies. 

            I’ll forever keep the pictures when just two weeks ago Samuel and Husband spread green icing and then very carefully placed individual cylinder shape sprinkles on tree cookies

            Earlier that day, Samuel’s four younger siblings had stood around our kitchen island – each with a stack of plain cookies.  They laughed and reached across each other for sprinkles and waited patiently, or impatiently, for someone to finish with the bowl of red or green or yellow or blue or white icing. 

            They spilled sprinkles.  They ate sprinkles.  They iced their fingers and licked them.  They counted how many cookies they had decorated and compared with how many everyone else had decorated. 

            When all the cookies were finished, each Grand put a few on my Christmas platter. 

I wondered who had decorated this last cookie I was eating and for a few moments, I felt sad.  The happiness, the fun of Christmas 2022 cookie decorating would never exactly be repeated.

            My memories went to other times that will never exactly be repeated.  Son’s family, who lives miles and miles away, came to visit. All eight Grands and their parents sat with Husband and me around our dining room table – to eat and play Bingo and visit.

            Exchanging gifts with a group of friends that Husband and I first knew more than forty years ago when we declared ourselves The Gourmet Group.  A first day of 2023 hike led me to the place my mom waited to catch the school bus. 

            We cherish times that we look forward to and love and wish didn’t end. I think of advice from Dr. Seuss’s book, The Cat in the Hat:  Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.  

            Enjoy the moment, hold the memories, and smile.  Then make a plan. Valentine’s Day cookie decorating will be fun.

The Happy Little Helper is a Joyful Giver

There is always one gift or one story to make every Christmas unique. My thirteen-year-old Grand is this year’s story.

            Annabel is Daughter’s middle child with an older brother and sister and a younger sister and brother.  Ten days before Christmas she set up business – an in-home business – to earn money for gifts.

            “Mom, come in and see what Annabel is doing,” Daughter said when I stopped by her home to leave a borrowed waffle maker.  Annabel stood on her knees behind her work desk, a piano stool, that displayed a handmade poster:  The Happy Little Helper is IN.  In smaller letters I read ‘Handy man work and house cleaning service.’

            Three of Annabel’s siblings sat nearby on the floor when she saw me. “Hi, Gran!  How can I help you?”  She grinned waiting for my reply. 

            “Can you clean my house?”  I asked. 

            “Probably later, but Lucy and Elsie (her sisters) have some things they need done first.”

            Annabel worked; she vacuumed her sisters’ rooms and cleaned the interior of her family’s van and Husband’s car.  She didn’t clean my house because she had enough money, she told me.

            I was her shopping chauffeur and assistant.  I packed my patience and blocked out the morning.  I’ve stood in front of chewing gum displays for fifteen minutes while Annabel chose one pack – there are so many choices.

            “I can get everything at Wal Mart,” my Grand said as she buckled her seat belt. She held a small spiral notebook with only four lines written.  “I know where everything is.” 

             “Let’s go to Aisle I-17 first.”  Annabel led the way and immediately picked up a Gatorade water bottle.  I suggested that another one would be a better buy.  “No, this is the one Samuel (17-year- old brother) will like.”  I wondered how she knew which aisle.  “There’s a search and map on the store website,” my Grand explained and headed to toys where she chose Hot Wheels tracks and a Hot Wheels Lego truck for her younger brother. 

            As she stood looking at the many card and board games, I offered help.  My Grand repeated the name of the card game twice:  Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza.  “Yes!  There’s only one and it was hidden behind another game. Lucy will love this!” Annabel pumped her fist.

            The hanging space for Rubic cube key chains was empty and we couldn’t find a hidden one.  With a gleam in her eye Annabel said, “I’ll get it online. It’ll be here on the 28th, and I’ll make Elsie a paper one.  She’ll be happy to get her gift later.”  Fifteen minutes after walking toward Aisle I-17, Annabel practically skipped to the self-checkout lane. 

            In my van, we searched Amazon for the key chain, ordered it, and Annabel handed me money to pay for it.  “I’ve got $3.00 left!” she said.

            Christmas 2022 will always be the year of The Happy Little Helper, the fastest shopping ever, and the happiest giver who should be on a billboard with the caption The Joy of Giving.

Christmas Stockings

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. That line from “Twas’ the Night Before Christmas” conjures up happy memories.  As children, we emptied filled Christmas stockings, and now many years later, we fill them for our children and grandchildren.

            Although the author of this popular Christmas poem has been disputed, it’s documented that it was first published in the Troy Sentinel newspaper in New York on December 23, 1823.  At the time, no one claimed to have written “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” the original title, but in 1844, Clement Clark Moore acknowledged authorship when he included the poem in his poetry collection.

Moore’s poem wasn’t the beginning of Christmas stockings, but I must share that “Twas’ the Night Before Christmas” established the names of Santa’s eight tiny reindeer – all except Rudolph – and connected St. Nicholas to Christmas which led to our image of Santa Claus.

            The tradition of filled stockings began in Asia Minor when a nobleman named Nicholas, born in A. D. 280, often left gifts for children late at night.  He didn’t want anyone to know who gave the gifts so Nicholas spread the word that children must go to bed to receive gifts.

            One legend tells of a wealthy family whose life changed when the father, a merchant, fell into poverty and he feared that he couldn’t provide dowries for his three daughters.  When St. Nicholas heard this he stopped at the merchant’s home and threw three bags filled with gold coins down the chimney.  The bags fell into the girls’ stockings which were hung by the fireplace mantle to dry. 

            The next morning the girls found the coins, and, as expected, they later married and lived happily ever after. This story spread through the small village, then throughout the land, and children began to hang their stockings by the fireplace hoping to receive gifts from St. Nicholas.

            Centuries later, Moore wrote of Christmas stockings hung by the chimney.  And now, the hanging of stockings is one of the most popular Christmas traditions.  If there’s no chimney, stockings are hung from doorknobs or windowsills or kitchen counters or even left lying under Christmas trees.

            Family tradition usually determines what is in stockings.  My childhood stocking always had a huge straight peppermint candy stick and Brazil nuts – things I ate only one time a year.  I know a family that fills stockings with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and underwear.  Another includes gifts, even the most treasured gift.

            When my 11-year-old Grand and I talked about stockings, she said that stockings are fun because there are surprises inside.  “Something you didn’t ask for or put on your wish list and there’s always something to eat,” she said. 

            My Grand is right and no one is too old for Christmas stockings.  I’ll leave my empty stocking under the tree on Christmas Eve in hopes that St. Nicholas, aka Husband, will be here.  He knows my favorite candy.

Top Toy the Year You were Born

I’m a sucker for anything labeled The Year You Were Born.  More than once I’ve read a birthday card listing the news of my birth year and then placed that card back on the sales rack.  I’ve listened to my birth year’s top songs even though I don’t remember them.  So, an online article entitled ‘Top holiday toys from the year you were born’ caught my attention.

            This list, published by stacker.com, begins with 1920 and was created using information from the national toy archives and The Strong National Museum of Play, neither of which I’ve heard of, but seem to validate the choices. 

            As I scrolled and looked at pictures, I realized toys include games, dolls, stuffed animals, books, and kits – many that were familiar and some that are still right here in Husband’s and my home.   The Raggedy Ann doll was the top gift in 1920, and the one that Mom made for Daughter in the late 1970’s is still on my doll bed.  We still have Tinkertoys, which were the best gift in 1922.  And everyone has probably received or given the 1925 top gift, a Teddy bear.

            Anyone else have happy memories of opening a box of crayons?  In 1926, a box of 22 Crayola Crayons was the best gift. By the early 1950s, a box of 64 crayons, with a built-in sharpener on the side of the box, was popular.

            Other top toys of the late 1920’s were a Radio Flyer wagon, a yo-yo, and a pop-up book, and all have stood the test of time.  All were gifts for my children in the 1970s and for my Grands thirty years later. 

            Scrolling past the 1930s, I found the top gift for the year I was born:  a Tonka truck.  I never owned a Tonya, but Son’s heavy metal truck sits on our garage shelf and one day while we watched his son fill the bed with sand, I suggested he take it.  Son answered, “No, let all the kids play with it here at your house.”  All eight Grands have filled that big yellow truck with sand or dirt or gravel or mulch in our backyard.

            Top gifts of the 1950s were under my childhood Christmas trees and are still around.  The wine-colored Scrabble box is taped together, but the small square tiles are just as they were almost seventy years ago.  My blue hula hoop is long gone, but my Grands sometimes spin the sparkly purple one I bought a few years back.

            Most girls of my generation had at least one Barbie, the 1959 top toy, and I remember being excited one Christmas when Barbie’s clothes were my favorite gifts. Yes, my Grands have dressed my Barbie with those clothes.

Fast forward to 2021’s top toy, a reversible octopus plushie that is happy on one side and angry on the other.  It won’t be under my Christmas tree, but yo-yos and books – those are gifts that my Grands would like.  Please don’t tell them those are old toys.

Something from a Box

“Anything special you want to eat while you visit?” I asked two Grands who planned to stay overnight with Husband and me.

            Annabel tilted her head.  “How about Pop Tarts?”

            “For breakfast?” I asked.  Surely, my 11 and 13-year-old Grands wouldn’t choose something from a box over my pancakes.  I’ve made pancakes for my Grands’ breakfasts for longer than these two are old.

            I was relieved when Lucy said, “No, Gran.  We want pancakes for breakfast.  Pop Tarts can be snack.”  Both girls nodded.  Their blue eyes open wide.  Their blond hair shaking.

            I added Pop Tarts to my grocery list. “What kind?  Strawberry? Cinnamon?”

            “S’mores!  They’re the best!” said Lucy.

            “The ones with frosting,” Annabel added.

            I was stuck in the 1970s, probably the last time I bought Pop Tarts.   “You mean they have marshmallows and chocolate in them?  Doesn’t the frosting melt when they are heated in the toaster?”

            Again, those enthusiastic nods and the girls gave each other a high-five.

            I was shocked by the display of Pop Tarts at Food Lion.  Six feet long and seven shelves!  Obviously, Pop Tarts are a big seller to warrant such a so much space.  After I’d I counted more than twenty flavors, I wondered when Pop Tarts were first on shelves and how many kinds are available.

            In 1963, Kellogg’s chairman, Bill Lamothe, had an idea to make a breakfast toaster-ready rectangle that could go anywhere. He asked the Kellogg’s kitchen crew to ‘create an ingenious hack on toast and jam,’ according to poptarts.com.  The name Pop Tarts was inspired by the Pop Culture movement of the day, which some of us remember.

            When I suggested strawberry or cinnamon to my Grands, I remembered two of the four original flavors: strawberry, blueberry, apple currant, and brown sugar cinnamon. Frosting was added in 1967 and sprinkles in 1968 and by 1973, there were nineteen flavors which seems like enough choices, but the kitchen crew continues to create choices.

            There’s not a flavor list because the production of flavors changes during a calendar year, but there is something for everyone’s taste.  Traditional flavors are still available: strawberry, chocolate, grape, cherry, and cinnamon.  For those more adventurous, try Frosted Boston Creme Donut, Snickerdoodle, Lemon Cream Pie, Cookies and Cream, Red Velvet, or Apple Fritter.

            My Grands and I made a celebration out of our afternoon snack.  Hot chocolate with marshmallows – the more the better.  Warm, lightly toasted delicious S’more Pop Tarts.  

            We talked about real s’mores. “Remember that time in Colorado when we’d couldn’t build a fire to make s’mores?” Annabel asked.

            “It was really windy,” I said.

            “Was that when Mom and Uncle Eric roasted marshmallows over the stove?”  asked Lucy.  That was the time.  We reminisced and laughed. 

Next time, I think we’ll try Frosted Chocolate Fudge – Annabel says they’re better than S’mores.

Since my Grands talked and laughed while eating something from a box, I’ll gladly spend $3.69 for eight Pop Tarts.  Just don’t expect me to serve them for breakfast.

Memories Create Traditions

When I posted a picture on Facebook of the last pieces of a dried apple stack cake, my friends’ comments ranged from memories to compliments to requests.  Oh, how I miss my grandmother’s stack cake.  Apple stack cake is a family favorite for generations!  My mom used to make stack cakes – what a sweet memory.  Looks yummy!  Will you share the recipe?

After reading the comments and scrolling through the list of friends who hit ‘Like’ and ‘Love,’ I put this week’s topic on hold and decided dried stack apple cake warrants a column.

In case someone isn’t familiar with this cake, it’s a layered cake of very thin cake layers, cut ¼” thick and baked like large cookies, and dried apple filling. If you like the flavors of gingerbread or molasses cookies and apple butter, you’ll like it.  It’s not difficult – just takes time.

For those who requested the recipe, it’s online at https://susanrray.com/recipes/  I could have filled this column with the recipe, but a list of ingredients and the directions really aren’t the story of this cake that brings memories and is liked by many.

I’m not sure the recipe I use is the one Mom used because apple stack cake wasn’t always one of my favorites so I never asked her for the recipe.  Besides, she made it every Christmas so I didn’t need the recipe.   Mom died in 1991 and that Christmas was the first time I made this cake. I’m still using a recipe printed in a small flyer, found among Mom’s recipe collection, that was prepared by the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association in Clinton, Tennessee.  

After making the cake, I wrote notes beside the Old Fashioned Stack Cake recipe: “Christmas ‘91.  Used 3 ivy leaf plate. 7 layers. 7 minutes.”  My note identified a 9 ¼” Blue Ridge plate decorated with three ivy leaves.  It was the only Blue Ridge plate that was in Mom’s kitchen cabinet and I remembered she laid it on the rolled-out cake dough to cut the layers.  The recipe made seven layers and each baked seven minutes.

That first year, I made it to connect with Mom and because Dad and Daughter really liked it.  Now, thirty-one years later, it’s also a favorite of most of my Grands and mine.  I usually make it for Christmas, but this year Son’s and Daughter’s families were here for Thanksgiving.  A young Grand smacked her lips and asked for seconds and a teen-age Grand ate it for breakfast.   

This cake gets better the longer it sits – at least for six days when I savored the last piece. I baked it several days before serving, covered it, and stored it in the refrigerator.  After the apple filling seeps into the cake layers, it becomes more moist, more delicious. 

            Aren’t there foods we like because we first ate them while sitting at our parents’ and grandparents’ kitchen tables?  

Bake the cake.  Create the memories. Continue the tradition.

(When I took the picture above, a reflection from my kitchen prism just happened to be on the cake. Another memory, another tradition: Mom always had a prism hanging in a window.)

Christmas 2021

Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

Sometimes I wish Mom, Aunt Nell, and Aunt Doris had not been good cooks.  I wish they hadn’t made the most delicious pies and cornbread dressing and casseroles.  Then preparing Thanksgiving dinner would be easier.

Aunt Doris’s chocolate cream pie is still a high standard that no one in my family has reached.  Mom’s dressing was the best ever.  I’ve tried to duplicate Aunt Nell’s asparagus casserole.  I wonder if she added a secret ingredient that’s not in the recipe?  

If my family had never eaten Thanksgiving dinner that Mom and her sisters prepared, maybe they’d be happy with a meal advertised by grocery stores and restaurants.  Turkey, dressing, gravy, two sides, and pumpkin pie for twelve people for $114.95.  Just heat and serve.

Although it’s been more than twenty years since my aunts and Mom served Thanksgiving dinner, my cousins, sister-in-law, and I have carried on the tradition of a home cooked feast. Which makes me wonder how many hours are spent preparing Thanksgiving dinner?

That question came to mind as I stirred cornmeal, an egg, and buttermilk to bake cornbread to be made into dressing three days later.  The cornbread dried out for a few days so it could be crumbled and mixed with celery and onion, chicken bouillon, an egg, and a sprinkling of seasonings. The celery and onion were chopped and sauteed, and because a few people in my family don’t like celery I blend it with bouillon to hide the green.  One time, I omitted celery and used celery salt (omitting additional salt) and that was the worst dressing ever. 

When the dressing is mixed, I form balls, a bit smaller than a tennis ball like Mom did because we like crunchy dressing and every serving browns perfectly.  Hours – just for the cornbread dressing.  As I sometimes say to Husband, “I’m not complaining.  Just thinking out loud.”

There’s nothing to roasting a turkey.  Unless, you brine it so the meat is more tender and delicious.  Dissolve sugar, salt, and spices in hot apple and orange juice and let it cool, and place the turkey in the brine for at least 24 hours. 

Wash the salty brine from the turkey and dry it before roasting.  Husband is in charge of carving and the turkey platter is a work of art.  Each piece is evenly sliced.  Hours – just for the turkey.

Then there are the sides.  Green beans.  Home canned beans are the best, but store-bought ones can be seasoned to taste almost like backyard garden beans.  Corn.  Lima beans. Sweet potato casserole. Mashed potatoes.  Asparagus casserole. Cranberry salad and yeast rolls complete the meal

And desserts.  The crusts of Mom’s pumpkin pie and Aunt Doris’s chocolate pie were made from scratch.  Refrigerated store-bought crusts are almost as good. 

 A heat and serve meal would be easier, but when many cooks bring a dish or two, we get to enjoy the Best Meal of the Year.  The Best – that’s what Daughter says. Soon it’ll be her turn to roast the turkey and make dressing.

Doing Right Isn’t Always Easy

            Richard stood straight as he walked toward the front door that summer afternoon in 1963.  Mom, Dad, and I watched through our living room picture window.

            Richard had called the day before and asked to visit.  He said he’d just been discharged from the Air Force and worked with my brother Roger in Spain. He asked if it would be okay to stop by on his way home to Mississippi; he wanted to meet Roger’s family.

            He shook Dad’s hand and nodded, almost bowed to Mom and me.  He stood taller than Dad’s 6’2” and although Roger had written about his good friend Richard and I knew he was black, his presence in our living room surprised me.  As a 16-year-old, I’d hoped he would bring gifts from my brother, but that wasn’t the reason he visited. 

            After a bit of small talk, we realized Richard had driven many miles out of his way to our home in Byrdstown, Tennessee.  He sat on the chair’s edge, closest to Dad who sat in the red rocking chair.  Mom and I sat on the couch facing them.  Richard leaned forward, his back straight, his hands clasped between his wide spread knees.

            He began to tell stories about his and Roger’s service together at Moron Air Base.  As communication specialists, they had sat side-by-side in an underground bunker. It was stressful: twelve hours on, twelve hours off.  Roger was still there.

            After a few minutes, Richard dropped his head and was quiet.  Then he said that Roger had been his only friend when he needed one. I don’t remember how Richard was wronged or if he explained.  I do remember that he wiped the back of his hand across his tear-filled eyes and I left the room.  Maybe because I got a non-verbal message from Mom or Dad or because I was uncomfortable watching Richard cry.  I sat out of sight in the kitchen, but close enough to hear.

            Richard said he wanted to meet Roger’s parents and thank them for their son.  He said Roger stood beside him when no one else did and Roger may have saved his life.  They had both been punished, and Roger’s only transgression was that he told the truth. 

             Richard also talked about good times he and Roger had shared in town during their time off, and about Diablo, the horse Roger bought and trained in Spain. Mom, Dad, and Richard talked and laughed. 

            Richard hugged each of us before he left our home, and we watched through the living room window as he walked to his car.

            The only time I heard my brother talk about Richard, he said that he was a good guy and wasn’t treated fairly because he was black.

            Even as a teen-ager, I knew Richard travelled many miles to do what most people wouldn’t do; he was a good guy.  And whatever my brother did, he did all his life – he stood with friends to do the right thing, no matter the consequences.

Greeting Strangers

A few words can bring laughter and good feelings. While four college girlfriends and I spent four days together, we stopped at a Walgreens to buy hand lotion, ice, and playing cards. 

My friends stood nearby when I laid ice and cards on the checkout counter. A man, about age 40, stood behind me and cleared his throat. “Hmmm.  Looks like it’s poker night,” he said and smiled slightly.  With a serious look, I replied, “You’re exactly right.” His slow nod made me chuckle and I shook my head; then he laughed, as did the woman behind him.  

A fifteen-second encounter among strangers.  Yet, one of the best stories from our girlfriend trip to celebrate our 75th birthdays.  Who would suggest a group of retired women would buy ice and cards for poker night?  (Actually, we’d planned to deal a few hands of bridge, but we didn’t stop talking until bedtime.)  This young man’s comment brought smiles to everyone who heard him.

            A friendly comment can make both the giver and receiver smile. A FaceBook friend posted about giving compliments to strangers.  Words can be simple.  ‘Love those shoes.’  ‘Great looking hair!’  ‘I like that green shirt.’   Why give such compliments?  The FB post states: Because life is hard and some people are just plain mean. You never know what other people are going through and a few positive words might make them happier, at least for the moment, and will boost your spirits, too.

When I do grocery shopping, stock clerks are often in the aisles opening boxes and placing items on shelves.  What a monotonous job.  One day as I put cake mixes in my shopping cart, I said, “You keep everything so orderly on the shelves.  Thanks for making it easier to shop.”  The young man turned to me, grinned, and said, “Thanks.  No one ever noticed.”

            I admit speaking to strangers doesn’t come naturally to me.  I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder in a crowded elevator and only acknowledge those around me with a half-smile and not say a word.  I think of Husband’s and my long-time friend Russell who lived the adage of never meeting a stranger.

            While riding on an elevator, Russell would strike up a conversation with strangers, make connections, exchange contact information, and claim kinship.  He had the gift of putting strangers at ease and making all around him happier.  One time I dreaded going to a social event where I knew very few people and I gave myself a pep talk, ‘I’m going to be like Russell and have a good time.’  I’ve shortened that talk:  Be a Russell.

            Who needs compliments?  Everyone.  Even a few words encourage.

Who responds to friendly comments?  Almost everyone.  We college friends certainly did.  Every time I play with those cards, I’ll smile, or maybe I’ll send each girlfriend one card on her next birthday. 

Because a young man greeted me, a stranger, my friends and I laughed and have a happy memory.